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The Simple Life: Camping—The Ultimate Dog-Friendly Vacation

I’m fairly certain there are few experiences that compare to a campfire, a good guitar, close friends and a great dog. A clear night with wood smoke circling up into the trees while your dog lies at your feet beats Walden Pond any day, hands down. Getting away from the office and streetlights and spending a few days as nomads under the Milky Way grants us dog owners a perfect summer vacation option — a chance to slow down and spend a lot of time with our favorite animals.

Camping is the original dog-friendly vacation. Unlike hotels and busy sightseeing jaunts, the great outdoors always provides respite for people who want to get away and bring the dog as well. Camping is also inexpensive, relatively close to home, and with a little planning can be pulled off without a hitch. Most owners used to traveling with their dogs are already hard-wired for the sort of preparations needed to jump into the wild. But there are some extra precautions one should take before letting Lucy off the leash.

First, make sure you can let Lucy off the leash. Some campers are shocked to discover that the dog-friendly campground they found online doesn’t allow their 15-year-old Golden Retriever off-leash, ever. It doesn’t matter if he’s a CGC-toting therapy dog or Cujo’s succubus — all dogs must be on leash at all times. If you planned on letting your dog leap off the docks into the lake, chase balls on a beach or sprawl in front of the campfire, you may end up with a pouting Les Miserables extra on a time out. So call ahead and make sure the park or property’s idea of camping with dogs matches your own.

Second, be aware that while some parks and campgrounds may not mention any prerequisites for canine reservations on their land, they may make certain demands when you show up. Make sure you have proof of rabies vaccination (vet documentation, not just tags) and any other paperwork that proves your animals are sound. Some parks demand it and will turn you away without it.
Third, keep in mind that even though you are staying in the wilderness for a few days, certain civilities still apply. When it comes to cleaning up after your dog, a good rule to follow is the public bathroom rule: If you are expected to use a toilet, then your dog is expected to have a plastic bag. If there hasn’t been a bathroom in sight for three days on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail, the Ziplocs can probably stay in your pack.

Most of all, enjoy this time with your dog. You may not realize it in your nature-loving haze, but by choosing to camp you’re giving your dog the gift of you. He can be around you all day—hitting the trails or cooking dinner back at HQ. The constant quality time, undistracted by cell phones and Facebook, will be savored by your companion. I have a hunch it will be savored by you as well. A little escape is good for the soul and great for your dog. After all, nothing comes between you and that tennis ball now. 


Jenna Woginrich is author of Made From Scratch, homesteads in Vermont. coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com
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Submitted by Cecil V | October 4 2010 |

Our best friend Nikita loves to wear large dog clothes. Maybe other short-haired big dogs would like to give it a try.
Check out: www.clothes4largedogs.com/large-dog-clothes

Submitted by Cecil V | November 20 2010 |
Submitted by Anonymous | May 24 2011 |

just put a motor home any way on my stret and my puppies think they are going

Submitted by Christina | August 23 2011 |

I took my Cane Corso camping for the first time last weekend, and he had a ball!!! He loved every minute of it, and he was on his BEST behavior!!! The perfect vacation for both humans and dogs alike!!!! I can't wait until we go up to the snow!!!!

Submitted by Natalie lawrence | December 31 2011 |

Over the summer I rescued from my local shelter an incredibaly timid and skittish female boxer. I took her on an overnight backpacking trip and by the end of the first day she changed into a confident happy go lucky dog! After a mile or so of keeping her on leash, I let her off and saw for the first time a dog completely at ease, with her tail up and wiggling. That trip did wonders, being away from loud traffic, loud people, let her come into her own. The only thing is I wish i could find a light weight sleeping pad thats big enough and warm enough for her! Wasn't any fun fighting for a little corner of sleeping bag all night. We will defiantly have more backpacking trips in the summers to come.

Submitted by Becca | February 23 2012 |

Hey Natalie,

I ran into that same problem before! Coleman actually makes small sized dog sleeping bags, or (especially if it's summer) you can get away with a pretty cheap kids sleeping bag (I found one on Amazon for $25!). As for a sleeping pad, you can get really inexpensive closed foam ones at most major retail stores (EMS, REI, even Wal-Mart) - then all you need is a pair of scissors to cut it in half, and then you've got a dog sized sleeping pad AND an extra shortie pad to keep you a little bit warmer (I recommend putting the shortie pad underneath your core).
If you want to shell out a few extra bucks you can buy an inflatable shortie pad for your pup. Therma-Rest makes a pretty good one.

Hope this helps!

Submitted by Anonymous | April 27 2012 |

Ruffwear has some great camping gear for dogs. Look for the compressible bed that takes up less space and packs in the car easier.

Submitted by kenwey | January 24 2013 |

I live in Southern California surrounded by beautiful national, state Parks and thousands of desolate acres of BLM land; Joshua Tree, Borrego Springs, Cuyamaca. Imperial county to name a few. Problem is that none of these wild primitive camping spaces allows dogs off leash even though we typically camp primitive miles from other campers. Seems crazy that they allow ATV's, guns, motor bikes etc but not a dog off a leash. It appears dogs liberties and rights have been slowly eroded with claims that it's best for thir safety, the environment etc. So... does anyone know of any remote areas in southern cal where a dog can be a dog and run freely without their owners getting slapped with a $200 fine?

Submitted by Mike | June 10 2014 |

I'm with you, trying to find a pretty semi-cool spot (with no or at least fewer rattle-snakes) to camp with my dogs off-leash. My email is mike.smalley@gmail.com / let's compare notes if we find one. Thinking of Lone Pin - Bishop Creek this summer - at least exploring with two of my 4 girls. Happy Camping!

Submitted by Carolina | July 7 2014 |

I totally agree! please share any findings of local campgrounds and hikes in southern California where a well behaved dog can be off leash, go on trails and jump in the water! I used to live in Mammoth and dogs on leash are non existent!