Out on the Trail

Make the most of outdoor time with your dog by planning well 

Living in East Tennessee at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, it’s easy to find space outdoors where you can spend a good amount of time throughout the year. Let’s face it; trails are everywhere. And out on the trail is the perfect place to bond with your dog. But before you head out, here are some tips to remember as you prep your gear and get ready for your adventure.

If you’re heading to the national park, keep in mind that while dogs can be in the campgrounds, in picnic areas, and along the road (leashed, of course), they are not allowed in the park except on two trails: the Oconaluftee River Trail and the Gatlinburg Trail. Fortunately there are plenty of outdoor zones where you can bring your dog, such as the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area and the national forests.

While you may be tempted to give your dog some freedom while hiking, it’s important to remember to keep your dog on a leash—and not just because it’s the law. If you encounter wildlife, be it a bear or a timber rattler, your dog will often try to protect you. You will have better control over the situation if he or she is well in hand.

And remember to come prepared for not only yourself, but your pet when hiking. Bring a dog bowl and water just in case you do not encounter a water source. Collapsable water bowls are easy to find and can often clip to a backpack for easy carrying. Furthermore, be sure to have your dog on some prescription strength flea and tick prevention. Ticks carry a variety of nasty diseases.

Key vaccines to be up to date on—aside from the basic ones—include ones for Leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and Influenza; often dogs meet from far away places on the trail. Rabies on the Tennessee side of the Appalachian Trail is primarily hosted by skunks whereas on the North Carolina side, raccoons are the more common host. So stay vigilant.

Be prepared to observe some interesting behaviors as your dog gets back to nature. The last hike I went on with my dog Marley, he buried his food every time I tried to feed him and did not eat for three days.   

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