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Camping with Your Dog

Updated on May 2, 2012
The author and his dog Zeus on a camping trip on Upper Priest Lake in northern Idaho
The author and his dog Zeus on a camping trip on Upper Priest Lake in northern Idaho | Source

With the economy of today, camping is rising in popularity among people looking to get away for a few days. The cost of calling a tent home for the night is much less than that of a hotel or motel. For most vacations, man’s best friend gets relegated to doggy camp for the duration of the trip. Taking Fido with you, however, can be both more rewarding and less expensive than leaving him behind in a kennel.

Lochsa Lodge in Powell, ID allows pets to stay in some of its more primitive cabins
Lochsa Lodge in Powell, ID allows pets to stay in some of its more primitive cabins | Source

Where Are Dogs Allowed?

Unfortunately, there is no universal rule as to where dogs will be allowed to stay, be let off-leash, or even just be present at. The best way to find out if your pooch can tag along is to call ahead and check if dogs are allowed and what regulations might apply. For example, on a recent cross country ski trip to Lolo Pass in western Montana we found out at the trailhead that dogs were only allowed on the non-groomed snowmobiling section. Snow machines make different tracks than cross country skis, and we had a rough time trying to follow any tracks. Had we known that the groomed trails were off limits to dogs before arriving, we could have planned to ski at a nearby area that did allow dogs.

As far as accommodations, finding a place to call home along with your dog for a few days may be hit or miss. National Forest campgrounds allow pets to stay with you as long as they are kept on leash and under control ( No one wants to wake up to a barking dog in a neighboring campsite at five in the morning! Private and state campgrounds and cabins may have different policies, so checking ahead is a must. The Lochsa Lodge in Powell, Idaho, for example, allows pets in only some of their cabins.

You should also take into consideration what activities you have planned on your trip. While you can easily incorporate a dog into your hiking and boating plans, places like beaches and private establishments may be off limits. You may have to forego that beach tan in exchange for an activity you can both enjoy together. Restaurants with outdoor seating areas that are accessible without going indoors are your best bet for dining. Being friendly towards our four legged friends seems to be catching on in some tourist-centric towns like Jasper, Alberta, so keep an eye out for water bowls. If a business keeps a dog bowl by their door, they would most likely enjoy meeting your pooch!

Don't Forget to Bring...

Packing for yourself plus a furry friend takes some additional thought into what will keep them happy and hydrated on your trip. Food, water, and toys are some of the most obvious things that you’ll need to pack in addition to your own gear. Dogs drink on average up to an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. For an 80 pound dog, for instance, you’d want to make sure you had at least 80 ounces (or 2.5 quarts) of water dedicated to the dog per day. On the food front, you’ll want to bring at least as much food as your dog would normally eat over the period you’ll be gone. A good way to measure it out is to put each meal in an individual bag; that way you won’t have to bring out all the food each time you feed your dog, and you’ll be less likely to measure a meal wrong and possibly end the trip with less food than your dog expects for the last few meals.

Keeping your dog tethered while at the campsite allows them to explore without getting into trouble
Keeping your dog tethered while at the campsite allows them to explore without getting into trouble | Source

The Pooch in the Campground

Keeping your dog on a leash will probably be required in most camping locations. You won’t want hold a leash with an active dog on the end while setting up camp, so bring a long rope or tether that you can anchor in the ground or around a tree to let your dog roam while you pitch the tent. If you and your pup are staying on an island or shoreline and will be doing any swimming, that same tether can be attached to their collar while they swim out to fetch a toy, allowing you to reel him in if his doggy paddle skills aren’t up to snuff.

Bringing toys that your dog enjoys will keep him happy and occupied and less likely to bark, whine, or dig while he’s not the center of attention. Where you want your dog to sleep will most likely depend on it’s size. A smaller dog will be safer inside the tent, while a larger dog may be alright if left just outside for the night. If you really want to keep your larger dog outside of your tent but still protected from the elements, a dog pop-up tent might be just the thing. If your dog is off-leash around the campground, using an LED-lit collar or a separate small light clipped on his normal collar will help you keep an eye on him even as the sun sets and the stars come out.

Things to Remember

  1. Always call ahead to your destination to make sure that your dog will be allowed at your campsite, trails, restaurants, or other destinations
  2. A good way to make sure your pooch stays hydrated is to offer them water whenever you stop for a drink yourself
  3. All dogs might not be suited for camping; only you will know if yours is ready for such an adventure
  4. Pack more food and water than you'll need in case of a spill or other problem
  5. Follow all local rules and regulations to make sure you show a good example of dog ownership

If your camping trip incorporates boating, make sure to check out my other guide specifically tailored to bringing your canine companion on the water.


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