The hills were alive with the sounds of hikers bedazzled by autumn colors and their excited-to-be-outside dogs ambling along a trail last Saturday next to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Hundreds of people and their four-legged friends stopped at the Graveyard Fields Overlook about 30 miles west of Asheville to hike the easy-in, easy-out loop. It bridges Yellowstone Prong and leads to two waterfalls in mile-high mountains.
Among the visitors was Beanie, a 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier and Treeing Walker coonhound mix. She tugged at the leash held by Kathleen Crosby and Bo Roddis, both of Asheville, nose to the ground, eyes alert and tail erect. “She sniffs and scratches around and loves being around people,” Roddis said of Beanie’s fondness for regular weekend hikes.
The popular 3.3-mile-long loop is one of 51 dog-friendly trails listed in the guidebook, “Best Hikes with Dogs/North Carolina.” The 2007 book, by Karen Chavez of Asheville, not only gives trail recommendations suitable for dogs but also provides tips and advice on how to care for dogs, big and small, while hiking.
Most of the trails (32) are in the mountains, with 10 in the Western Piedmont and Foothills. Nine lie in the Eastern Piedmont/Coast, including two in William B. Umstead State Park and one in Falls Lake State Recreation Area near Raleigh.
Chavez, outdoors writer at the Asheville Citizen-Times, said all trails are on public lands. She chose trails based on available parking, natural features like mountain views to interest humans and elements that appeal to dogs such as running water.
“Dogs like a variety of experiences,” Chavez said. “Dogs will pull you toward that stream. They want to check it out. They love mud holes.”
She excluded trails that are open to motorized vehicles and, in most cases, those that allow horses and mountain bikes.
Chavez’s own dog, a black Lab named Shelby, helped with the research. Shelby trotted the trails with her owner and gave them her stamp of approval. The dog died four years ago at age 15 but her dark-eyed visage graces the book’s cover.
Asked to name three favorite hikes, Chavez picked the Old Mitchell Trail in Mount Mitchell State Park for its summertime coolness; Max Patch Mountain in the Pisgah National Forest near Interstate 40, a grassy bald where dogs can run free; and the Laurel River Trail that follows Big Laurel Creek near Hot Springs for 3.5 miles, for splashes and swims.
At Graveyard Fields last Saturday, the trail looked like a canine convocation.
Kairi, a 10-year-old border collie and Lab blend, explored the path along Yellowstone Prong with owners Kevin and Haiyoung Robertson of Asheville. Other paws on the ground belonged to a basset hound, two noisy rat terriers, German shepherds, assorted mutts and a brindle-coat Plott hound, famed as a bear hunter and North Carolina’s official state dog.
As her dog’s best buddy, Chavez said she drew satisfaction hiking with Shelby, particularly when the Lab fell into well-earned sleep after a robust day on the trail. “Knowing I gave my dog a good workout and a fun day,” she said.
Jack Horan of Charlotte is author of “Where Nature Reigns/The Wilderness Areas of the Southern Appalachians.”
Tips for trails
Dogs yearn to go hiking for the exercise and the sights, sounds and smells from woods, water and wildlife. Here are some tips from Chavez about preparing your pet for the trail.
▪ If your dog is a couch potato, take it on increasingly longer walks in town to get it in shape before hitting a long trail.
▪ Make sure that you can control your dog, with leash or voice commands, and that the animal behaves itself meeting strange people and dogs.
▪ Take plastic bags to pick up poop or a trowel to bury it well off the trail.
▪ Carry a leash, water with a collapsible water bowl, snacks and dog booties for rocky terrain and winter hiking. During hunting season, dogs should wear a blaze orange vest.
▪ Pack a doggy first-aid kit that should include gauze pads and adhesive tape, 3 percent hydrogen peroxide cleanser and antibiotic ointment.