Co-written by Sarah Herron and Morgan Tilton
Here, we share inspirational anecdotes and sage advice on how to keep pups safe and happy on long cross-country trips, short excursions, and up the trails. To integrate your pooch into your dream routine, follow their tips on everything from gear to etiquette and more.
Elena is a royal dog-lover: She volunteers monthly at a local shelter, donates dog food, and traveled to Mexico to help spay and neuter homeless doggos alongside Street Dog Hero, a dog rescue based in her hometown of Bend, OR. She’s the founder of Pine + Bark, a company that crafts creative, nature-inspired dog tags. Not to mention, she works full-time as a photographer for Ruffwear, an outdoor brand that makes performance dog gear. And she’s a dog mom of three.
Rio is the wise man of the pod, at age 10, while the girls—Baya and Millie—are respectively 4 and 2 years old. Elena and her crew have covered thousands of miles together from hiking, backpacking, and stand-up paddleboarding to biking and running. They road trip to various campgrounds around Oregon. In the winter, the quad backcountry and nordic skis, too.
During a typical week, Elena brings her family to a large open space park covered in sagebrush, where they run around while she hikes. Some days, she’ll pedal her bike alongside the girls while Rio rests at home (he suffers from arthritis). When they hit the road, they’ll spend overnighters at a fire lookout, beach, or established campsite.
Before they go, Elena confirms if dogs are permitted in that public space and the leash laws. Then, she researches the crowds. “I like to know, ‘How busy is this place this time of year?’ Generally, we avoid places during popular times or try to pick areas that are not well-trafficked. As a single person with three dogs, it can be a lot to manage if there are many other people around,” explained Elena.
Regardless of the distance or activity, Elena always totes the Pack Out Bag, a durable water-resistant pouch with a waterproof zipper. The reusable mini-pack is perfect for carrying single-use baggies loaded with dog waste versus ditching them on the side of the trail—which is unsightly and against Leave No Trace policies. She also packs the following supplies:
Water and bowl
Ruffwear Singletrak Dog Pack (depending on the time of year or length of activity)
Ruffwear Approach Dog Backpack (for longer hikes and overnights)
Ruffwear Fernie Dog Jacket, Climate Changer Dog Fleece, or Powder Hound Jacket for cold weather
Summit Trex Dog Boots or Polar Trex Winter Dog Boots in case someone gets a paw injury or we encounter surfaces that are too hot, icy, or sharp
Home: Bend, OR
Breed: Chocolate Lab (Rio); Lab-Border Collie-Australian Shepherd (Baya); Australian Cattle Dog-American Staffordshire Terrier (Millie)
Favorite destination: Alvord Desert, OR—hands down! This big, open playa is absolutely stunning and magical. The expansive space is perfect for dogs to run and play all day long. We go in the fall or spring when it’s not super hot or cold.
Pro Tip: “Dogs do not need to ‘meet each other.’ It’s respectful to pull off to the side of the trail in a non-fragile place (you can use treats to have the dogs focus on you) and patiently let others pass.”
Follow along: @findmeoutside
Chris Hill & Sammy
A few months ago, environmental activist Chris Hill adopted Sammy, an 8-week-old golden girl. This puppy joins her humans on close-to-home adventures when Chris isn’t hard at work as the Acting Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign.
Sammy loves hiking, fishing, and boating. “Even with Sammy’s little legs, we are able to really get out there. She is super agile, fast, and loves being outside,” shared Chris. “Though she’s a really great hiking companion, I love fly fishing with her.” While Chris tosses the rod, Sammy lets curiosity guide her: she explores and sniffs endless stretches of bank, chases leaves, and grabs sticks. She even checks back to see if Chris has had a catch!
Day to day, Chris takes Sammy to a rocky beach near home, where she snags up seaweed and sprints. Chris pays close attention to her pup’s energy levels: “We are learning Sammy’s limits as she grows, including how to encourage those limits and how to pull back when necessary.”
When adventuring to a new place, Chris researches the website of that public land manager and checks the trailhead kiosk for any rules regarding dogs including if a leash is required. She sets aside more time on the frontend of trips to plan and pack for Sammy, too, so everyone is safe and comfortable.
Home: Haines, AK
Breed: Golden Retriever
Favorite destination: Fishing with Sammy along Chilkat River
Pro Tip: “Don’t assume everyone you cross on the trail loves dogs. Some people don’t, even if you have the cutest dog in the world.”
Follow along: @misschrisyface
Nicole Handel & Bear, Dux
Dog-parent Nicole Handel has a few jobs on her plate. She’s the Key Account Manager for Mammut and a Brand Affiliate for Backcountry.com. When she’s not wrapping up those projects, she’s an amateur dog trainer. Plus, she plays—and travels—as much as possible with her two pups: Bear and Dux.
In the past 8 years, Nicole and Bear have road tripped side-by-side to 32 states nationwide—a total of at least 30,000 miles. More recently, Dux joined them in 19 states at only 9 months old. The trio thrives on dirt, water, and snow whether they’re mountain biking and trail running, splitboarding, camping, stand-up paddleboarding, or hanging out at the crag. During the weekly grind, they kickstart most days with a sunrise hike up a small, local mountain. Overall, they seek less-trafficked and quieter spaces to enjoy the outdoors together.
Nicole has an essential checklist she runs through before wheels are up. First, she reads the local government website for any dog laws or restrictions. She peers over trip reports and trail reviews, flagging any beta about the foot traffic and dog leash policies. Next, she checks the weather: will it be too hot for her dogs to exert themselves? Then, she researches the local wildlife: are there bears, mountain lions, or snakes? Should she carry bear spray? Lastly, she researches the terrain: is it rocky or should they expect scrambling? Will her dogs ned paw wax or booties?
“My goal with my dogs is that they are well-adjusted members of society who can join me mostly anywhere I go. We are currently on a remote-work camping trip for a month! When we return to the Northeast, and the snow starts to pile up, we are looking forward to sunrise tours on the splitboard!” exclaimed Nicole.
Home: In the northeast, near Vermont and New Hampshire
Breed: West German Shepherd (Bear) and Dutch Shepherd (Dux)
Favorite destination: A spot in the Utah desert that’s only accessible by 4WD vehicle, where Bear and I camped for a couple of nights. Compared to the rocky, root-filled places we camp on the East Coast, it felt so foreign and epitomized my hope of showing him as much of the world as I can.
Pro Tip: “If your dog is not 100% recall-reliable—meaning, they come to you immediately every time they are called—they should not be off-leash (that’s what dog parks are for).”
Follow along: @nicolehandel
Amber Pitcher & Ariel
Nearly fourteen years ago, Amber adopted Ariel and the duo has been inseparable ever since. “Ariel has helped me see more of the world than I could have ever dreamed possible! And she has been faithfully by my side through so many big life events: high school and college graduation, buying my first house, walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, climbing my first mountain, my first camping trip—you get the drift!” said Amber.
To date, their biggest feat was a 3-month road trip in their Jeep Wrangler to explore wild spaces across the U.S. and Canada. As of late, they love weekend exploration throughout the Northeast mountains and coastline via hikes, campouts, stand-up paddleboarding, and backpacking trips. During the snow season, they cross-country ski. They usually stick to trails, state parks, and national forests, as well as non-busy and dog-friendly spots.
Before they head out, it’s important to deep-dive into the research. Amber said, “I consult maps, read trip reports, check the weather, reach out to the organizations in charge of the trails, and ask questions. I make sure dogs are allowed on the trail or in the wilderness area we are visiting. For example, most national parks do not allow dogs. Preparation is so important when venturing outside with our dogs, as it is our job to keep them safe, ensure they are great adventure dog ambassadors, and to set them up for success!”
Home: Upstate New York, between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains
Breed: Siberian Husky-Lab-Golden Retriever
Favorite destination: A quaint lake in the Adirondacks with quiet, remote campsites along the water’s edge. We fall asleep in our tent to the sound of the loons. The shoreline birch trees and mountains have witnessed years of our memories.
Pro Tip: “Impeccable obedience training and recall makes the experience better for not only you and your dog but for others sharing the trail.”
Follow along: @ambpitch
Rio & I
In less than a year, Rio has traveled with Dylan and I all over the West. We’ve road tripped to Southern Utah, up the coast of California to the redwoods, and as far as Bend, Oregon.
Aside from the obvious (that we love hiking and backpacking), we proudly call Rio our river dog. Living up to his namesake, we take Rio on overnight whitewater trips, whether it’s stand-up paddleboarding or rafting. He’s an excellent water companion! At this point, he’s floated at least 120 miles through canyons and rolling hills. Off river, he’s backpacked 75 miles, backcountry skied 20 miles, and cuddled with me on 10,000 miles of road trips.
Day to day, Rio needs a TON of exercise—it’s the cattle dog in him. The ideal equation is to give him one big excursion plus two small walks around the neighborhood each day. Most of the time, we take him to a nature preserve trail along the Roaring Fork River to run out his energy. And this winter, we look forward to getting Rio into more backcountry skiing!
Honestly, adventure travel does look different with our furry family member. The most significant change is not being able to freely explore the majority of the trails in most National Parks. Many places, such as Yellowstone National Park, have designated areas for pets to ‘use the natural facilities.’ We’ve just pivoted our approach to road trips and where we visit. In general, it’s not a responsible idea to take a dog to any areas that are extremely hot, lack fresh water, have hazardous features (cliffs, hoodoos, hot spots, etc.), or that are historical or geographical areas of interest.
Our next big adventure is celebrating his birthday: We got him on Thanksgiving weekend last year!
Home: Carbondale, CO
Breed: Australian Shepherd-Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Favorite destination: My favorite place that I’ve camped with Rio was on our first backpacking trip up Fifty Mile Creek near Escalante, UT. Rio was only 6 months old. He was innately curious and excited to run freely through miles and miles of canyon—it was true puppy stoke and so much fun to watch! I also loved that experience, because it was my first time camping with a dog. Having him curl up at night, laying between Dylan and I, made my heart melt.
Pro Tip: If your dog doesn’t respond promptly to commands (heel, sit, and stay) then keep your dog on a leash or with an e-collar. It’s incredibly rude to have your dog run up to a stranger and sniff or jump on them, especially if that person isn’t comfortable with dogs.
Follow along: @sarahherron