Hiking is an excellent way to stay fit and active, not only for humans but also for our furry friends. FitPaws named April as National Canine Fitness Month to bring awareness to canine obesity and remind everyone to keep their dog active and fit. Western Iowa has great hiking opportunities, and many of them are dog-friendly. However, there are several things a responsible dog owner should know and do before hitting the trail with their pooch.
Boning up on training is another useful preparation before hitting the trails. Having a well behaved and well trained doggo will make the hike better for everyone: you, your dog, other hikers, other dogs on the trail, and wildlife. Your dog should be under voice control and know basic commands like sit, down, leave it, and others. If you hike with your dog off-leash--if it is allowed where you are hiking--reliable recall is absolutely imperative to protect your dog, other dogs, other hikers, and wildlife. Your dog should immediately return to you when instructed; if not, don't hike off-leash!
When you begin to plan where you are going hiking, get to know trail regulations and trail etiquette. First and foremost, make sure dogs are allowed where you plan to visit. If it isn't clear on the park's website, call to confirm. If would be awful to arrive at the trailhead only to learn that dogs are not allowed. Don't assume every hiker will like your dog. Don't approach other dogs before asking the owner first. In a nutshell, be a B.A.R.K Ranger:
The importance of keeping your dog on a leash cannot be understated. Hiking off-leash is a wonderful pleasure if your dog is under voice control, has reliable recall, and off-leash hiking is allowed. Watching your dog frolic freely in nature is any dog owner's dream. However, consider the following as reasons to leash your dog:
One final topic before we recommend dog-friendly hikes: plan your dog's needs while on the trail. A six-foot leash is the first thing you'll need; consider a hands-free option if you like to take pictures while hiking. Updated vaccinations, identification (name tag with contact information, and possibly an imbedded microchip), and flea and tick repellent are also integral to your dog's hiking safety. It also helpful to know how to remove a tick from your dog, as early removal helps reduce the chance of a secondary illness. A bath or grooming session post-hike will allow you to check for invaders as well as burrs, foxtails, and other debris caught in your dog’s fur.
While a first aid kit should be part of everyone's ten essentials, consider a specific kit for your pet. Keeping your dog hydrated is vital, so bring a collapsible bowl and a water bottle specifically for your dog. A supply of waste bags will help you leave no trace, while food and treats will keep your dog's energy up. Finally, consider a coat for wet or cold weather; if it's hunting season, ensure your dog's safety with an article of blaze orange clothing.
Now, let's finally get to the good stuff. What are the best dog-friendly hikes in western Iowa? Well, if you've read this far, you'll know the answer: it depends on your dog! Some dogs are active and can hike for miles, while other dogs will tire out after a short jaunt. There are numerous parks, trails, and areas in western Iowa that welcome hikers with dogs--check out our Hiking the Byways series for a detailed list that includes which parks, refuges, etc., are dog-friendly. Below is a selection of great places to hike with your dog in western Iowa.
Stone State Park: The trails in the southern part of the park are multi-use, including equestrian riders, so it might be best to stick to the northern trails to avoid any uncomfortable interactions with horses and dogs. The drawback, however, is that you must walk on park roads in order to connect most of the northern trails, so be cautious when walking on park roads.
Bacon Creek Park: Bacon Creek Park not only has three miles of trails, it also has a large off-leash dog area for your furry friends to run and play with other doggos.
Old Town Conservation Area: Hunting is allowed at Old Town, so if you go hiking in the fall or winter, make sure that you and your dog are wearing bright orange. It's also crucial to keep your dog leashed during hunting season for its protection and out of respect for hunters. There eight miles of trails at Old Town allow hikers to create hikes of varying lengths.
West Oak Forest: No amenities, so pack sufficiently. West Oak Forest is quiet and tranquil, so you and your pup will have a great time hiking the mowed grass trails. Check for ticks after you've hiked.
Waubonsie State Park: The equestrian trails are great to hike, however, stick to Sunset Ridge and the other trails south of the highway in the state park, as dogs can spook horses. There are plenty of trails around the park office to get your dog proper exercise and enjoy wonderful views of the Missouri River Valley from Sunset Ridge.