Written by and photos from RDMOC volunteer Alysia Slusser
Follow all of her and her pup Franklin's hiking adventures on Instagram @go.fetch.franklin
As the new year begins many of you are resolving to get outside more, exercise, and do activities with your dog, but may not be sure where you can go. We're here to help!
Before I get into my favorite places to hike I feel like it’s necessary to write a bit about how to hike with your dog. As more and more people want to get outside our places of beauty are being disrupted and as a card carrying member of Leave No Trace (read more on the 7 principles here) I'd like to take a minute to talk about trail etiquette.
Pay attention to leash laws: There is straight up nothing more fun to me than letting Franklin off leash to romp down a trail, but I have yet to find a public place in or around Illinois that allows for off leash dogs. This is perhaps the hardest rule for me to follow but I follow it because, one I have experience with reactive dogs and no dog has perfect recall. And two I want dogs to be allowed. People not obeying leash laws are the reason why most National Parks do not allow dogs at all, and the ones that do have very limited trails you can take them on. So for the sake of future dog hikers leash them up.
Ok now to the fun part! Where should you go? There are just a ton of different places to go and we've been to a lot of them but these are the places we hike regularly and love. If you want more options the AllTrails app is free and has the best resources I've found.
Depending on where you are starting out and how traffic is moving these can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half drive. The North suburbs have quite a few but I haven't liked many of them enough to note them here.
Indiana Dunes National Park - The newest addition to the National Park scene and though not in Chicago you can get here in about an hour if traffic isn't bad. We have not been here since the switch to National Park status but I don't think anything has changed about it's dog friendliness. It costs $12 to get into the park. There is a lot to explore but my favorite trails are the 8, 9, and 10 loop. There are also loads of trails just outside of the park that I haven't been to yet, RDMOC hiking day anyone?
2 HOUR DRIVE:
Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park - Both of these have great trails but for some reason people give Starved Rock more love. I actually prefer Matthiessen, it's not as developed or as busy and that's why it’s my favorite. You can easily go to both in one day and we always do but we spend much more time at Matthiessen. Plan on getting your feet wet as many of the trails cross shallow streams and there are plenty of waterfalls to romp through. If you want to have the trails to yourself (mostly) go early in the morning or during not so perfect weather. I've heard it's amazing during the winter as well but we haven't been during the winter yet.
3-4 HOUR DRIVE:
Devil's Lake State Park - This place is totally worth the drive. You can swing it in a day but there is also camping available and several dog friendly hotels nearby. Devil's Lake is the only place in this distance with some rocks to climb. It does get busy in the summer but it's still a great spot with beautiful views. Both bluffs are fun but the climb up to the Devil's Doorway and Balanced Rock trails are a bit challenging and fun.
5+ HOUR DRIVE:
We have also done a few multi-day backpacking trips, most recently to the Porcupine Mountains which is about a 7 hour drive and has miles and miles of trails. Whether you want backpacking or just day hikes out and back there are many options, but the Escarpment Trail has the best view.
Some tips on hiking with your dog...
Bring extra water: Even if it's cold out both you and your dog need water but especially when it's hot so be sure to bring a few liters for both of you. And if you don't feel like carrying it you can always get your dog a backpack and they can carry it themselves!
Wherever you choose to go, a hike can help your dog gain confidence, strengthen your bond, and help you both live healthier lives.
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