Written by Hailey Manion, Assistant Manager at HH Conway
Hiking is fun, but hiking with dogs is literally my favorite thing to do in the entire world. I love feeling the wind in my hair, the weight of my hiking boots, and especially seeing the joy in my dogs when we get to our destination. I’ll be the first to admit, my dogs absolutely suck at on-leash hiking. We’ve never trained them on a leash like you’d expect someone that works with a dog trainer everyday would. We tend to gravitate toward less popular hikes so we have the freedom to let them off leash without the fear of meeting someone else on the hike. By no means am I an expert on this matter, but it IS something that works for us and that we do often with our pups!
What to Bring:
This all depends on how far and rigorous the hike is going to be. For the day hikes, the necessities for us are typically:
Backpack – Outdoor Products from Walmart – $15 and it has lasted a while!
Hammocks – We both have ENO’s and love them. When we aren’t on a time crunch, we like to set them up by water and let the dogs roam around. They love it!
Collars – Ours have embroidered collars from Hounds Hideaway and reflective collars from Leather Brothers.
Water bottle for us and 2 water bottles for the dogs – We have Hyrdoflasks; they don’t sweat and they keep water cold for up to 72 hours
Treats – We take something high-value like Chicken Crack, in a wearable treat bag from Outward Hound
Leashes – Even off-leash, keep these close by just in case you encounter someone- we use Mendota slip leads
Dog first aid – We carry hydrogen peroxide, gauze, horse wrap, and medical tape- the necessities for any minor human or dog injury
Collapsible bowl – These are amazing and lightweight for limited pack space
Our Favorite Local Hikes for a Howl of a Time…
This is my shining moment! I live to tell people about local underrated places to hike (I realize that’s a super hipster thing to say but I don’t care)! We always try to hike next to a body of water so that the dogs have a place to cool off and we’re always careful around ledges if we are off-leash hiking.
Woolly Hollow State Park (just outside of Greenbrier): a place everyone has heard of, but few people go to. This is a perfect place for off leash hiking IF it is a slow day. It’s next to a lake, it’s fairly flat, and only a few miles that aren’t too rigorous.
Petit Jean in Oppelo: a must for all Arkansans. Usually pretty crowded but if you take the secret Boy Scout Trail it’s usually good for off leashing (and I personally think it’s prettier than the waterfall trail).
Bells Slough (Mayflower): This is a local gold mine for off leash hiking that no one knows about. We’ve never met more than 3 people on the trail at a time and everyone hikes off leash with their dogs, so no one gets grumpy if your crazy dogs run up on them and excitedly greets their pets. It’s also got a big, muddy pond that they can get in at the beginning and the end of it.
Mount Nebo (outside of Dardanelle): There are several trails on top of Nebo. Some are on the ledge, so we always do on-leash hikes with those. Our favorite trails there are the Rim Trail (perfect for off leash hiking and not traveled frequently), and Waterfall/Gum Springs Trail. The waterfall is hardly ever running, but the stream is beautiful if it has rained recently.
Dardanelle Rock: This one is off the maps but so cool to hike. It’s a short, really intense hike up a boulder. You get to see the river at the top and when you’re done, cross the street and let the dogs swim in the river and run along the “beach”.
Longpool (outside of Dover): About 1/3 of a mile of an actual hike right along the Big Piney River and an awesome waterfall at the end. We always go further and just roam through the National Forest. Even if it’s not on an actual trail, the sights are so pretty.
Hawksbill Crag (Ponca): a 3 mile roundtrip hike. It’s right along a ledge and always busy, so we always do on leash hiking here. It has a breathtaking view at the end. If you go, print your directions before you leave the house because there is ZERO cell reception around this place.
Devils Den (Fayetteville): Worth the drive! There are lots of on leash hikes here. As we were leaving, we stopped and wandered into the National Forest to let our dogs do some off-leash. They had more fun getting to run rampant without people around, but all of it is beautiful!
Mount Magazine: We’ve only been here once, and it was gorgeous. There are multiple trails and not many are populated, so off leash hiking is a must here!
Finally, a few rules for off-leash hiking…
1. Never go to a populated hiking spot. There are some unspoken rules about off-leash hiking when there are other dogs and a lot of people around. Don’t be THAT person. While I absolutely love it, some people don’t like it when random dogs come and jump on them when they’re least expecting it. There is always the chance that someone is bringing their dog-aggressive pet for an on leash hike, and you don’t want to be the one to find out that they are, in fact, aggressive.
2. Always make sure your dog has on proper identification. If they were to see a squirrel and run a little further than you are comfortable with, it’s good to have ID on them JUST IN CASE they can’t find their way back.
3. Be confident in your dog’s listening skills. Our lab Izzy lives to please us. I’ve never thought for a second that she would run off and not come back (because then who would throw the ball for her?!?!). Our hound mix Moose, however, could sniff something and end up in Timbuktu before he realizes we aren’t with him. For Moose, we have trained him on a remote collar. Now before you think “How dare she preach about loving dogs and then use an e-collar on her own dog?!” let me explain. All we have to do is beep him and he comes back. I fully believe it is a great tool WHEN USED CORRECTLY and with love. I choose to do this over a leash because he has so much more fun off-leash and runs off more energy; he just sometimes needs a little help listening. We always keep our foster dogs leashed because we haven’t built up the years of trust that we have in our dogs.
Off leash hiking doesn’t work for everyone, but we love that it works for us. Basically, just do what works for you and your dogs and have so much fun doing it! — Hailey
PS – email Hailey at [email protected] for more detail or directions to the hiking spots!