Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Yosemite and Beyond!

*Please note, this post was originally a guest post for the Fido Factor Blog. Since then, the blog has been deactivated, so I have re-posted content here. I will re-link to Fido Factor if the blog becomes active again.

To Yosemite and Beyond! (With Fido!) 

Getting acquainted with Yosemite signage
Time for a little choose your own adventure quiz:
A) You want to hike tons of trails in Yosemite National Park.
B) You want to bring your lovable four-legged friend with you to Yosemite National Park.

No, you may not choose both (always my first choice). If you chose A, sorry, but you can't have your dog with you. Leave him/her at home with a friend and a good toy. If you chose B, read on, my friend, read on!
Here's the short of it: As implied by our little quiz, in Yosemite, you can't have your cake (dog) and eat it (hike it) too. It's a National Park and they don't let dogs go hiking in National Parks. Take a deep breath. Yes, I know this seemingly makes no sense: "You're telling me my dog is banned from outside?" (I was asking this question myself). But, my level-headed husband (and park information) reminded me, there are serious wildlife hazards that do prohibit pups from roaming safely (bears, cougars, and rattlesnakes are no joke), and, unfortunately, not all dog-owners are responsible people (Shame on you! Pick up that poop, take your puppies to training classes, socialize them, and get a non-retractable leash already!).

Knowing these restrictions, I was a little worried when planning our first trip to Yosemite that we'd miss out on everything good the park has to offer. And I'm the type of traveler that hates feeling like I've missed something. If I have a guidebook, I like to use it more as a checklist of things to do. But this was a first-pass trip for us, a taster. I did, however, collect as much information as I could on what can be done with and without dogs in this amazing natural wonder we call Yosemite.

Half dome
First, stop worrying that you’ll miss EVERYTHING. As a first time traveler to Yosemite, I was awestruck by all that I saw (yes, with my dog at my side). It is simply an amazing place, and any way you can see it - Fido in tow or not- you will doubtless be astounded & appreciative.

Second, let’s get down to details. There aren’t many on the National Park website. I ended up getting a little frustrated with the information I found online about pets in the park. While the Yosemite National Park website does have an entire page of information on pets, for a first-time traveler to Yosemite, it all seems too vague. The information that is there basically tells you that pets can be in developed areas and on paved roads or trails, unless there's a sign that says no pets. Umm.... thanks, that's helpful. If you’ve never been, that really doesn’t mean much. (To be fair, the site does a little better than that, listing specific campsites that are not pet-friendly, and 4 roads that are.) Other than that, though, when looking up trails in Yosemite, if the description doesn't mention pets, assume it's not pet friendly. I looked through 4 or 5 different hiking area trail maps for the Park, and the only one that even mentioned pets was one hike in Wawona. For the Wawona Meadow Loop (designated as an easy hike), the last sentence of the description states: "Please note that horses, bikes, and leashed pets are allowed on the trail.” I naively kept looking for little paw symbols by every trail description, hoping for the familiar dog-friendly designation. I’ll save you the time: don’t bother. But don’t dismay either! Here’s a quick introduction for taking Fido to Yosemite (major sites of interest in bold): 

Captain at Olmstead Point. He thinks the views are yummy.
  • You can do any of the following walks with your dog: Yosemite Valley’s 4 mile loop (for views of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Cathedral Beach, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and meadows); Wawona Meadow Loop and Wawona 4 mile fire road (for BIG TREES!), Carlon Road (near Hodgen Meadow), and Old Big Oak Flat Road (between Hogden Meadow and Hazel Green Creek- a stretch of road to the Northwest of Yosemite Valley). No bones about it: these are not secluded trail walks- all are paved paths or roads, dogs must always be on leash, and many of these are not covered by trees- ie, the path gets very hot in the summer time. But you will see beautiful spots. In addition, Bridalveil Falls, has a nice, short (maybe 5 min), paved trail through the woods up to the falls, and the path runs along a stream (which, unofficially, we may have just let our pup cool off in!)
  • Olmstead Point, along the Tioga Road/120, has gorgeous views of the valley, and a giant rock face area for stretching Fido’s legs.
  • Weather permitting (the road is mainly closed Nov-May), you can drive up to Glacier Point for astounding views of Yosemite.
  • Many campsites are dog-friendly, but call ahead.
  • Unfortunately Hetch Hetchy, Mirror Lake, and Vernal Fall are all spots you’ll have to save for a Fido-free trip - since they are only accessible by trails, you can’t see them with your dog.
  • If there’s a road (and it’s not closed due to weather-related factors), you can do the lazy-man’s drive-by tour of many sites. For a first-time visitor with only 1 or 2 days, this will actually keep you not only very happy with all you get to see, but also very busy! A good itinerary for one busy day in Yosemite with the dog would be to drive around the valley (or walk the loop if it’s not too hot and you have time) and drive to Glacier Point and Olmstead Point for views. You’ll be satisfied, I swear. But Fido may need some more time to run around after all that driving.

Speaking of which, while you’re in the area, the following spots are not more than a few hours drive from Yosemite, and are far less restrictive about dog rules:
  • Mammoth Lakes - Including Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Lake George, and more, with dog-friendly trails and spots to swim (just watch out for fishers!). Also, catch killer views from the Mammoth Vista atop Mammoth Mountain, and spots in the Inyo National Forest, including Devil’s Postpile, Rainbow Falls, and Minaret Lake. (An important note: from 7am- 7pm, the only access to these spots if you don’t have a hiking permit is to board a shuttle- it is dog-friendly, but they must be wearing a muzzle while on board. Muzzles are available for purchase, or bring your own from home). There are trails ‘a plenty, all of them dog-friendly (and often off-leash). Also, Mammoth is a very cute (and very dog-friendly) town, with plenty of outdoor seating and Fido-friendly store owners.
  • Mono Lake - A lake saltier than the ocean! Dogs need to be on leash, but there are some beautiful and interesting walks along the lake, including the South Toufa loop.
  • Stanislaus National Forest - With the exception of the beach/day use area at Pinecrest Lake, you’ll be hard pressed to find a “No Dogs Allowed” sign.  This forest is vast, beautiful, and wild and rugged looking. There are TONS of hiking trails, spots to climb rocks, camping sites, places to swim in streams, and plenty of opportunities to test out your driving skills up and down curvy and wide-open roads. While Yosemite Valley is crowded with tourists and cars, Stanislaus seems undiscovered in comparison. Dogs are welcome, and for the most part can be off-leash through much of the forest. Ahhh, a sigh of relief for active dogs and their owners everywhere ;-)
June Lake
Mono Lake
This information is by no means exhaustive, but I hope you find the summary helpful, and enjoy exploring this amazing area with your dog as much as we did!

See also Captain's blog posts on Yosemite, Stanislaus, Mono Lake, and Mammoth.

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