Fall Hiking for You and Your Furry Friend

Jenna Ringelheim writer and photographer

Autumn is one of the best seasons of the year to explore the great outdoors. Cider donuts, crisp air, and deciduous trees lit up in colors one could only imagine a few months earlier are just a few reasons to plan a daytrip full of fun. For those who enjoy soaking up the scenery, fall is also an ideal time to explore some wilder places with your furry friend.

All trails are not created equal, so it is important to know before you go if your pooch will be allowed to frolic freely. Residents of Wellesley and Weston are fortunate to have hundreds of acres of conservation and recreational areas, many of which are dog friendly. This article highlights a few great places to go, and tips on how to plan a fall adventure for the entire family—Fido included.

Getting into Gear
Heading out on a hike takes preparation, but heading out with your canine companion takes preparation to a whole other level. Nothing is better than taking a hike with your dog. Being equipped for the trail not only makes the experience more enjoyable for you and your pup, it also will ensure that dog-friendly places remain that way for years to come.

Whether you plan to be gone for a week or just an afternoon, packing appropriately for the outdoors is essential. Simple things, such as wearing synthetic materials rather than cotton or packing light raingear and an extra pair of socks, will make you much more comfortable. To take proper care of your pet along the trail, you have to be prepared for yourself.

Just as you might appreciate the importance of a good set of hiking boots, your dog will be much happier if it is outfitted with the appropriate accessories. The basics include: a collar, leash, trail treats, and a first aid kit. Even if your dog is fully trained to voice commands, sometimes leashes are required by law, or need to be used as a common courtesy, so have one handy at all times. Two things that are especially important for a fall outing include:

Water and a water bowl. Dogs can become dehydrated easily. Water from lakes and streams becomes less abundant in the later seasons of the year, so to keep your pup hydrated remember to bring lots of extra water to share.

A brightly colored vest or bandana. Many trails in Massachusetts are within areas that permit hunting in season. If concerned about hunting, contact the appropriate land manager to find out the rules and regulations or when to avoid the trails entirely.

Happy, Healthy Trails and Tails
Some people like to run marathons, and others enjoy an evening stroll around the block. Dogs are the same way—each has an individual level of fitness. Growing puppies should not start hiking until they are at least one year old since uneven terrain and repetitive motion can cause permanent damage to their developing hips and shoulders. It is just as important to take it easy with older dogs that might have arthritis, stiff joints, or other ailments. Knowing what your dog is capable of is important. That being said, a trail definitely exists for every kind of dog, so choose your trails wisely and everyone should have a good time.

A quick vet checkup before the first big outing is also essential. Make sure that your dog has all the necessary shots, particularly rabies. You never know what kind of animal you and your pooch might run into in the woods. Also, some state parks require proof of vaccination and an up-to-date rabies tag. Ask your vet about any other prevalent mosquito- or water-borne diseases in your area. Lyme disease is found throughout Massachusetts, so you might consider using a topical tick deterrent, which your vet can provide.

Outings Close to Home
Those that want to get outdoors but don’t want to travel a long distance for a day of fun should consider the following hikes:

Cat Rock Park, Weston: With nearly 130 acres to explore, Cat Rock Park is a place that you and your dog will want to return to again and again. Hobbs Brook runs through the park and supplies fresh water along the trail. Hobbs Pond offers a great spot for a dog paddle. For fall foliage, make your way to the top of Cat Rock Hill. The trail is rather steep, but the walk to the top takes no more than ten minutes. This grassy hillside was once known as the Cat Rock Hill Ski Area. Run by the Town of Weston from 1957 to 1978, the ski hill once boasted two rope tows with a slope for beginners and a more advanced run through the hemlock trees. Today, you will find a water tank at the top of the 334-foot summit and stunning views of the towns that surround.

• Centennial Reservation, Wellesley: This wonderful reservation will allow you and pup to walk through open meadows, cool forests, and up Maugus Hill (the highest point in Wellesley at 338 feet). On a clear day, you will enjoy great views of autumn leaves, rolling hills, and church steeples. At the bottom of the hill, reward your dog with a quick dip in Bezanson Pond. Owned and managed by the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission, this property is divided by a variety of trails, so each time you visit there is a new one to explore. Dogs are especially lucky, as they can explore this area leash-free.

• Noanet Woodlands, Dover: Noanet Woodlands is one of the area’s best-kept secrets for hiking with your dog. The quiet surroundings, diverse environments, and spectacular views make these 695 acres a great place to visit. Noanet Woodlands features three color-coded trails (yellow, blue, and red), and many intersections are marked with a number. The Trustees of Reservations’ map makes it much easier to navigate the network of trails. Don’t miss 387-foot-high Noanet Peak. At the top, take a moment to enjoy the view of the Boston skyline and the adjacent Hale Reservation. The large rocky outcropping provides a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.

The Doggie Daytrip
Feeling adventurous and want to see more? The following hikes are great for frisky Fidos and their leaf-peeping friends.

• Blue Hills Reservation, Milton/Canton: While sailing along the Atlantic coastline, early European explorers named these hills for their bluish hue. Today, the Blue Hills Reservation stretches over 7,000 acres from Quincy to Dedham, Milton to Randolph, and provides a green oasis within minutes of downtown Boston. Highest of the twenty-two hills in the chain, Great Blue Hill rises 635 feet above the surrounding towns. With its varied terrain, scenic vistas, and 125 miles of trails, the Blue Hills Reservation offers year-round enjoyment for you and your dog.

For the trail less traveled, visit Ponkapoag Pond, the largest and most remote body of water found within the Blue Hills Reservation.

• Mount Watatic, Ashby/Ashburnham: With an elevation of 1,832 feet, Mount Watatic has long been a popular destination for day-trippers and through-hikers that want to experience the spectacular 360-degree views that this little mountain affords. The Mount Watatic Reservation hosts a diversity of ecological features for you and your pup to explore, including many large outcrops, steep forested slopes, wetlands, and a bald rocky summit. The Midstate Trail and Wapack Trail are two long-distance trails that traverse the reservation property.

• Peaked Mountain, Monson: Peaked (“pea-kid”) Mountain’s 1,227-foot summit offers panoramic views of Mount Monadnock to the north, Wachusett Mountain to the northeast, and Connecticut’s Shenipsit State Forest to the south. Scrub oak and deciduous hardwoods dominate this forest, which is crisscrossed with old fire roads that make this walk easy on the paws. Surrounded by the rolling New England countryside of forests, hills, and farms, this picturesque hike is a great way to spend the afternoon with your pooch. If your pup wants to swim after this climb, stop at the Miller Forest Tract on your way home. Walking along the shoreline trail that encircles Lunden Pond is a perfect way to end the day.

• Monument Mountain, Great Barrington: For almost two centuries, Monument Mountain has been a source of inspiration for many artists, including poets, novelists, and painters. During William Cullen Bryant’s stay in Great Barrington in the early 1800s, he wrote an expressive poem entitled “Monument Mountain,” which tells the story of a Mohican maiden whose forbidden love for her cousin led her to leap to her death from the mountain’s cliffs. A rock cairn marks the spot where she lies buried, giving the mountain its name—Mountain of the Monument. With more than 20,000 visitors a year—too many, by some standards—the hike to Squaw Peak is a popular annual ritual. On a beautiful fall day, the 56-spot parking lot often will be brimming with vehicles. To avoid the crowds, you and your dog should visit early in the morning or on weekdays. The summit is spectacular and offers panoramic views of southern Berkshire County.

Directions, maps, photos, and more detailed trail descriptions can be found in Best Hikes with Dogs: Boston and Beyond (Mountaineers Books, 2008).

Jenna Ringelheim is a graduate of Wellesley High School. She is the author of Best Hikes with Dogs: Boston and Beyond (Mountaineers Books, 2008). Jenna currently resides in Hailey, Idaho with her two boisterous Portuguese water dogs, Tasman and Millie.