Winter Hiking in Lake Tahoe with your Dog

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to mount judah

Winter Dog Friendly Trails in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of those destinations that can be visited year round. In the summer, visitors can take advantage of the lake and hiking trails. The winter attracts downhill skiiers, snowshoers, and cross country skiiers alike. Most visitors come to Tahoe in the winter for the world renowned ski resorts, but our family doesnt ski so we spend most of our time exploring snowed in trails. We’ve been able to enjoy snowy trails in North Lake Tahoe until mid-april. Here’s a list of our favorite winter hikes in lake tahoe:

  • South Lake Tahoe
    • Van Sickle Bi-State Park & Heavenly Mountain Resort
    • Fallen Leaf Lake
    • Echo Lake SNO Park
  • North Lake Tahoe
    • Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut
    • Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah

What do you need for a snow day in Tahoe with your dog?

Can dogs walk off leash on the snowy Lake Tahoe trails?

The answer to this question depends on how heavily trafficked the trail is. During the summer, our dogs remain leashed as the trails are officially open and trafficked. During the winter, trails are often on closed roads , and the areas around the trails are closed. Our rule of thumb on the Tahoe winter trails (and the rule that dog owners follow in Tahoe) is that the dog must always be on leash when passing by other hikers or dogs. If the dog does not come to a heel immediately when another hiker or dog is visible, then the dog cannot be off leash. We have never had any issues with off leash dogs in Tahoe – we have always found that trail dogs tend to be under voice control and our dogs are immediately called back to a heel and leashed for the comfort of passing other winter hikers.

Map of [Snowy] Dog Friendly Trails in Lake Tahoe

The Town of South Lake Tahoe is Dog Friendly!

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe south

Before we bought snowshoes, we would rent them from Snowshoe Thompson’s Ski and Snowboard Rentals. Check out brunch at Ernie’s Coffee Shop next door. During winter months, we sit by the window and leave the pups in the car while we grab a quick bite to eat.

South Lake Tahoe – Explore Heavenly Mountain Resort with your dog then check out Van Sickle Bi-State Park

South Lake Tahoe is home to the popular Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort – grab some hot chocolate and take a walk with your dog around the resort. During the winter months, the area around Heavenly is bustling with people but we found the Van Sickle Bi-State Park trails to be relatively quiet as most visitors are hitting the ski slopes. The trailhead starts just a few hundred feet from parking (we parked in the Heavenly parking lot).  In the deep winter snow, the trail isn’t clearly marked so it’s best to follow the paths that have been paved by prior visitors.

golden retriever dog on a pet friendly tahoe trail

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe bi state park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

If you visit the day after a large storm, you’ll have to blaze the trail with your snowshoes but luckily there isn’t much of a risk of getting lost – the resort is nearby and cellphone service is available throughout the area. When we visited after a storm, we explored different paths until the snow got too deep for the snowshoes.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe van sickle bi state park

South Lake Tahoe – Winter at Fallen Leaf Lake with your Dog

Fallen Leaf Lake Trail is another well trafficked trail in South Lake Tahoe. The road to the trailhead is closed during the winter so it is best to park on Emerald Bay Road and then follow Fallen Leaf Road to the trailhead (see map above). The Fallen Leaf Lake trail was heavily trafficked by snowshoers so it was easy to follow.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe fallen leaf trail

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe fallen leaf trail

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe fallen leaf trail

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe fallen leaf trail

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe fallen leaf trail

South Lake Tahoe – Hike to the frozen Echo Lake with your dog

During the winter, the road to Echo Lake is closed and snowed in. The road turns into a 1.5 mile trail to the lake with the optionality of continuing the trail around the lake. Since Porcuine/Echo Lakes Rd (Forest Rte 11N05) is snowed in, parking is available across the street from Lincoln Hwy. Navigating to “Echo Lake SNO-Park” should bring you right to the parking lot. We used Snowshoes for this entire hike as the powder can get deep. The trail starts where Forest Route 11N05 meets Lincoln Highway – you can see the exact path we followed on this google map.

The trail begins follows along cabins (most of which are abandoned for the season) on the left side and eventually comes upon the closed campground on the right. Even though trail markers are hidden by the snow, the trail is clearly marked by footsteps. The trail to the lake follows a slight incline for about a mile until it curves around a hill.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

After about a mile, the trail curves around a hill and then opens up into a large open field of snow. As it turns out, this snow meadow is actually a covered parking lot that is used during summer months when the road is open. The dogs loved zooming through the open field, and we enjoyed the view of the lake peaking in through the trees.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

At this point, the final destination is visible through the trees. Continue walking down the trail and it will lead you directly to the snowy beach and docks. During the middle of winter, the lake is frozen solid enough to walk on, but when we visited, the lake had already started thawing so we did not attempt to walk on it. Proceed with caution.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe echo lake sno park

The trail continues across the bridge to the right of the lake and can be followed around the lake. If you choose to continue the trail, be sure to come equipped with snowshoes and poles as the snow is especially deep if you continue along the lake.

North Lake Tahoe – Follow the Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut 

The Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut is the most picturesque of the Tahoe winter trails. The trail goes through open fields, wooded areas, and up a ridge that leads to panoramic views of the Tahoe valley. Parking is available on Bunny Hill Drive (buy a “Donner Summit California State SNO Park” permit online or in person to avoid a ticket). The trailhead is directly on the other side of the freeway underpass.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

The trail to Peter Grubb Hut is almost 5 miles out and back, and crampons/microspikes are definitely required for this hike. The trail is crowded so the best time to start is in the early morning. Like the other winter trails, it is difficult to spot trail markets in the snow. The best way to find Castle Peak (the first destination) is by following the footsteps in the snow – once you reach the incline, Castle Peak is at the top of the ridge. The Peter Grubb Hut is about a 30 minute walk downhill from Castle Peak.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to peter grubb hut

North Lake Tahoe – Trek through the deep snow on the Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah

The Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah was covered by so much snow when we visited that we were unable to find a trail. Instead, we explored the area for about an hour before heading back to the car. The snow is very deep and snowshoes are definitely required for exploring this area. The trail is frequented by cross country skiers and snowboarders making their way down from the top of Mount Judah.

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to mount judah

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to mount judah

dog friendly trail in lake tahoe to mount judah

Enjoy the Tahoe Snow!
-Your Pal Cal



Paris Photoshoot at the Louvre with our Dog

As usual, our most recent trip to Paris included a family photoshoot by our favorite Parisian Photographer – Celine Chan. Last time we visited, we had our photoshoot at the Eiffel Tower and Pont Bir Hakeim. This time, we opted for the Louvre and the Tuileries. We arrived at the Louvre Pyramid around 7:45am before the crowds – and rain – arrived. This shoot took place in the middle of February so we were appropriately bundled up. The wind was blowing hard so my skirt did its own thing throughout the entire shoot.

We started the shoot at the Louvre Pyramid. It was wonderfully quiet in the early morning and Samson loved being able to prance around while we took photos. It’s always a priority of ours to get a formal photoshoot when we travel to Paris – with this photoshoot we didn’t worry about family photos for the rest of the trip. Photos in the winter was an interesting spin we had never dealt with before; I would definitely not recommend it. We were COLD and most of the shoot was so windy that we just had to hope that my skirt wouldn’t fly off. Regardless, we tried to enjoy our time together. Samson didn’t mind the cold at all so we took after his lead and didn’t let the frigid air bother us much.

The main courtyard of the Louvre Pyramid is a stunning place – The pyramid stands in the center and acts as the entrance to the world famous Louvre museum (home of the Mona Lisa). The museum extends underground and also around the structures that surround the courtyard. In addition to being breathtakingly beautiful, the Louvre is officially the largest museum in the entire world.

Samson loved licking the dirty rainwater off the floor – we spent a decent amount of time telling him to stop licking the sewer but he was just so entranced by all the smells. He didn’t get sick and enjoyed himself so no harm, no foul. The sides of the Louvre courtyard are lined with antique style lamp posts. We didn’t miss the opportunity to get some shots with them.

Samson and I finally got some solo shots together. Throughout the entire trip, he was  so happy to come along for the ride and join us in any activity. He was just as happy running through the Louvre courtyard as he was sitting on my lap getting kisses. Samson has been such a magical addition to our family. He and Calvin couldn’t be more different – He is the calm spirit we never knew we needed amidst our crazy life. Calvin gives us energy when we are feeling low, but Samson reminds us to chill and take a nap when we start moving too fast.

I love how creatively Céline makes all her shots. The silhouette against the smaller pyramid is one of my favorite shots. We were once more reminded of how peaceful the Louvre Courtyard is so early in the morning – when we visited later in the day, we got lost in the swarms of crowds around the museum.

After spending time at the Louvre courtyard, we did a quick outfit change and headed across the street to the Tuileries. The Tuileries Gardens refer to the park across the street from the Louvre. The rain had started so we powered through until we got too wet. The Tuileries is a beautiful place to wander around at any time of day – the garden is the area between the majestic Place de La Concorde and the Louvre Pyramid. The garden originally belonged to Catherine De Medici and officially opened to the public in 1667 after the French Revolution.

As always, our shoot with Céline was lots of fun. The rain eventually started pouring on us but we still were able to capture some wonderful family moments.  We are looking forward to our next trip (and of course, our next photoshoot).

I Louvre You,
Your Pal Cal


Roadtrip activities with your dog through Nevada, Utah & Arizona

In November, we took a roadtrip with our dogs through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We went through the Desert with a pit stop in Las Vegas. We got caught in a wicked storm passing through the region but were still able to enjoy the dessert and sin city with the dogs. Due to the heat throughout the Nevada, Utah, and Arizona desert landscape, October – April are the best times to visit with your dog. The weather in the desert changes quickly so come dressed in layers. Over our five day roadtrip, we experienced heat, rain, snow, hail, and cold winds.

Essentials to pack when visiting the desert with your dog

During the summer months, the heat in desert climates is brutal and reaches dangerous temperatures. It is best to visit in late fall, winter, or early spring to avoid heat related injuries, especially when hiking with a dog. At any time of year, when you visit the desert with your dog, be sure to bring a backpack with the following:

Is the Mojave Desert Pet Friendly? 

The Mojave Desert extends through Southeastern California into Nevada and has become one of the most visited tourism destinations in North America (due to its proximity to Las Vegas). The desert receives less than 2 inches of rain a year – which happened to be while we were visiting. The desert includes the major National Parks of Death Valley and Joshua Tree as well as multiple state parks and recreation areas. National Parks are always less dog friendly than state parks/national preserves so we did not visit National Parks on this trip. As a general rule of thumb, you can almost always find pet friendly alternatives to National Parks close by. We visited Joshua Tree National park in early 2019 but enjoyed the pet friendly options more on this road trip. Pro Tip: always opt-out of National Parks if you are visiting with your dog and look for alternative attractions. The top pet friendly destinations of the Mojave Desert are the Mojave National Preserve, Valley of Fire State Park, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Mojave National Preserve – California

The first day of our road trip, we drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by traveling through the Mojave National Preserve. There are many pet friendly destinations throughout the preserve but we have highlighted the two most unique experiences. Before entering the Mojave, be sure to fill up your gas tank as there aren’t any gas stations once you are inside.

Kelso Sand Dunes with your Dogs

Our first stop in the Mojave with the dogs were the Kelso Sand Dunes. The dunes tower at over 600 feet so you can’t miss them – depending on the direction that you are traveling, you will turn off Kelbaker Road onto Kelso-Dunes Road where you will continue for 4 miles until the trail restrooms at the trailhead. Kelso-Dunes Road is unpaved and bumpy but is passable by most vehicles without 4WD.

The dunes cover 45 square miles and due to the shifting sand, there is no marked trail to the top. Keep your eyes on the tallest summit as your goal or follow the footprints in the sand. The trail trends upwards with up and down hills of sand until the final climb to the top. If you are walking upwards, you know you are going the right way. Luckily, it is impossible to get lost as you will always be able to see your goal (the highest sand dune) in front of you and the parking lot behind you.

As the crow flies, the entire experience covers around 3 miles, but the climb is strenuous – not a walk at the beach.  As you climb, each step becomes more difficult and you will find yourself falling into a 2 step forward, 1 step back pattern. The final summit is the hardest so rather than going up the largest dune, try to find an easier path (on the right side of the ridge). Walking along the ridge is easier than climbing the largest dune  head on. As you walk, your steps will create little sand avalanches below but eventually, you will make it to the top.

Once you make it to the top of the summit, have a seat and take in the views before you roll or run back down. When we visited, a sand storm started without warning once we reached the top. The storm made it difficult to see our way back down and the wind turned the sand into tornados. As we made our way back down, many of the hikers had to turn back as the winds continued picking up. We got back to the car covered in sand but satisfied with the beautiful views we enjoyed from the dunes.

Bring your dogs to the Mojave Desert Lava Tube (4WD Needed)

What is a lava tube?

A lava tube is an underground cave that has been formed by hardened lava. Lava tubes are made interesting by spotlights from above where holes in the molten lava let in light. Without the spotlights from the sky above, the tube would just be a dark cave.

When is the best time of day to visit the Mojave lava tube?

We visited the lava tube at sunset and found that the lighting was very dim compared to what we would have experienced around mid day (11am-2pm) with the sun higher in the sky. From research I have done online, the best time to visit the lava tube is right around noon. The strength of the light beams you experience from the holes in the ceiling of the tubes will depend on the sun’s strength on the day you visit.

The road to the trailhead

The pet friendly Mojave Desert lava tube is another unique desert experience – If you decide to go to the lava tube, make sure to look up the route beforehand and familiarize yourself with the path to the trailhead: the turnoff from Kelbaker Road is unmarked (about 15 miles from the Kelso Depot). If approaching on Kelbaker Road from the Kelso Depot, turn right on the unmarked Aiken Mine Road. Keep left when you eventually get to the fork to remain on Aiken Mine Road. Eventually, you will reach what appears to be a parking lot and the lava tube is about 1/4 mile from parking. The road to the trail head is very bumpy – do not attempt without a high clearance or 4WD vehicle. The sand is relatively deep in parts and there are alternating areas of rocks and holes on your way to the trailhead. We were perfectly safe with our 4WD Subaru Outback but would not have attempted with a normal sized Sedan.

Finding the lava tube entrance

Watch this 2 minute video from California Through my Lens for a look at how to find the lava tube.

Once you park your car, you will head up a path lined with lava rock. Keep to the right and within a few minutes, you will see a few mounds of lava rocks. Continue towards the mounds of lava rocks until you see holes in the ground. The holes indicate that you are walking over the lava tube! Those holes are where the light shines through from above once you are in the tube. Finding these holes in the ground means you are close to the entrance!

Steep staircase with a dog: the lava tube entrance

Once you reach the large hole in the ground with the metal staircase, you’ve found the lava tube! The entrance to the lava tube is to the left once you get down the steep (but stable) staircase. I was alone with the two dogs and luckily they were confident enough to make their way up and down the staircase. In order to stay safe,  I went down first and then called the dogs down one by one. If your dog is afraid of open back or steep stairs, you may have to carry them down. The staircase is very stable but is almost a 90 degree incline. Calvin and Samson were so ready to explore the lava tube that they nearly flew down once I called them to meet me.

Explore the lava tube with your dogs!

Once you reach the bottom of the staircase, you are almost to the final attraction! The tube begins to the left of the staircase – you need to walk down and into the darkness for a few moments (use your phone flashlight) before you find the wide, open cavern on the other side. The opening to the tube is only about 3 feet tall so you will crouch down (watch your head!) and walk a few steps into the dark. Don’t worry, it’s only a few steps to the main cavern. The main cavern isn’t particularly long – only a few hundred feet but the adventure to getting there was all part of the experience. Take a moment to enjoy the quiet peace-fullness alone with your dogs. We spent about thirty minutes enjoying the lava tube and by the time we emerged, the sun was setting over the desert. Our next stop – Las Vegas.

As we drove onwards to Las Vegas, we watched the sun continue to set over the desert. We were meeting up with the rest of our family in Vegas, so the day in the desert had been just me alone with the dogs. It was a strange experience spending the day with my two companions who asked for nothing but my presence. At first, I was worried that I would get lonely without speaking to (or seeing) any humans for a entire day. Instead, I felt far from alone even as we crouched into the darkness of an underground cave.

Las Vegas with Fido – Nevada

Is Las Vegas Pet Friendly? 

The top reason we stopped in Las Vegas during this road trip was to take a rest and explore the pet friendly attractions that are driving distance from the Vegas Strip. Many of the hotels in Las Vegas are pet friendly and have dog relief areas throughout the complexes. However, pets are only allowed to walk on the Las Vegas strip between the hours of 5am to noon so we do not consider Vegas to be particularly pet friendly. Pets are allowed to walk through casinos if they are going to and from their hotel rooms but not allowed for any other reason.  Additionally, pets are not permitted in the dining or shopping areas  If your dog is a legitimate service dog (ESA is not included), it is exempt from these regulations. We stayed in Las Vegas as we were passing through to Utah during our road trip and the hotel had no issues with two dogs in the hotel room. Calvin adhered to the rules and still had a lot of fun in the hotel room during out visit, while Samson (a service dog) accompanied us throughout the day.

This was my first time visiting Las Vegas and we stayed at the pet friendly Cosmopolitan right next to the Bellagio fountains on the Vegas Strip. I highly recommend staying right on the Vegas Strip during your stay – this will allow you to walk around but also take breaks throughout the day if necessary. The following hotels on the Vegas Strip are Pet Friendly: The Cosmopolitan, The Mirage, Bally’s, Delano, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, Four Seasons.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – Nevada

20 minutes from Las Vegas, your dog is welcome at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. During our stay, a massive storm was crossing through the region so we were unable to fully enjoy the red rocks. Start at the visitor center area to check out the trails, use the restroom, and fill up on water. Check out the available trails here to determine the right distance for you and your dog.

Valley of Fire State Park – Nevada

The Fire Wave is dog friendly!

The famous “Wave” at Coyote Buttes in Utah is breathtaking but unfortunately requires an almost impossible to acquire permit. Luckily, you can enjoy a smaller version of the famous wave for free and without permits in the Valley of Fire State Park! The Fire Wave’s orange and white stripes are wild – until you actually approach and walk on the sandstone you may be convinced that the stripes are painted on. The stripes are a natural phenomena found in sedimentary rocks accumulating in layers over thousands of years. Parking is available at the Fire Wave trailhead and the 1.5 mile out and back trail is well marked.

White Domes Trail

The White Domes Trail packs all of the magic of the Valley of Fire into a short 1 mile loop – sandstone formations, slot canyons, colorful rocks. The trail starts off with a steep rocky slope but flattens out after the initial descent. The trail leads to a wide slot canyon and then ends with a sandy path surrounded by red rocks. Ample parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.


Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Utah

On what ended up being the last night of our road trip, we found ourselves in Hildale, Utah….in a snowstorm. We cuddled up in an airbnb that was essentially just a bed surrounded by 4 walls of wood planks…and a makeshift “roof”. We slept with all our winter gear on and woke up to a fresh layer of snow the next morning. This was Samson’s first snow, and he loved it!

Unfortunately, we were unable to complete most of the items on the list below due to the storm that followed us along the trip. We were only able to visit the Toadstools Hoodoos but wanted to include the other items as they were at the top of our list if we had been able to. The weather conditions were so sketchy, that when we arrived at the Bureau of Land Management visitor center, the rangers warned us not to try any of the more difficult to access trails. Slot canyons can become extremely dangerous during inclement weather as they can fill up with water and flood. Additionally, the clay along the canyons becomes very slippery in the rain so even the one trail we did complete was very dicey. We didn’t even attempt to try the sandy roads as those had turned into slush.

Toadstools Hoodoos

After checking out the Bureau of Land Management for trail information, the rangers recommended that we attempt the Toadstools Hoodoos trail down the road. The Toadstools Hoodoos trail is a 1.8 mile out and back hike that under good weather conditions should be relatively simple. Due to the storm passing through, the clay on the trail was especially slippery and we had to get on our hands and knees to get up some of the hills. The creek was flowing and our easy hike turned into quite an adventure over the soft clay soil. This trail starts at the wide canyon opening that eventually narrows and leads to the rock formations that resemble mushrooms.

White Pocket (High clearance vehicle needed)

White pocket is another destination that allows you to enjoy an alternative to the famous “Wave” at Coyote Buttes. Getting to the white pocket is part of the adventure but should not be attempted without a high clearance vehicle and/or 4WD. Check the current road conditions at the BLM office before attempting to get to White Pocket. The sand is very deep and the road sees little traffic in the event of your car getting stuck. See here for more information on how to access white pocket plus some additional landmarks to visit.

The Wave at Coyote Buttes (Lottery required)

Although we did not win the lottery to hike The Wave at Coyote Buttes, we do want to call it out as a highlight of the region. We have some friends who were lucky enough to visit with their corgi and documented their adventure here. If you are planning on visiting the region, try your luck with a lottery ticket to “Surf the Wave” at Coyote Buttes.

Lake Powell & Antelope Canyon (Dogs only allowed if kayaking into the canyon)

Antelope Canyon remains on our bucket list after this trip but we wanted to include it as it is a once in a lifetime experience with your dog if you are willing to kayak into the canyon. Dogs are unfortunately not allowed on the guided tours but with some online research and help from some great Dog Moms, we found that a good amount of the famous canyons can actually be explored as long as you kayak into an alternate entrance. If you are interested in this adventure, check out Born Wild & Fancy and Pawsitive Development as they have detailed descriptions on how to have a pet friendly adventure in Antelope Canyon with the dogs. Check out Amber’s great video of her Antelope Canyon Adventure below:

Horseshoe Bend – Arizona

Our road trip was supposed to extend further into the Grand Canyon, but as weather conditions worsened, we made the call to see Horseshoe Bend and then turn back to sunny Los Angeles. We are grateful to have been able to see Horseshoe Bend right before the hail began but definitely need to redo this road trip with better weather in the coming years.

Getting to the Rim of Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend refers to the beautiful aerial view of the Colorado River looping around Glen Canyon. To get to the trailhead, pay the $10.00 parking fee per vehicle and follow the crowds. To avoid the worst crowds, it is best to visit Horseshoe Bend at sunrise. From the parking lot, it is about a 10-15 minute walk to the famous view over Glen Canyon. A lot of the viewpoints are not fenced so please exercise caution when taking photos or approaching the edge. Additionally, dogs must be kept on leash – the photos below have experienced some photo magic and are also taken from an angle that creates the illusion of being close to the edge while actually being very far from it.

Final Thoughts

It was a shame that our trip was washed out from the storm but we still managed to enjoy our time together as a family. The areas we visited were extremely dog friendly and we will definitely be back soon hoping for better weather conditions. Next time, we’re hoping to check off Antelope Canyon and White Pocket.

Happy Roadtrippin’
-Your Pal Cal

What is a Service Dog? (Frequently Asked Questions)


While discussing Samson’s tasks with a colleague the other day, it occurred to me that most of the general public has no idea about all the wonderful things that service dogs are capable of. When people ask questions in public, most don’t mean to be rude but rather they are inquisitive because society hasn’t done a good enough job showcasing all the wonderful things that assistance dogs can do. Most people don’t know how a service dog can help someone who isn’t blind, and it is up to us to help spread that awareness in a courteous and educational manner.

What is a Service Dog?

Legally, a service dog is a dog that has been trained to work or perform commands/actions (called tasks) that are directly related to helping mitigate its handlers disabilities. Service Dogs are often referred to as Assistance Dogs (particularly outside of the United States).

How is a Service Dog different from an Emotional Support Dog or Therapy Dog?

In short, services dogs have particular commands/actions (called tasks) that they are trained to perform to help their handler. Providing comfort (although important) is not considered a task under the definition of a service dog and therefore if the animal’s existence helps the handler by just providing comfort, it is not considered a service dog. Additionally, service dogs have to meet the highest standard of obedience as they are allowed in “no pets” places.

Service Dog – A dog that is specifically trained to do work to directly mitigate its handler’s disabilities. Service Dogs are legally covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and allowed to accompany their handlers anywhere. Service dogs are held to an utmost standard and must stay focused and be trained to behave properly in public.

Emotional Support Dog (ESA) – A dog who provides comfort to one particular person via their existence. An ESA makes its handler feel better but not by performing trained tasks or specific work. Since it is the existence of the ESA that helps the handler as comfort, the dog is not considered a Service Dog. ESAs require documentation from a doctor and are only allowed additional privileges in “No Pets” buildings and airplanes. ESAs are not allowed in any other “No Pets” areas such as restaurants or grocery stores. There are no training requirements for an ESA and this has become a point of contention in the United States.

Therapy Dog – A dog that has been trained to help other people such as patients at hospitals or children at schools. Therapy dogs can help many people at once, as opposed to Service Dogs who are trained to only focus on their handler. Therapy dogs are not allowed in “no pets” places except the facilities that they volunteer at.


FAQ: My dog calms me when having an anxiety attack, does this qualify it as a service animal?

Not necessarily. First, Is the dog trained specifically to respond, alert to, or stop a panic attack? Secondly, does the handler have an illness or impairment which limits a major life function to be considered a disability? If it is only the presence of the dog is that comforts someone who is having an anxiety attack (I.e by petting it) then the dog is not considered a service dog.

However, if the dog is trained to recognize when their handler is having a panic attack (I.e deep breathing, increased heart rate) and acts to help stop it, the dog could be considered a service dog. Additionally, if someone feels anxious “sometimes”, this is not the same thing as having a psychiatric DSM-IV diagnosis of anxiety, so a handler must be considered medically disabled in order for their dog to be considered a service dog.

FAQ: I am depressed and my dog makes me feel better, does this qualify it as a service animal?

Again, not necessarily. If a dog helps someone through depression or sadness by sitting on the couch with them, cuddling on the bed, or letting their human give them hugs, these actions fall under the category of “comfort” (still important and life changing, but not a trained service dog task).

However, if a dog is trained to directly interrupt behaviors of self harm that may be related to a DSM-IV diagnosis of depression, they could be considered a service dog. One example of these types of interruptions could be something such as a paw nudge, or more physical interruption to self harming behaviors (I.e hair pulling, breakdowns). During a depressive episode, a dog may also be trained to provide deep pressure therapy to help a distressed handler.


What kinds of illnesses or impairments can a Service Dog help with?

A service dog could hypothetically help an individual with any type of ailment that limits important day to day life functioning. Below are some (but definitely not all) of the impairments that are more commonly considered to be disabling.

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Side effects of Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cardiac disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Missing limbs or partially missing limbs
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair
  • Intellectual disability

Does having one of the above illnesses/impairments automatically qualify anyone for a service dog?

Having one of the above illnesses/impairments may qualify someone for a service dog but not always. If you are impaired by your illness to the point of your symptoms impacting major life functions, your illness might be considered disabling. “Impacting a major life function” means that the individual has difficulty performing an activity that the average person can easily perform. It has become all too common for people to equate diagnosis with disability as a way to justify the need for a service dog. However, having an anxiety diagnosis does not automatically mean that anxiety disables you, but it may. Every diagnosis impacts an individual differently and not all disabilities are visible just by looking at someone. Your healthcare team can determine if you qualify for a service dog.

What are the most common types of service dogs?

  • Guide Dogs
  • Hearing Dogs
  • Mobility Assist Dogs
  • Medical Alert Dogs
  • Medical Response Dogs
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs (not the same as ESA because they are formally task trained)

What are examples of some ways that Service Dogs can mitigate disability?

Service dogs are most commonly associated with guide dogs helping individuals with visual impairments – yet there are many other ways that a service dog can help its handler. Here are some examples of how a service dog can aid its handler:

  • A dog pushing a button to open doors for an individual with limited mobility.
  • A dog detecting a seizure or blood sugar drops for an individual impacted by epilepsy or diabetes.
  • A dog notifying a handler with hearing impairment of the doorbell, incoming phone call, or an alarm ringing.
  • A dog detecting increased heart rates and responding (as trained) to prevent or mitigate the impact of a panic attack for individuals with PTSD or other psychiatric illnesses.
  • A dog detecting changes in vitals to alert and respond to an oncoming medical episode
  • A dog finding help or finding the exit in an establishment for an individual who may be dissociating with reality.
  • A dog retrieving dropped items or bringing items for an individual with mobility issues, heart conditions, or chronic pain that makes movement difficult.
  • A dog helping to stop behaviors such as finger picking, leg scratching, crying, self harm, or other compulsive behaviors associated with some psychiatric illnesses. Dogs can interrupt behaviors in multiple ways including licking, jumping up, pawing, (and more)
  • A dog acting as a brace for a handler with chronic dizziness or balance issues.
  • A dog providing deep pressure therapy to help decrease cortisol levels in the body that may lead to panic attacks or fainting
  • A dog trained to find help if its handler is in danger
  • And many more…..

Can any dog be a service dog?

Any dog breed can legally become a service dog. Some dog breeds such as retrievers and poodles have temperaments with a more proven track record for service work, but hypothetically any type of dog could be a successful service dog.

However, not all dogs can succeed as service dogs and most dogs would not be considered fit for service work. Even organizations where puppies are raised from birth and picked specifically for service work will “career change” (I.e not pass) most of the dogs. Service dogs must have stable temperaments, be non-aggressive in all environments, non-reactive, extremely well trained and obedient. Even having a disability does not justify taking any dog and claiming it as a service dog. The dog must meet the highest standards of behavior AND directly help its handler – having a disability does not entitle an individual to bring any dog where they please if the dog is not in control.

I don’t have money to properly care for or train a service dog, but I am disabled…Should I get a service dog?

The short answer is No. Being disabled or eligible for a service dog does not automatically turn a dog into a service dog. Additionally, not having the time or resources to train a dog does not make it ok to cut corners with training or excuse inadequate obedience. If the dog is not trained, it is not a service dog and shouldn’t be. Service dogs are held to the highest standards and it is a handlers responsibility to ensure their dog meets these requirements. Properly training a dog is expensive or very time consuming and caring for a dog is also expensive – it is a responsible handler’s duty to be able to provide care to their dog. If the cost of training is the biggest roadblock, check out non-profit organizations that provide a fully trained dog free of charge!

Is there a Service Dog Registration or ID tag to identify Service Dogs?

A service dog should be discussed with a doctor as part of a treatment plan but legally there is no federal registration or “official list” of service dogs. It is common for websites to try to get uninformed individuals to buy “paperwork” for their dogs, but this paperwork is not what makes a dog a service dog and holds no legal standing – in fact, these websites have become increasingly problematic. A lot of handlers DO choose to have their dogs take exams such as the “ADI Public Access” test or “Canine Good Citizen” tests but these are NOT required and do not determine whether a dog is a service dog. It is the dogs impeccable public access skills and help at mitigating disability with trained tasks that makes a dog a service dog.

What can be confusing is that even though there is no official federal list of service dogs, some cities DO have voluntary registrations where handlers provide a doctor’s note to register their dog as an assistance dog. In San Francisco, the voluntary registration requires the handler to confirm residence, vaccinations, sign an affidavit, and provide a doctor’s note to get the city specific assistance dog tag. Although this registers the assistance animal with the city, it has no federal/legal implications and is not required.

How do you know if a dog is a service dog? Does it have to wear a vest?

A service dog is not required to wear a vest or any identifying markers but people generally choose to vest their dogs as a signal to the general public that the dog is working. If it is not clear that the dog is a service dog, a handler may be asked only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff at an establishment are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.


Can’t I just say my dog is a service dog?

Some people do…but that is illegal and generally blatantly obvious by how the dog behaves. It is best to follow the law and moral code of conduct – i.e don’t fake a disability or a doctor’s recommendation. A common phrase used by service dog handlers is; if you want to bring your dog everywhere with you, you need to accept the life altering disability that goes along with it.

What laws protect service dogs and their handlers?

Service Dogs are protected by Federal Law under the Americans with Disabilities act of 1990. Punishments for falsely representing a service dog vary by state. In California, those pretending to be the owner of a service dog is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.

My Service Dog is in training, is it allowed to go to the same places that a fully trained Service Dog can go?

It depends! Check out your state laws to see whether the state allows Service Dogs in Training into places of public accommodation.

Are there any places service dogs can legally be denied?

Places of Worship: Religious institutions and organizations are not legally required to accommodate service dogs. However some states may have different regulations especially if the organizations are receiving any type of Federal Funding.

Sterile Environments: Although service dogs are allowed in hospitals and doctor’s offices, they may be excluded from parts of a hospital where their presence could compromise the sterile environment. This includes the operating room or areas such as burn units.

If the dog appears out of control: A dog may be asked to leave an establishment if it is not adequately under control or not housebroken. This is generally not an issue for trained service dogs.

How does YOUR service dog help you?

My service dog is trained to help respond to medical episodes that I exhibit. He may also sometimes let me know of a medical episode before it occurs so I can take the proper precautions to stay safe. My dog’s most used tasks are medical response, tactile simulation, grounding, and interruption tasks. Therefore, my dog is a medical response dog. He allows me to live a better life every single day.

For additional information, the ADA has a FAQ page about Service Animals

Dog Friendly Castles of the Loire River Valley

After visiting Paris, we visited the Loire River Valley with our Dog

The Loire River valley is about 2.5 hours from Paris by car and built along the longest river in France. Turns out, a lot of the attractions in the Loire welcome dogs with open arms. Our dog loved exploring the castle grounds, swimming in the river, and trotting through the countryside during our visit. The beautiful Châteaus (Castles) bring tourists to the Loire from around the world. Beyond the castles, the Loire is home to wineries, small towns, and the beautiful French countryside. The region is filled with historical significance in the towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Orleans, Chinon and Tours (to name a few). Check out the Loire tourism website to see the full list of towns and castles.

Where to stay in the Loire with your dog

We decided to stay in a dog friendly AirBnb near Amboise as a central point between all the castles we wanted to visit. Amboise ended up being our favorite town so we were pleased with our decision – AirBnbs in the Loire River Valley are affordable and spacious. We stayed in a converted watch tower for less than 100€ per night.

dog friendly airbnb

Tips for making the most of your trip: organize by location

The Loire River Valley covers 310 square miles so it is important to plan beforehand. Here are some tips for optimizing your visit with the dog:

  1. Group your activities by location – Research the towns of the Loire in advance to understand the location of dog friendly castles, towns, and walks. The map below shows how we clustered our visit. The Loire is known for its castles so we built our activities around the castles we wanted to see each day. Our routine generally included a castle visit, a nearby walk, and a romp through town before moving onto the next castle on the list.
  2. Set a path – To make the most of your time, you’ll want to stay on a set path to avoid driving back and forth. Backtracking your steps can add hours in the car. We started with the castle closest to Paris and continued away from Paris until it was time to come back. We took a different route back to Paris to visit different castles on the way home.
  3. Prioritize & Plan – The Loire is too big to see in a single trip. You’ll have to decide what you want to see most and put together a detailed itinerary. Unlike Paris, where wandering aimlessly is a wonderful way to enjoy the city, it is best to go into the Loire with a detailed plan. This page includes a great itinerary through the Loire with your dog but we encourage you to tailor your visit to your preferences.
  4. Stay in a countryside AirBnB- AirBnbs in the Loire are cheap and many are pet friendly. Staying in a someone’s home rather than a hotel adds to the cultural experience of the Loire.  We stayed 20 minutes from Amboise in a family’s converted watchtower on top of a hill.
  5. Bring an Umbrella & rain coat – France is unpredictable with rain. We got stuck in a few storms without an umbrella.
  6. Restaurants in France have different schedules than in the United States – we were surprised to find it difficult to get a bite to eat in the towns after 1pm. Most restaurants close from 1pm-6pm. Restaurants wouldn’t even serve us a coffee if we arrived after they had stopped serving food. We moved our schedule around to visit castles during the hours that the food shops were closed.

town of amboise on the loire river at sunset

Map of dog friendly activities in the Loire

Follow our sample itinerary or the Loire

Day 1: Leave Paris, Château de Chenonceau, explore and grab dinner in Amboise, check into airbnb

Day 2: Château Villandry, country walk at Candes-Saint-Martin, Château du Rivau, country walk Bréhémont, Dinner in Tours

Day 3: Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de l’Islette, explore Chinon, Château de Chaumont, Visit Wine Bar, country walk Saint Ouen les Vignes, dinner in Amboise

Day 4: Country walk Azay-sur-Cher, Château de Chambord, dinner & cathedral in Cartres, return to Paris

The Castles

Dogs are not allowed inside the castles but there are plenty of pet friendly castle grounds to visit. In most cases, the outdoor gardens are even more breathtaking than the castle.

Château de Chenonceau – 2nd most visited castle in France

Chenonceau was our first stop after leaving Paris – this castle is an example of the gardens being even more beautiful than the castle itself. The castle is built into the river bed of the river Cher so the grounds are surrounded with flowing water. Turns out, Château de Chenonceau is the second most visited castle in France (after Versailles) – not bad for a castle that Henry II gifted to his mistress.

The visit starts with a corridor of trees leading to the main castle. The side paths along the road each lead to different gardens on the grounds. The largest garden will be to your right once you get to the castle – the garden is covered in geometric topiaires and purple flowers. Climb up to the top level of the garden to get a better look at the patterns made by the paths.

After touring the main garden, it is worth wandering the grounds to explore the secret gardens sprinkled throughout – we loved the vegetable garden and the rose garden.

coridoor of trees at chateau de chenonceau

chateau de chenonceau

chateau de chenonceau

dog sitting at chateau de chenonceau

dog at gardens of chenonceau

dog standing between lavender purple flowers

Château de Villandry – The most beautiful gardens

Château de Villandry had our favorite gardens, but unfortunately we were got caught in a downpour so it was difficult to fully enjoy.

Grab a map to follow the walking path through the gardens. Each section is perfectly curated with themed flowers, geometric shrubs, and fountains. Once you visit the main gardens, there is an optional trail for visitors to see the castle from above.

dog wearing a hate at chateau de villandry

chateau de villandry

Château du Rivau – Fairytale themed gardens

This was our least favorite castle of the trip – the castle grounds are decorated with different figurines and gnome statues which seemed out of place in the presence of such a historical structure. The castle grounds are meant to be fairytale themed but a lot of the decor appears anachronistic. This is the castle we would have skipped if running low on time.

dog at chateau du rivau

dog at chateau du rivau

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau – Cinderella castle in a cute town

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is a fairytale like castle that appears to be right out of a Disney movie. Unlike the other castles we visited, the gates are located in a bustling town. After exploring the castle grounds, we walked through town to grab a bite to eat. The town is a wonderful place to grab a coffee and explore the cute shops. We arrived early in the morning before the crowds – this is a popular castle for the tourists. Get a map and be sure to check out the secret garden!

chateau d'azay du rideau

dog friendly chateau d'azay du rivau

dog at chateau d'azay du rideau

Château de l’Islette – Less crowded. Peace & Quiet

We made our way to Château de l’Islette and were surprised to find that not a single soul was at the castle – we didn’t see any people on our entire visit (albeit it was drizzling). We found the quiet puzzling since the castle was magnificent – there are so many castles in the Loire River Valley that not all of them can get the love they deserve. Additionally, Château de l’Islette is currently occupied by a family and therefore the inside is known to have a more homey rather than historical feel.

The castle grounds are great for a picnic and there are deck chairs along the river to enjoy some refreshments. This castle is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Loire tourists and turned out to be a peaceful hidden gem.

chateau de l'islette

dog friendly chateau de l'islette

dog friendly chateau de l'islette

bringing the dog to chateau de l'islette

Château de Chaumont – Castle built onto a cliff during the 10th century

Chaumont had such impressive grounds that we barely noticed the castle (which was equally impressive). The castle is built on a cliff overlooking the hills. The Loire flows to one side of the grounds and the other side offers multiple walking paths to various gardens.

The castle grounds are so large that you could easily spend hours wandering. Some parts are purposefully less manicured – an interesting juxtaposition compared to the main gardens.

We visited during the international garden festival which features themed installations from artists all around the world – each mini garden is judged on various metrics at the end of the festival. We found that Chaumont featured more modern art installations throughout the grounds than the others that we visited, this seemed a bit odd next to the 10th century castle but did not take away from our enjoyment.

dog friendly chateau du chaumont

dog friendly chateau du chaumont

dog friendly chateau du chaumont

Château de Chambord – The most magnificent castle

Chambord was the last castle we visited before flying back to California. Château de Chambord was the most magnificent castle we saw but unfortunately, dogs were not allowed in the main gardens. We found the dog rules at Chateau de Chambord stricter than any of the other castles. On the plus side, visiting this castle with a dog is free since dogs are only allowed around the perimeter and not through the gates to the gardens. Despite the dog restrictions, Chambord is worth a visit just to enjoy its extravagant structure. There are an expansive set of paths around the castle perimeter that are worth checking out with your dog.

There isn’t much food in the area but picnics are welcome on the grass. Additionally, there are multiple stalls just beyond the parking lot. Prices are higher than usual, but nothing prohibitive.

dog friendly Château de Chambord

dog friendly Château de Chambord

dog friendly Château de Chambord

Favorite Country Walks in the Loire

The Loire River Valley has a dedicated tourism website featuring hidden gems throughout the region. Most tourists come for the castles but there is so much more to see – the Loire Valley is home to world class wineries & picturesque country walks. See the 25 hikes with maps here. The country walks are great to check out if you are looking for less crowded destinations in between castle visits. We rarely ran into any other people on our country walks and Calvin had a blast running through the fields. Many of the trails are unmarked so be sure to reach the directions and download the maps from the Loire Tourism Website here. Some of the trails can be obscure to find so make sure to download all the maps beforehand.

Walking Trail: Saint-Ouen-les-Vignes

The Saint-Ouen-les-Vignes trail map covers 8 km and starts at Place de l’Eglise. The walk starts in town, then winds through vineyards, fields of grazing animals, and offers a panoramic view of the Ramberge Valley.

field of poppies in the loire river valley

dog in a field of poppies in the loire river valley

dog in a field of poppies in the loire river valley

dog in the countryside of france

french countryside loire river valley

Walking Trail: Azay-sur-Cher

The 10km trail in Azay-Sur-Cher takes you along both the  right and left banks of the river Cher. Park your car at Place Besnard and follow the directions on the Loire Tourism Website for trail markers. The trail follows the banks of the river so as long as you are near the river you are heading in the right direction. About halfway through, you will switch to the opposite side of the river and make your way back to the starting point. This peaceful walk is accompanied by the sound of a flowing river on one side and lush greenery on the other.

dog friendly hikes in the loire river valley

dog friendly hikes in the loire river valley

dog friendly hikes in the loire river valley

Walking Trail: Bréhémont

The Bréhémont Country walk starts in town and passes through the rural countryside – the walk mostly brings hikers through open fields and small clusters of country homes. The entire trail is 12km long but can be any length you’d like. See the Bréhémont trail map for details. We passed local residents hanging around their homes but no other people on the actual trail. One thing to note is that because this trail passes through residences, you will almost definitely run into dogs. Because the town is so rural, most homes have designated guard dogs. The guard dogs are kept behind gates but their snarling and barking made us nervous worrying what they would do if they escaped. We didn’t have any issues and met a lot of friendly local dogs as friendly trails in the loire river valley french countryside

dog friendly trails in the loire river valley french countryside

dog friendly trails in the loire river valley french countryside

dog friendly trails in the loire river valley french countryside

Stop at a Winery for some Wine

The Loire Valley is dotted with wineries nestled into the cliffs along the river. We stopped at the Volupia wine bar and enjoyed our wine at the patio seating overlooking the water. We enjoyed our wine tasting while Calvin swam in the Loire. Volupia was the most unique wine bar we came across – The wine cave opens out onto a waterfront patio where guests can enjoy world class wine with a gorgeous view. We enjoyed our wine while Calvin swam in the Loire River.

french wine cave

french wine cave

french wine cave

dog friendly loire wine bar

french wine cave

dog friendly loire river

dog friendly loire river

dog friendly loire river

Our Favorite Cities of the Loire

In between castle visits, we walked through the different towns of the Loire. Each town has its own unique charm and quaint streets to explore. Keep in mind, that many restaurants in France will stop offering food service around noon and reopen for dinner We found this to be especially true in the Loire and got stranded a few times when our town visits weren’t properly timed.

Tours: Medieval architecture and bustling nightlife

Place Plumereau in Tours is worth a visit for dinner. This main square is part of the old town and resembles a charming medieval village. Tours is home to the Cathédrale Saint-Gatien but we skipped the Cathedrals and only visited for dinner on the main plaza of Place Plumereau. The medieval architecture in the square has been perfectly preserved and is surrounded by a picturesque streets worth strolling through. The square was wonderful for people watching while surrounded by breathtaking architecture. The pubs at Place Plumereau are also the place to be for nightlife in the Loire as Tours is a college town.

Amboise: Leonardo Da Vinci’s home and resting place

Amboise was our favorite town in the Loire River Valley. One of the castles, Château du Clos Lucé , is known as Leonardo Da Vinci’s home and resting place. The castle is still in good shape but is now used as a museum showcasing the work of Da Vinci. The castles in Amboise are not dog friendly but the town and restaurants are very welcoming. Our Airbnb was near Amboise so we ate at multiple places during our stay. We ate at Chez Bruno one night and loved the filet paired with local wine. The town center gets crowded with tourists but we discovered a hidden gem across the river. Le ShakerLe Shaker is right on the banks of the Loire and has the best view in town. The restaurant offers delicious bar food and drinks with a direct view of the river and the Amboise castle. We ordered the charcuterie plate and the goat cheese tartines (delicious!).

french meal in amboise

ice cream in amboise

dog at the amboise castle

dog overlooking amboise and the loire river

amboise on loire river

Chartres: world class cathedral 55 miles from Paris

We made a quick stop in Chartres on our last night in France – Chartres is best known for its Gothic Cathedral built in 1220.  The cathedral has remained preserved since the 13th century and survived World War 2 even when the rest of the city was largely destroyed. By the time we arrived, most of the shops had closed for the night but we found an open restaurant overlooking the cathedral. During business hours, the shops around the cathedral are bustling with life.

chatres cathedral

Chinon: a fortress built into a rocky outcrop

We visited Chino in the early afternoon right as the brasseries were closing for the afternoon. The main attraction is a hike from the main square (La Fontaine) to the Royal Fortress of Chinon. Due to the topography of the city, the castle is located at the top of a rocky outcrop with the town built to surround it from below. As you ascend towards the fortress, the views become magnificent.

french countryside towns with a pet

french countryside towns with a pet

The Loire River Valley is a wonderful dog friendly (and kid friendly) destination near Paris – we spent a few days visiting the castles but the visit could be done as a day trip if you are only interested in visiting a few castles.

King of the Castle, 
-Your Pal Cal

Visit Joshua Tree National Park & Pet Friendly Palm Springs with your Dog

dog at joshua tree national park

dog at joshua tree national park

Is Joshua Tree Pet Friendly? Yes, but National Parks are not very pet friendly.

The short answer is yes, pets are allowed in Joshua Tree National Park. However, National Parks in the United States are not very dog friendly as dogs are only allowed on a limited number of trails. National Parks generally exclude dogs from the “prettiest trails” but we make it work. At Joshua Tree National Park, dogs are only allowed on roads that cars can drive on. This includes roads that require four wheel vehicles. We have indicated the dog friendly trails on the Joshua Tree Map below but take a look at the official pet friendly trails online in case any rules change.

Winter is the best time to visit Joshua Tree with your Dog

Because of the brutal summer heat, November – March are the best months to visit Joshua Tree with your dog. We visited Joshua Tree National Park in January and found the weather perfect for being outside. Winter in Joshua tree is warm in the sun (mid 60s), cool in the shade, and cold at night. Dress in layers during the day and bundle up at night.

Temperatures start to hit the 80s in April. By May, temperatures are in the mid 80s and then reach the 100s through September. The summer temperatures in Joshua Tree are far beyond the safe threshold for dogs.

dog at joshua tree national park

Where to stay in Joshua Tree with your Dog

The two closest towns to park entrances are Joshua Tree and Twenty-Nine Palms. We stayed in Joshua Tree in a renovated trailer (get a discount on your first AirBnB stay here) – the trailer had running water, a bathroom, and plenty of Joshua Trees on the property. Some of the most beautiful views we had all weekend were from sunrise and sunset over the dessert from our AirBnb. For a Joshua Tree National Park visit, we recommend staying as close to nature as possible to get the most out of your stay. There are plenty of pet friendly tents, trailers, bungalows, and houses that allow pets and offer an amazing view of the desert. Check out for additional pet friendly accommodations.

We watched sunrise each morning and then went into town for coffee at Joshua Tree Coffee Company….

dog at joshua tree, california

dog at joshua tree desert

sunrise with a dog at joshua tree national park

Each evening, we returned back to the trailer to watch the entire sunset from golden hour to dark. We enjoyed pizza from “Pie for the People” by the fire and were asleep by 8pm……dog wrapped in blanket in the desert

As the sun sets over Joshua Tree, it turns a cotton candy pink. The sky appears even larger than usual in the vastness of the dessert…..
dog sitting in the dessert at joshua tree sunset

sunset in the town of joshua tree

What to Bring to Joshua Tree

  • WATER – The only sources of water are at the edges of the park. The nearest source of water may be 45 minutes away. We made the mistake of letting our water run out and had to drive through the entire park to get a refill. Keep all the humans and dogs hydrated -at least two gallons (8 liters) of water per person, per day.
  • Portable dog bowl
  • Sunscreen (even in the winter)
  • Hat (even in the winter)
  • Wear Layers (during the winter)
  • Hiking boots

the geology trail at joshua tree national park

geology tour road with a dog at joshua tree

Keep Dogs on Leash (Rattlesnakes & Scorpions)

Other than for a few photos, we kept Calvin attached to us. Dogs are to remain on leash by park rules to preserve the ecosystem but also for their own safety – Joshua Tree is home to 7 different types of venomous rattlesnakes. You likely won’t see any on the pet friendly trails as these are wider and more frequented by cars – still keep your dog on the trail at all times.

Map of Pet Friendly Activities in Joshua Tree National Park

pet friendly joshua tree national park

Joshua Tree Pet Friendly Trails

Dogs are allowed on any “road” that cars are able to drive on and must remain on leash. Below are the roads listed on the National Park Service website as pet friendly. Although these are all considered “roads”, we didn’t see cars on any of them and felt like we were just on any other trail.

All Vehicles Trails

  • Bighorn Pass Road: 3.2 miles (5.1 km) one way
  • Desert Queen Mine Road: 1.2 miles (1.9 km) one way
  • Geology Tour Road (to mile 5.4): 11.7 miles (18.8 km) one way
  • Odell Road: 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
  • Stirrup Tank Road: 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
  • Queen Valley Road: 2.9 miles (4.7 km)

4 Wheel-Drive Trails

  • Berdoo Canyon Road: 11.5 miles (18.5 km)
  • Black Eagle Mine Road: 9.6 miles (15.4 km)
  • Geology Tour Road (past mile 5.4): 11.7 miles (18.8 km)
  • Old Dale Road: 12.6 miles (20.3 km)
  • Pinkham Canyon Road: 19.2 miles (30.9 km)
  • Covington-area roads: 9.9 miles (15.9 km)

pet friendly joshua tree national park

pet friendly joshua tree national park

Geology Tour Road:

Geology Tour Road is a flat, wide & sandy trail that offers a full experience of Joshua Trees. The rangers recommended this trail as the best one to check out with a dog. There are restrooms and plenty of parking at the trailhead. The trail continues for more than 10 miles so there is flexibility over how far to walk. We followed the trail for about 5 miles. We passed a few hikers but no cars.

pet friendly joshua tree national park geology tour road

pet friendly geology tour road at joshua tree national park

pet friendly geology tour road at joshua tree national park

pet friendly geology tour road at joshua tree national park

Joshua Tree Picnic Areas are Pet Friendly:

Joshua Tree National Park with your dog can also be enjoyed by stopping at picnic areas to enjoy the atmosphere. Dogs ARE allowed at all campgrounds and picnic areas – The photo below was taken at Keys Ranch Road. Dogs are not allowed on the Keys Ranch trails but they are allowed at the picnic area which lies in the shade of a massive rock formation.

pet friendly geology tour road at joshua tree national park

Spend a night in Palm Springs

The Town of Joshua Tree is a 45 minute drive from Palm Springs – The Joshua Trees are a wonderful experience, but after two days of the desert, we were ready for Palm Springs. The main street in Palm Springs – “South Palm Canyon Drive” – is lined with shops, colorful lights, restaurants, and entertainment. The patio at Lulu California Bistro was great for dinner and people watching.
We spent a night at the Pet Friendly Saguaro Palm Springs and explored the town before heading home bright and early.
 pet friendly saguaro palm springs
pet friendly saguaro palm springs

Whitewater Preserve Trails

On our way home to San Francisco, we stopped at the Whitewater Preserve (30 minutes north of  Palm Springs). Check the website beforehand to ensure that the trails are open. The trails will close periodically during wildfire season. We chose the 3.5 mile Canyon View Loop Trail but there are multiple other well marked trails to choose from. Access the trail heads at the end of Whitewater Canyon Road, northwest of Palm Springs, off Interstate 10 (9160 Whitewater Canyon Road). Parking and restrooms are available at the visitors center.

Happy Travels!
-Your Pal Cal

white water preserve pet friendly trail

whitewater preserve dog friendly trail

white water preserve dog friendly trail

whitewater preserve pet friendly trail

white water trail preserve palm springs dog friendly

Pet Friendly Paris: Things to do in Paris with your Dog

Above Photos: Celine Chan Photographie

It’s easy to bring your dog to Paris from the United States

Thinking of bringing your dog to France? Wondering how to get your dog from the United States to Paris? International pet travel from the United States to the EU is straight forward. Start by checking out our international pet travel checklist for all the rules around bringing your dog on a plane internationally. We found France to be very dog friendly, and the only requirements for border entry are a USDA stamped health certificate, microchip, and rabies vaccine. Having spent 2 months a year in France while growing up, we are no strangers to Paris – we have put together a guide with the top destinations that are dog friendly. Luckily, Paris is very dog friendly so the outdoor monuments are pet friendly!

Where can you bring your dog in Paris?

Yes! Dogs Allowed & Welcome at these places in Paris…

  • At cafes with outdoor seating are very dog friendly!
  • In the metro (dogs are supposed to be in a bag or muzzled – we used the gentle leader but saw many dogs in the Metro and none were muzzled)
  • “G7” Taxi service has a dog friendly option
  • In the outside portions of tourist attractions
  • At stores that do not sell food

Sorry, No Dogs allowed here….

  • At any Museums
  • At many small fenced in parks (I.e almost all the parks not listed in this post)
  • In normal taxis (took us a long time to get a taxi from the airport as even working dogs aren’t often accepted)
  • Inside food stores (same as the United States)

You’ll find that most cafes have outdoor seating and most tourist attractions have outdoor areas. Since museums and all indoor locations in Paris aren’t pet friendly, make sure to bring your walking shoes to see the city by foot or leave the dog in your hotel.

Most of Paris’s smaller parks do not allow dogs but surprisingly the Metro IS dog friendly as long as the dog fits into a bag OR wears a muzzle. We rode the Metro twice and had Calvin on a very thick gentle leader. When we returned with Samson, we visited in February so we rode the Metro multiple times a day to avoid the cold. We saw many dogs on the train and didn’t have any issue. Our biggest mistake was trying to find a taxi that would take us into the city from the airport – the concept of a Working Dog is not well known in France and does not hold up with small businesses. When we finally found a taxi, Calvin was required to stay in the trunk. On our second trip to Paris, we were able to order a taxi that allowed dogs through “G7” by indicating that we wanted a taxi that could accommodate dogs. We wish we had known about this on our first visit, because we had no issue getting into the taxi with Samson.

What are the dog leash laws in Paris?

The level of obedience we witnessed in Parisian dogs is unlike anything we have ever seen in the United States. It is unclear what the leash laws are in Paris as we rarely saw any dogs on leash – dogs trot calmly beside their humans, wait patiently outside of stores, and seem very seamlessly intertwined in the daily life of the city. Many businesses have a resident dog just hanging out outside the shop greeting people who walk by. Pups sit around at cafes while their humans read the morning news. No treats or commands needed – these dogs know where to be and are never far behind their human. It was such a magical dynamic to observe and definitely ought to set an example for dog obedience in the United States.

Best time to visit Paris with your Dog

We have now visited Paris with both of our dogs at different times of year. We have visited in May and February. In May, the crowds are beginning but haven’t gotten to the peak levels that the city sees during summer vacation. May wasn’t quite as hot as visiting in July/August so we found the weather quite pleasant. Our more recent visit was mid February. Paris winter is cold, but nothing compared to the cold in New England USA. The cold was not painful, and there was little wind. We dressed in boots, down jackets, hats, and gloves and were able to have a very pleasant visit. Because of the strong smoking culture in Paris, most restaurants and cafes have outdoor seating even in the winter. The cafes have heat lamps and we had no trouble staying warm

while sitting for meals and coffees. We didn’t find the tourists to be any more manageable in February so it seems as if Paris is just tourist filled year round (not surprising).

Where to stay in Paris with your Dog

There are ample pet friendly hotels and airbnbs in Paris so check out neighborhoods based on the activities you are interested in. We stayed in the Marais but here our thoughts on other neighborhoods:

If you are a first time visitor, check out the neighborhoods near the biggest tourist destinations (1st & 7th arrondissement). In the 1st, you’ll be walking distance from Notre Dame, the Tuileries, the Louvre which are pet friendly on the outside. In the 7th, you’ll be near the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower.

If you are looking for a trendy neighborhood with great nightlife, check out the Marais or St. Germain neighborhoods. Nightlife is always bustling and the Seine is animated through the night.

If you are looking for a charming and romantic neighborhood with great views, Montmarte is a great choice. Although Montmarte is home to Scare Coeur and views of Paris, it is further away from the rest of the famous sights.

Map of Dog Friendly spots in Paris, France

4 days & 50 miles through Paris with our Dog

After a 12 hour flight with our dog, we were ready to hit the ground running (See here for international travel rules for dogs). We figured that if let ourselves nap, the jet lag would take over and we’d lose a day of seeing the city. Lucky for us, Paris has cafés on nearly every block. Fueled by espressos and baguettes, we managed to see most of Paris’s biggest sights by foot on our first day. This page is organized by groupings of activities that are in close proximity to each other. Refer to the dog friendly map above for a better look at the relative locations of Parisian sights. Over 4 days, we covered over 50 miles by foot and returned to our favorite places multiple times. We have since returned to Paris again with our younger dog and revisited all of our favorite stops.

dog in paris holding baguette bread in his mouth

Bringing Dogs to Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg & The Panthéon

Cross the Pont Neuf to Île de la Cité to see Notre Dame. Then take a short walk to the pet friendly Jardin de Luxembourg – stop at the Panthéon on the way.

the Cathedral of Notre Dame is located on Île de la Cité (basically a small island in the middle of Paris). We crossed the famous Pont Neuf to get to Île de la Cité and made our way to Notre Dame (10 minute walk). At the time of our visit, Notre Dame was still recovering from the fire and therefore could only be enjoyed from afar. Standing in front of such a fine piece of architecture is humbling, especially when reminded that it was built in the Middle Ages…..over 600 years ago!

After Notre Dame, the next logical stop is the 15 minute walk to the Jardins du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens). We took the route that passed in front of the Panthéon to get a glimpse of Roman architecture in France. The facade of the Panthéon in Paris is modeled after the one you would find in Rome. The Luxembourg Gardens are a straight shot from the Panthéon down Rue de Soufflot.

The dog rules at the Luxembourg Gardens are unclear – there are certain entrances that have “no dog” signs but others have “dogs on leash” signs. After doing research online, we found that the Luxembourg Gardens have an entire section of the park called the “dog path” that even has a dog fountain….we figured that dogs must be allowed. By asking the security guards upon arrival, we learned that dogs ARE allowed but it is preferred that they enter through the Blvd. Saint Michel gates. Turns out this park has more dogs than any other park we visited – we met lots of friendly pups at all parts of the gardens.

dog at luxembourg gardens in paris

palace at the dog friendly luxembourg gardens

Dog Friendly Eiffel Tower, Trocadéro & Champ de Mars

We stopped by the Eiffel Tower a few times during out time in Paris and met lots of great dogs wandering around the area with their humans. We visited briefly on our first day in the late afternoon and then returned a few days later at 7:30AM. This area is probably one of the most crowded tourist attractions in the entire world so the best time to visit the Eiffel Tower & Trocadéro is in the early morning. We did our family photoshoot at 7:30AM and found the area to be more peaceful than our visit earlier that week.

Geographically, the Champ de Mars (Field of Mars) is the large grassy area directly adjacent/underneath the Eiffel tower. The Trocadéro is the area across the bridge that overlooks the Eiffel Tower from above. Most iconic Eiffel Tower photos are taken from the Trocadéro staircase and fountains.

One great way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower with your dog is to take some photos at the Trocadéro and then wander through the fountains to make your way to Champ de Mars across the Seine. Set up a picnic blanket on the grass and enjoy some cheese & wine. Calvin played some fetch off-leash while we enjoyed our snacks.

dog at trocadero with eiffel tower in paris

view of eiffel tower from trocadero in paris

dog in trocadero gardens in paris

dog in the champ de mars under the eiffel tower

Dogs at Jardins des Tuileries, the Louvre Pyramid, and the Palais Royale

The Jardins des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens) is the park located between Place de La Concorde and the Louvre. We approached the gardens from Place de La Concorde and made our way to the Louvre via the Gardens. 

Walk across Place de La Concorde to get to the entrance of the Tuileries Garden. Place de La Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Note: traffic in the roundabout does not yield to pedestrians….so follow a crowd of tourists to get across safely.

Dog rules at the Tuileries Gardens: As with many other places in Paris, the pet walking rules are unclear. After some research, we found that dogs are officially allowed in the upper section of the Tuileries Gardens. This means that they may not enter through the main entrance but rather any of the side entrances that have steps leading  up to the upper sections. These parts of the Tuileries Gardens are known as the “terraces” and overlook the gardens from above. Once you get to Avenue du Général Lemonnier (on the Louvre side of the Gardens), dogs are allowed anywhere. This means you can absolutely walk your dog through the Carrousel Arch, along the grass, and around the fountains. Dogs aren’t allowed in the museum but can get up cloase to the Louvre Pyramid and walk around the Napoleon Courtyard.

dog holding french flag at the louvre pyramid in paris

bringing a dog to the paris louvre pyramid

bringing your dog to the louvre pyramid in paris

Near the Louvre you will find the Palais Royale with its adjacent gardens. Take a moment to admire the remarkable architecture in the Palais Royale courtyard.

Outdoor seating with your dog at Rue Montorguiel for Dinner

Rue Montorguiel is known as the “food street” of Paris. It is a pedestrian only stretch of casual restaurants and bars about an 18 minute walk from the Louvre. This street boasts casual but high quality food at affordable prices. In the evening, the area is animated with locals and tourists alike. Most restaurants have outdoor “bistrot” style seating with the tables facing outwards for people watching. We ate at a casual crêpe shop one night (nothing to write home about), and the fabulous Le Compas another night.

Bringing your dog to Sacré-Cœur Basilica and Montmarte

Sacré-Cœur and the surrounding neighborhood (Montmarte) is located away from the center of Paris, but worth a visit for the great views and stunning architecture. The Montmarte neighborhood is essentially a massive hill with Sacré-Cœur at the very top –  The “Anvers” or “Abbesses” Metro stops will get you most of the way to the Basilica but you’ll have to walk up the rest of the way. Bring plenty of water as the walk will break a sweat, especially in the summer. At the top of the hill, you’ll have a birds eye view over all of Paris on one side and a breathtaking Basilica on the other. After exploring Montmarte, we made the long walk back towards the center of Paris.

dog at Sacre Coeur basilica in paris montmarte

dog at montmarte in paris

bringing your dog to the love locks in paris

Park Monceau is Dog Friendly!

Our goal was to eventually reach the Arc de Triomphe, but we took the long route through Paris to explore new parts of the city. First, we made our way towards Park Monceau (Metro Stop: “Monceau”). We picked up some bread and cheese for a picnic and let Calvin play with the children in the grass while we ate. He had a blast fetching sticks for the French kids who had just gotten out of school for the day. Park Monceau is located in a very fancy neighborhood – exit through Avenue Van Dyck for a direct 15 minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped for an espresso along the way and eventually got to Place Charles de Gaulle, home to the Arc de Triomphe.

dog sitting at french cafe and bistro

ice cream cone in paris

dog at the front of a shop in paris

Arc de Triomphe & Les Champs-Élysées

The Arc de Triomphe stands at 164 feet tall in the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, one of the busiest roundabouts in Paris. It connects 12 different avenues – the most common avenue to follow from Place Charles de Gaulle is the famousChamps-Élysées

If you opt to go down the Champs-Élysées, you’ll end up back at Place de La Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens. We recommend walking down the Champs-Élysées if you are first time visitor to Paris. This is a great way to get to the Louvre Pyramid via a different route than described earlier.

Les Champs-Élysées is the 2 kilometer corridor from Place Charles de Gaulle to Place de La Concorde. Les Champs-Élysées is probably the most famous avenue in the world, and is lined with cafés and shopping.  Everything from H&M to the flagship Louis Vuitton store can be found on the ~60 minute walk down Les Champs-Élysées.

dog at the place charles de gualle in front of the arc de triomphe

Bois de Bologne is Off Leash Doggie Heaven

If you don’t care about experiencing the Champs-Élysées (or have already experienced it),  Avenue Foch leads to the pet friendly and off-leash Bois “Forest” de Bologne. This park doesn’t have any cultural significance so we only recommend this if you have already been to Paris and seen all the sights. Bois de Bologne is a favorite among locals for off leash dog fun – it has multiple wooded and river front trails. We meandered around the park before making our way back to the Eiffel Tower again for sunset.

dog walking by the side of the river in paris

parc de buttes chaumont in paris

dog in paris wearing a floral bandana

Basin de La Villette & Parc de La Villette

Basin de La Villette is a quiet, off the beaten path destination and is wonderful for a stroll with your dog. The area seemed frequented by locals and a few curious tourists. We actually started off this adventure at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont for a stroll along a local park and then made our way to Basin de La Villette. Basin de La Villette is a rectangular artificial “lake” that meanders like a river through the 19th arrondisement. We sat along the water at Le Pavillon Des Canaux….a cute cafe with a French bulldog mascot.

Basin de La Villette leads to the park which is home to the largest Science Museum in Europe (Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie), large concert venues and the Paris conservatory. We walked through the park to check out the 10 themed gardens

dog sitting at basin de la villette

espresso latte in paris

Some (Not) Pet Friendly Activities

If you are looking to leave Fido in the hotel (only if he is comfortable enough to do this!) there are plenty of museums to check out in Paris. We did not museum hop this time around as we’ve already been to Paris enough times to never want to step into a museum again. Needless to say, the historical significance of Parisian galleries is unprecedented so here are our favorites.

Museums to visit in Paris without your pet:

  • The Louvre (the World’s largest and most visited museum)
  • Musée d’Orsay (for some Monet, Renoir, and Van Gough)
  • The Centre Pompidou (equivalent of NYC’s MoMa)

Other no pets activities:

  • Riding to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • View of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
  • Dinner or Lunch on a boat that is cruising down the Seine
  • Versailles (1 hour train ride from Paris)

Paris is always a good idea,
-Your Pal Cal



San Francisco Urban Hikes for your Dog

off leash dog at Baker Beach in San Francisco

The Best Dog Friendly Hikes in San Francisco

When it comes to pet friendly, San Francisco is the place to be – San Francisco is one of those cities where dogs outnumber children. Most beaches, parks, and green areas are open to dogs and most are frequented by off leash pooches. We are finally going to be covering all the dog friendly hikes and trails in San Francisco. Although San Francisco is a dense urban city, it boasts over 200 parks and outdoor areas within the city limits. Over the past few years, we have explored all the urban hikes of the city and have come up with a list of our favorites.  These hikes only include green areas within the city limits, and not all the wonderful hikes in Marin and East Bay (these would need an entirely separate post). Enjoy our top 5 favorite trails plus some honorable mentions.

Map of Dog Friendly Trails in San Francisco

1. Lands End Trail: Must see for first time SF visitors 

Length: 3.4 mile loop
Skill Level: Easy to Moderate (some stairs)
Trail Conditions: Wide, mostly paved, Crowded
Leash Rules: On-Leash
Vibes: Touristy & crowded
Navigate: 680 Point Lobos Ave

The pet friendly Lands End Trail in San Francisco is the most famous and heavily trafficked San Francisco urban hike. The trail is built along a cliff and has multiple lookout points over the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail passes through the famous Cliff House, Legion of Honor, Sutro Baths and provides easy access to Ocean Beach. You’ll have the best views at sunset on a clear day, but unfortunately the area is generally covered by a thick layer of fog and strong winds. On a foggy day, enjoy the mysterious vibes of the fog rolling off the cliffs. Start at the visitors center at the cross streets of Point Lobos & El Camino del Mar.

2. Bernal Heights Park & Summit: Panoramic view of the city

Length: 2 minute walk to viewpoint, optional trails around the hill
Skill Level: All
Trail Conditions: Paved path to viewpoint, best on clear days
Leash Rules: Off-Leash
Vibes: Popular among local dog owners
Navigate: Bernal Heights Blvd (drive to the top)

The dog friendly Bernal Heights Park is one of the most underrated viewpoints in San Francisco. Tourists generally head to Twin Peaks, but the real gem is the view from the top of Bernal Heights Park. There is nothing more stunning in SF than sunset on a clear day from the summit. On a clear day, you can see the golden gate bridge and all the way across the bay. As an added bonus, this beautiful area acts as an off leash dog park. If you visit on a foggy day, skip Bernal Heights Park as visibility will be low and not worth the visit. The area is often covered by fog but be sure to double check if you are visiting on a clear day.

To access the dog trail, drive all the way to the top of the hill (along Bernal Heights Blvd) and park along the hill. You can park anywhere along the hill except the parts that have clear “no parking” signs. The path to the panoramic view of San Francisco is about a 2 minute walk and there are optional dog friendly trails all around the hill.

Additionally, Bernal Heights is currently one of the nicest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Due to the hills, we recommend driving all the way up to the park and then driving back down to the neighborhood to explore. Check out the pet friendly Precita Park Cafe, The Front Porch, Bernal Star, Cafe St. Jorge.

On a clear day, the hour before sunset is the most beautiful time to visit Bernal Heights Park.  By summertime, the grass has dried out, leaving behind golden fields in the sunset….. 

view of San Francisco from the top of Bernal Heights Summit

golden retrievers sitting in the grass at Bernal Heights Summit

golden retriever sitting at Bernal Heights Park with San Francisco skyline

birds eye view of the San Francisco Downtown from Bernal Heights Summit

At sunset, the remaining sunlight beams off of downtown…..

San Francisco skyline with light reflecting off the buildings at sunset

dog on the Bernal Heights Summit hike in front of the san francisco skyline

During the winter rainy season, the hill regains its color and the dried out fields are replaced with lush green grass. It is hard to find a clear day during the rainy season so check in advance to see if the view will be covered by fog….

dog friendly bernal summit hike in front of san francisco skyline

dog friendly bernal summit hike in front of san francisco skyline

view of san francisco skyline at sunset from bernal heights park

dog friendly bernal heights hike in front of san francisco skyline

dog friendly bernal heights hike in front of san francisco skyline

dog friendly bernal heights hike in front of san francisco skyline

In stormy weather, the hill can become enveloped in fog and dark clouds….

dog running towards camera on hilltop

During midday, the hill is very bright but the views do not disappoint…..

dog friendly bernal heights hike in front of san francisco skyline

dog friendly bernal heights hike in front of san francisco skyline

3. The Presidio: Known for the best views of the Golden Gate

Length: Varies
Skill Level: All
Trail Conditions: Paved and dirt paths
Leash Rules: On-Leash
Vibes: Locals & Tourists Collide
Navigate: Depends on the trail

The Presido offers a range of on-leash trails. The area is popular among tourists, but there are also many trails that do not get particularly crowded. Since the presidio is so large, you’ll want to pick the trails you are interested in

Golden Gate Views: California Coastal Trail

Golden Gate Lookout to Baker Beach (2 miles out and back) – This California Coastal Trail follows the coast line from the Golden Gate Bridge down to the iconic Baker Beach. Because of the crowds, we recommend navigating to parking away from the main GG Parking lot. The “CGN Parking Lot,” “Langdon Court Parking,” and “6302 Merchant Road Parking” are good options for parking. Free parallel parking is also available along Lincoln Avenue. The California Coastal Trail can be started anywhere along the coast between the Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach. There are multiple lookout points along the walk. Follow the signs to Baker Beach to get the best view of the bridge.

dog friendly california coastal trail hike to golden gate lookout

Baker beach is where locals and tourists collide to get panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nudists (yes, it is also a nudist beach!) lounge on the sand, people picnic with their friends, dogs run off leash through the waves, and tourists gawk at the beautiful bridge in the background. It is a real cultural phenomena found on a little stretch of land under the bridge. The best time to do this trail is on a clear day at sunset.

Wooded Trails: Less crowded but no views

Ecology Trail & Lover’s Lane (2 mile loop) – Mostly wooded with partial views to the bay. Start at 14 Funston Avenue

Presidio Loop Trail (3.6 mile loop) – Mostly wooded, loops around the golf course with partial views of the water. Start at Finley Road


view of golden gate bridge from dog friendly baker beach

view of golden gate bridge from dog friendly baker beach

view of golden gate bridge from dog friendly baker beach

view of golden gate bridge from dog friendly baker beach

golden gate bridge lookout from dog friendly baker beach

golden gate bridge lookout from dog friendly baker beach

dog at baker beach at sunset in front of golden gate bridge

dog at baker beach looking at sailboat during sunset

golden gate bridge lookout from dog friendly baker beach

4. Twin Peaks Loop: 360 degree view of San Francisco

Length: Varies
Skill Level: All
Trail Conditions: Paved and well maintained paths
Leash Rules: On-Leash
Vibes: Touristy & Crowded
Navigate: Clarendon & Twin Peaks Blvd for the Trail

Twin peaks is a great Urban Hike for first time San Francisco visitors.  On a clear day, the area is crowded with tourists trying to get a view of the entire city from the top. This is THE PLACE to get a 360 degree view of the city.  If you don’t want to do the 3.8 mile trail, you can drive all the way up to the top. If you are doing the trail, find the trailhead at Clarendon & Twin Peaks Blvd. Dress warmly as the breeze gets cold at the peak. Hikes like Twin Peaks are only worth it on a clear day – on foggy days there will be no view and you will be covered in cold fog.

5. Glen Canyon Park: Quiet trail in a picturesque neighborhood

Length: 2 mile loop with lower and upper trails
Trail Conditions: Dirt trails with some loose rocks. Very muddy after rain.
Leash Rules: Effectively off-Leash
Vibes: Calm & Quiet
Navigate: Glen Canyon Trailhead on Bosworth Street

If you want a quiet, peaceful walk, Glen Canyon is a good choice. Explore the Glen Park Neighborhood and then head to the Canyon for doggie fun among the rock formations and wildflowers. Glen Canyon Park is located a short walk from the picturesque neighborhood of Glen Park. Glen Park offers a quintessential San Francisco experience away from the crowds of tourists in Downtown. Parking is available at the trailhead and throughout the neighborhood. The trails are generally quiet and offer great views from the top. Enjoy the colorful wildflowers, especially after seasons of rain. The trail always has warnings for coyote sightings but we go at least once a week and have never seen any. If your dog does not have strong recall, we recommend keeping them on leash just in case.

To access the trail, walk through the main entrance, past the children’s playground and athletic fields. At the trailhead, you’ll have a choice at the fork. Because the trail is a loop, it doesn’t matter which side you start on.

For an easy stroll, stay on the lower trail without climbing any steps. The lower trail will give you a forest-style experience through the trees. For great views, take any of the stairs along the trail for access to the top of the canyon. We always choose to climb the stairs and walk along the top the canyon.

dog on glen canyon park san francisco urban hike

dog on glen canyon park san francisco urban hike

dog on glen canyon park san francisco urban hike

dogs on glen canyon park san francisco urban hike

dog on glen canyon park san francisco urban hike

More Dog Friendly Urban Hikes in San Francisco

Mt. Davidson Trail: Quiet Stroll on Windswept Hill

Length: 1.5 mile loop
Skill Level: Easy
Trail Conditions: Dirt trails
Leash Rules: Effectively Off-Leash
Vibes: Quiet
Navigate: 14 Dalewood Way

The Mt. Davidson trail is one of the highest viewpoints of San Francisco. The trail is located in a suburban San Francisco neighborhood and generally frequented by locals. The trailhead is unmarked but very obvious behind the bus stop at the bottom of the hill. You’ll need a car to get to Mt. Davidson and there isn’t much to see in the area other than the trail. This is one of the quietest trails we have discovered in San Francisco and has been forgotten among the countless other urban hikes. At the viewpoint, you will find the Pacific Ocean visible through the trees behind you and the San Francisco Skyline in front of you. The park offers 40 acres of open space so a lot of opportunities for your dog to run around.

Mount Sutro Loop: Escape the City

Length: 2.2 mile loop
Skill Level: Moderate
Trail Conditions: Narrow dirt trails, Overgrown on side trails, Muddy after rain. Share path with bikers.
Leash Rules: On-Leash
Vibes: Quiet with Occasional Bikers
Navigate: 4981 17th St

The Mount Sutro loop is a green oasis in the middle of San Francisco but completely covered in thick trees so don’t come here for the views (there are none!). This is the kind of trail to visit for an escape from the city – The Mount Sutro trail is trafficked by bikers and San Francisco residents. You’ll find that the side trails are overgrown especially after a rainy season, but exploring off the main trail will lead you through different SF neighborhoods. The trailhead can be accessed at multiple entry points – It is easy to get lost so consult your phone maps to ensure you are staying on path.

dog on mount sutro san francisco urban hike

Stern Grove: Off Leash & Live Music

Length: Short Stroll
Skill Level: Easy
Trail Conditions: Paved and dirt paths
Leash Rules: Off-leash
Vibes: Popular among local dog owners
Navigate: 100 Vale Ave Parking Lot

Stern Grove is a full scale recreational area with plenty of space to stroll on paved paths of explore the switchback dirt trails along the trees. The 33 acre park has an official off-leash dog play area and there are always many dogs chasing frisbees and jogging alongside their humans.

During summer weekends, Stern Grove hosts music events on Sunday afternoons with ample picnicking space and food trucks. The park is hidden about 6 miles from downtown.

John McClaren Park Upper Reservoir & Philosopher’s Way Trail: Dog Lake & Wilderness Trails

Length: Varies
Skill Level: Easy
Trail Conditions: Dirt paths, muddy after rain
Leash Rules: Off-leash
Vibes: Popular among local dog owners with a great swimming hole for pets.
McClaren Upper Reservoir (for dog lake), Field of Dogs (for open space), Philosopher’s Way Trailhead (on Mansell Street)

McClaren park is a San Francisco favorite for dog owners. The 300+ acre park is quiet and almost exclusively frequented by dogs. In the dog world, McClaren park is best known for it’s “Upper Reservoir” which acts as an off-leash swimming hole.  The Upper Reservoir has easy access to the Field of Dogs and multiple side trails for long walks.

dog friendly lake in san francisco at mcclaren park

dog friendly swimming hole in san francisco at mcclaren park

dog friendly lake in san francisco at mcclaren park

Beyond the San Francisco city limits, there are countless additional trails for dogs to enjoy.  Stay tuned for our guide to dog hikes in Marin and East Bay.

Keep on trail blazing,
Your Pal Cal

How to prepare your dog to pass the Advanced Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC-A)

two dogs in front of plush toys shaped like diplomas

There are a total of 3 Canine Good Citizen titles that asses your dog’s basic obedience. Any dog of any age can take the tests to get the titles – Some handlers choose to test their dogs as a way of checking in on progress, and the test may be taken again at a later date if the dog does not pass. The CGC tests are split up into three levels: CGC, CGC-U, CGC-A. The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is the first step and evaluates basic obedience. The Canine Good Citizen Urban test (CGCU) evaluates obedience in an urban environment. In this post, we will be focusing on the Canine Good Citizen Advanced test also known as the AKC Community Canine Test (CGCA). If you are starting from the beginning, see our post about how to pass the CGC test first.

How is the CGC test different from the CGCA Test?

The CGC test is a pre-requisite to taking the CGCA test. The CGCA takes the basics from the CGC and applies them to more complex scenarios. The CGCA test is administered in a busy area with other dogs and many distractions.

Why would you test your dog?

Unless you are in a Therapy Dog program, there’s no legal requirement to take the CGC test. The only reason to test your dog is for your own enjoyment or to confirm training. We make all our dogs pass the CGC testing series to ensure that we are meeting some standard of training. There are a few reasons that we choose to test our dogs. Again, these are just our personal reasons and we are lucky to have easy access to evaluators:
1. Therapy dog organizations frequently require testing: Calvin & Samson are therapy dogs which means that they visits hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. The SPCA and many other Therapy Dog organizations require the dogs to pass the CGC and CGCA tests before being fully certified for visits (for liability reasons, therapy dogs do get formally certified and tested by organizations).
2. Task trained service dogs should and must be held to the highest standards: While our dogs are trained to help others by providing comfort, they are also formally task trained. We believe that any working dog should be held to just as high a standard as dogs who have been through formal programs and tested/evaluated for multiple years. Any working dog should have absolutely no issue passing the entire CGC, CGCU, and CGCA series of tests – at the core, these tests really just evaluate basic obedience. Note: the CGC titles are NOT required for working dogs and there are many legitimate reasons that a handler may not title their dogs (I.e access to evaluators); titling our dogs is just personal preference.
3. It’s hard to judge our own dogs: all dogs are great and so it’s very hard for us to conduct an unbiased assessment of our own dogs. Having someone else judge your dog’s obedience by following a set of objective standards is a great way to confirm a dog’s training. We wanted to make sure our dogs could pass the test items to confirm that they were trained. The CGCA is a great goal to work towards with your pup.

two dogs laying down wearing sunflower bandanas

Can I use training tools on the CGCA Test?

Even though they are great for learning, training tools (prongs, gentle leaders, e-collars) cannot be used during any of the CGC tests. The test evaluates how the dog listens to voice commands, not how well they behave with corrective tools. Although treat rewards are not allowed, praise is encouraged and the handler can speak to their dog as much as they would like while completing test items.

What is on the CGCA Test (Test Items)?

There are 10 test items on the CGCA test and the dog must successfully complete each one for the CGCA title.

Test Item 1: Dog stands, sits or lies down and waits under control. This situation may present itself in a few ways – While the handler is filling out paper work at the registration table, while the group of handlers are standing in a crowd, while the handler sits down and eats food ect.

Dog Cannot:
-Start begging for attention from passersby
-Bark or act uncomfortable while it waits
-Beg or become agitated

How to Prepare:
-Prepare at pet friendly stores. Have your dog sit quietly by your side while you check out
-Teach your dog the “under” command. If you are sitting down for this test item, the “under” command makes it easier to position them

Test Item 2: Left turn, right turn, slow, fast, stop at a heel through a distracting environment (generally outdoors) with a loose leash

Test Item 3: Walking through a crowd. Dog will walk at your side through a crowd on a busy sidewalk, through a bunch of people, or at a fair ect.

Test Item 4: Walking past multiple dogs. This can be done with Test Item 3 if dogs are included in the crowd.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull on the leash, walk ahead of you, the leash must be slack by your side
-Show any signs of reactivity to other dogs or humans
-Get distracted

How to Prepare:
-Train a strong “leave it” to ignore people, dogs, food, sounds, and other distractions while outside
-Don’t let your dog walk ahead of you while walking
-Don’t let your dog greet dogs while on leash or ensure they have a strong “leave it” while passing dogs

Test Item 5: Sit-Stay in a crowd with other dogs. All handlers taking the test with start to have a conversation while their dogs are in a sit-stay on their left sides. This is to ensure that dog can settle in a crowd with dogs around in close proximity.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull towards other dogs
-Show excitement or reactivity to the other dogs
-Excessively fidget or act uncomfortable

How to Prepare:
-Train an auto-sit on walks with your dog
-Practice having conversations with other handlers while their dogs are present and have the dogs ignore each other

Test Item 6: Stranger approaches dog while carrying something. Item is placed on the floor and stranger then asks to pet the dog.

Dog Cannot:
-Show any reactivity
-React to the item being placed on the ground
-Sniff the item
-Jump up on the stranger

How to Prepare:
-Train a command for your dog to sit at your heel. We use the command “finish” where the dogs position themselves in a sit on our left side
-Familiarize your dog with medical equipment, bags of different sizes, hates, canes ect
-Don’t let your dog automatically greet humans. Have a release command such as “ok” or “say hello”

Test Item 7: Walk by food and “leave it.” Evaluator places food in a dish for handler and dog to walk by. Dog must ignore the food.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull towards the food while walking by

How to Prepare:
-Practice walking by food on the street
-Solid leave it

Test Item 8: Handler leaves dog in a down or a sit stay and walks 20 feet away. Handler receives a bag or item from the evaluator and then walks back to the dog while still holding the item. Dog must remain in a stay.

Dog Cannot:
-Break the stay
-Jump on the item or try to take the item

How to Prepare:
-Practice “stay” with distance, duration, and distractions
-Practice “stay” while circling around your dog
-Practice “stay” while throwing a ball past your dog
-Practice “stay” for long periods of time
-Practice “stay” with dogs as a distraction

Test Item 9: Handler walks 20 feet from dog and recalls the dog while distractions are present.

Dog Cannot:
-Go to the distraction
-Fail to get to the handler

How to Prepare:
-Reward your dog for recall in various scenarios

Test Item 10: Controlled entry through a doorway by having the dog wait at the doorway while the handler goes through. We chose to have our dog wait but the test also recognizes walking through a doorway with the dog at a heel or sending the dog through the doorway first and having them wait at the other side. The evaluator is testing to make sure the dog follows directions at doorways but a handler may choose what method to use as long as the dog follows the verbal command for that method.

Dog Cannot:
-Forge ahead of handler
-Ignore handler’s command

How to Prepare:
-Practice at home and outside with every doorway

See the official CGCA evaluator checklist here

Happy Testing, 
Your Pal Cal