Dogs love the snow — here’s how you can both stay safe and secure in it this winter!
By Douglas Scott
Dogs love the snow. When snowflakes start to fall and the powder starts to accumulate, our excitable pooches get even more stoked for outside adventures. Each time we take them to explore a winter wonderland, they seem to lose their minds, running and bounding in the frozen precipitation like it is the best thing they have ever experienced. For us, the owners and caretakers of our fluffy fur balls, we enjoy the snow as much as they do, which is why we want to ensure every member of our family has a safe and amazing time exploring this winter.
We love to see our four-legged friends frolicking, but we must to remember that being out in the winter is not all fun and games. The cold weather, be it wet and rainy or snowy, can be rough on two legged and four legged adventurers. We have some tips, tricks, and trails to make your winter days out in the snow of the Pacific Northwest ideal. Before we get into those tips, remember this rule: please always clean up after your dog. Pack it in and pack it out.
The first thing you need to do before hitting the trails this winter with your pup is to protect their paws. You can, and some say should, put some shoes over your dog’s feet, but the main thing to be aware of is a build up of snow on their paws and the possibility of getting a paw cut open on exposed rocks and ice. Yes, dogs’ feet are durable, but your dog is not a wolf (or shouldn’t be), and is therefore unaccustomed to being out in the elements for an extended period of time. Bringing scissors to cut off snow clumps, as well as a first aid kit for your dog will help them have a good time in snow and limit their risk of cuts and infections. Your dog first aid kit should include doggy aspirin, a styptic pencil to stop cuts from bleeding, and an emergency blanket in case your dog shows signs of hypothermia.
Next, no matter the distance, always bring food and water for both you and your dog. It is important to remember that eating snow is not a substitute for water! Winter hiking can be exhausting for dogs, especially if they are not used to it or are traveling through deep snow. Dogs can easily get exhaustion, so keep an eye out for the major signs: lagging way behind you or even refusing to walk. Take plenty of breaks and make sure you bring your pet’s favorite snacks, some dog-friendly warm broth, and extra water. You also need to bring a towel or three for after the adventure. Chances are, your winter trail adventure will have some wetness to it.
Regarding wildlife while on winter hikes, the easiest solution to keeping your pet safe is to keep them on a leash. We love to see them run and bound around, but many of our favorite four-legged friends have a tendency to get easily distracted by a squirrel or anything small moving in the distance. While there are cougars and bears around the region, unless your dog is way off trail without you, chances are you won’t see hide nor hair of them. Skunks are around, which is really all you need to worry about. Hawks and owls do occasionally go after dogs under ten pounds, so keep them on a leash or close-by at all times.
Now that we have ways to stay warm, safe and happy with our furry pals, we need to find the perfect trail to explore. When it snows in the mountains, the best place to go is any National Forest Service area, as all their trails are dog friendly. We recommend starting with these five classic destinations in the Cascade Mountains, each perfect for a snow day with your dog.
Crystal Mountain, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, offers snowshoe rentals and miles of trails, making Alta Crystal Resort at Crystal Mountain a perfect spot to explore in the shadow of Mount Rainier. Their staff highly recommends hiking the three-mile round trip trail to Goat Falls, or taking a full day and trying to reach Noble Knob, an eight mile out and back adventure.
Along Interstate 90, just out of Seattle, one of the most popular winter destinations is also pet friendly. Franklin Falls is a short, two-mile round-trip trek, if the road is open to the trailhead. While dog-friendly, this trail, best done with snowshoes when snowy, is incredibly popular so keep your dog leashed up at all times. The hike gains just 400 feet of elevation and leads to a stunning scenic waterfall that is snowy, icy, and breathtaking. You won’t be alone on this hike, but it is worth it. Just arrive early.
Near Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee is another iconic destination that makes for a perfect winter snow adventure with your dog. Offering a variety of trails, as well as a nice beach to frolic on, dogs and their owners will enjoy taking in the sights in this State Park. You can’t go wrong exploring here with your dog, as there are amazing views for you and a lifetime of smells for your pooch.
For those heading all the way north, the trail to Artist Point by Mount Baker is one of the most stunning and incredible dog-friendly hikes in Washington State. Dog-friendly (leashed, please), the four-mile round trip snowshoe trip gains 1,000 feet of elevation, giving your legs, and your dog’s legs, quite a workout. However, on sunny days, there are few views that can rival the mountain wonderland found here.
Finally, we end at the White Pass Nordic Area in Lewis County. While most of the other state ski areas don’t allow dogs on their Nordic trails, leashed dogs are allowed on the trails here after 3:30pm, Thursday through Sunday, and all day on the trails Monday through Wednesday. With roughly 10 miles of trails to choose from, this might just become your go-to spot for all your snow adventures.
Douglas Scott is a nationally published outdoor writer and podcast host who spends his time exploring public lands in the west, hoping to inspire outdoor adventure for two and four-legged hikers. His work, including his podcast, articles, guidebooks and calendars can be found at outdoor-society.com.