BLOG: Hitting the Trails with your Four-legged Friend

Walking, hiking or running with your dog is great exercise for both of you and Door County has many great trails. There is a wide variety of scenery and terrain. I generally opt for about a 3 mile run and a few more miles if I am hiking. I am not a big fan of hills and I am a bit of a klutz, so Maggie and I prefer to avoid challenges to my coordination like rocks, cliffs and bluff.

Door County has a trail for every taste and level. The easiest trail is to walk or run the paved trail south of the village center in Sister Bay. It starts across from the visitor center at the top of the hill and runs south along Hwy 42 for about a mile. It is a multi-use trail so be courteous and keep an eye out for bikes. While there are plenty of back roads that you can run or walk on I prefer to stay off road if possible.  Even the back roads can have quite a bit of traffic and often they are narrow, winding and have blind spots due to hills and curves. If you choose to walk or run on the roads be sure to wear bright colors, face into the traffic and keep your dog on the ditch side of you.

One of Door County’s greatest assets is the variety of parks and trails throughout the county. With 5 state Parks there are miles of off road trails. A state park sticker is required to stop or park a vehicle in any of the state parks. Day passes are $7 for Wisconsin residents and $10 for non-residents. Annual stickers are also available and there are discounts for Wisconsin residents 65 years of age and older. Not all hiking trails are well suited for running but each of the parks offers trails that are.

Whitefish Dunes State Park has 14.5 miles of hiking trails. Located in the southern part of the county you will find sand dunes and beech forests which are very different from the parks further north in the county. The Green, Yellow and Clarke Lake Spur trails at Whitefish Dunes offer access to both Clark Lake and the pet friendly beach area on Lake Michigan.

Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek has 20 miles of hiking trails and hosts the most challenging trails. Quite honestly not all trails in this park are suited for running as many are steep, rocky or along the bluffs. A couple of my favorites are the Nicolet Bay and Sentinel Trail. The Nicolet Bay trail is 2.2 miles one way from the starting point at Welckers Point . There is a dog friendly picnic area called The Pines near the main parking lot area at Nicolet Bay Beach and just off that trail. Please note that dogs are NOT allowed on the beach area. The Sentinal Trail is a 2 mile loop from the Eagle Tower parking lot.

Newport State Park is very dog friendly. My brother’s favorite trail is the Europe Bay/Holtz trail which is about 7 miles long and takes you close to the shores of Europe Lake.

Rock Island State Park is located off the tip of the Door County mainland and requires two ferry rides. You must first take the car ferry from Northport to Washington Island. You will need your car to travel across Washington Island from where the car ferry docks to where the Rock Island Ferry departs. The Rock Island Ferry carries people and dogs but no vehicles are allowed on Rock Island. Rock Island is a primitive, remote park with no stores or services. You must bring with you any food, beverages or supplies you will want.  Due to its remote location the trails are often less crowded but it is still very popular during the peak summer months. There tends to be quite a bit of poison ivy on the island so I recommend keeping your dog on the trail as the irritating properties of poison ivy can be transferred from your dog’s coat to you.

In the winter time dog friendly trails are limited to the snowshoe trails at all of the state parks. Dogs are not allowed on the cross-country ski trails. The Rock Island Ferry does not run in the winter time so the island is not accessible at that time of year.

Whatever time of year you visit, Door County is always a great place to enjoy the outdoors and walk or run with your dog. I am a firm believer that “a tired dog is a good dog”. If you plan to leave your dog crated while you enjoy activities that can’t include them, it is always a good idea to get them some exercise before you leave them. Get out there and enjoy!