Everyone knows to research a guided walking tour on a vacation but did you ever think about booking a dog walking tour? Guided tours are my #1 recommendation for learning about the locale (as well as getting a local’s recommendations on what to see and do) when you go on vacation.
When I decided to take my first 2022 road trip to North Carolina with my 11-month-old puppy and two Siamese cats, I knew I wanted to make them happy. For my cats, this means a cozy bed with a lock on the bedroom door so no surprise visits from the puppy. (Check out my post on “Traveling Cat: On The Road” for advice on how to keep your felines comfortable on a long drive.)
But Mr. Activity (aka my Golden Retriever puppy) doesn’t ever want to stay back at the cabin. So taking him on all my outdoor vacation activities was a big priority. Plus I felt guilty leaving him behind in his crate at the Airbnb. But he could not be left out to roam because he will try to eat anything in his path.
Research Dog-Friendly Outings
SO I decided to book a dog hiking adventure with One Dot Adventures during my recent vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. I contacted owner Brendon Voelker on Wednesday and he was completely booked for the following four days. But we were able to get a date on the calendar for Monday. The cost was $100 for Parker’s five-hour puppy tour of a waterfall in South Carolina. He got to bring his hooman (me) for free.
“Every dog must have his day.”Jonathan Swift
Brendon said his clients love bringing their pups along on hikes. “During the initial booking process, they often ask if they can bring their 4-legged friend along,” said Brendon. “There are a handful of hikes I would not consider dog-friendly, but it’s easy to pick one that is – and one that is often off the beaten path.”
I honestly cannot praise Brendon enough for his flexibility, good humor, and adaptability. First, he asked if it was okay if his large black dog (named Geronimo or G for short) could join us.
Brendon and his dog Geronimo picked us up at our Etowah Airbnb at 9 a.m. sharp. He covered the back seat with a blanket. Poor Geronimo had to suffer from my puppy bouncing around everywhere even though I securely leashed Parker to the seat belt.
We also had to block Parker trying to get into our front seat. But we all (mostly) survived the ride.
Friendly Hooman Guide
Brendon is truly one of the most passionate naturalists that you will ever meet. The 30-something guide hails from Texas but now resides in western North Carolina.
“I’m of the opinion that to truly enjoy a trail to its fullest, you must understand how it came to be,” explained Brendon. “For much of my life, I didn’t understand how extensive the logging, mining, and agriculture industries shaped the Appalachian Mountains. Along with that, there’s a layer of Native American history that is often overlooked and forgotten. To be better stewards of our lands, we have to be mindful of both the good and bad things we have done over the past few centuries. With that, when you can understand how the mountains were logged, you can notice nuance in different forests and what types of plants, trees, and fungi you may expect to find. For instance, a healthy hemlock forest will often yield a higher diversity of orchids and wildflowers beneath it, as compared to a pine or deciduous forest.”
He can customize any tour—hiking, biking, running, or driving—to meet his customer’s needs.
It is critical that your guide loves dogs. And I can give Brendon a 5-star rating for how he treated Parker. He showed infinite patience when my puppy squirmed, pushed, and pawed to reach the front seat. If Brendon hadn’t been using a rental car, he would have installed his guard gate between the front and back seat.
“Geronimo brings a smile to everyone’s face – mine included.”Brandon Voelker
It is also a plus if the hooman guide brings his canine guide. Parker loved to follow the big dog and scamper down the trails. Geronimo helped out in a number of ways. Brendon said that the scent of a dog tends to keep large wildlife away, specifically bears.
“I attribute my lack of bear encounters in the last five years mostly to his company. For longer runs and hikes, he often wears a vest and may carry additional food, water, and emergency supplies,” said Brendon.
Throughout the hike, both dogs competed for finding the biggest sticks. At one point, they even played a game where one dog laid down his stick so his companion could take over carrying it in his mouth.
Two-Hour Minimum Hike
Dogs like to hike until they run out of gas. And since my puppy likes his daily 5-mile walks in Washington DC, he absolutely wanted a LONG hike in the woods. (Some of Parker’s favorite places to hike are the U.S. Capitol Grounds, Tidal Basin, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and the National Arboretum.)
“Made Fur Hikes.”Parker
When we arrived at our destination, Parker got loose and ran down a path. Brendon helped restrain Parker while I secured his gentle guide leash. I really appreciated the help with my exuberant 11-month-old puppy.
We hiked to the Narrows on the Eastatoe Creek, one of the main sources of water that feed Lake Jocassee. “The name of the creek is derived from a historic trade route that Native Americans used to traverse between what is now NE Georgia, Upstate SC, and Western NC,” said Brendon.
For the next two hours, I learned a lot about the wildflowers in bloom. Parker explored with his nose. He also scampered among the rocks and grass with his canine guide Geronimo.
“In April at this elevation, most of the trees will leaf out and the forest floor will be covered with various types of trillium, native orchids, lilies, and various types of iris,” said Brendon. “By the end of April, it’s common to see mountain laurel and native azaleas beginning to bloom throughout the lower elevations. Many of the rhododendrons will flower in the following weeks.”
Brendon finished our tour on the top of Sassafras Mountain. It straddles two states (North Carolina and South Carolina).
“While Sassafras is short and paved, the observation deck provides 360-degree views reaching as far as Rabun Bald (third highest point in Georgia), Mount Pisgah, and Mount Mitchell (the highest point east of the Rockies),” said Brendon.
Brendon was a lifesaver when we reached the hilly path descending to the waterfalls. There were steep slippery stretches with big rocks. He offered to take Parker’s leash and expertly guided him to the waterfalls. If I had been in charge, we would have slid down to the bottom.
Although Brendon suggested that Parker could swim at Eastatoe Falls, I had no intention of letting him off the leash. We haven’t completed our training for off-leash adventures. I let him play in the shallow water.
What I hadn’t counted on was the slippery rock surface at the base of the waterfall. Parker seemed to be enjoying just dipping his paws and nose in the water.
But when he saw Geronimo swim over to meet Brendon on a ledge (where he was videotaping the waterfall), my puppy decided to follow. I accidentally dropped his leash and he raced away. In a second, he plunged into the water and started swimming toward Geronimo.
I desperately called “Parker! Come!”
Halfway to his target, he circled around and swam back to me. My reward was being drenched in water as a very WET puppy shook himself. We all laughed at my crazy puppy and his first swimming adventure.
Keep calm and hug a Golden Retriever.”
Sadly, I don’t have one video to remember it because there was no time to pull out my iPhone. But I did take a photo of my very regal wet puppy looking at the waterfall afterward.
Make Hooman Happy
Parker wants to do anything I want to do (as well as a lot of things that I don’t want him to do like eating mulch, sticks, and trash on the ground).
“Love is the golden rule.”
He is my faithful companion on my daily city walks. People often stop us enroute to tell him that he is a good puppy. Stepping tall! The flag (Golden Retriever tail) flies high.
I cannot tell you how much joy you will feel if you treat your dog to a guided hike on your next vacation. If you are visiting western North Carolina, you absolutely should contact Brendon and Geronimo at One Dot Adventures to book their dog-friendly hiking or trail run tours.
If time permits, Brendon likes to stop for a beer at The Hub & Pisgah Tavern. It is located outside the entrance of the Pisgah National Forest. You can buy outer gear, rent bikes, or enjoy a local beer (which includes eight rotating taps).
Most importantly, dogs are welcome at the retail store as well as the tavern. There is an outside patio where you can kick back and sip your brew while you pet your dog.
Special thanks to Brendon who contributed multiple photos for this article.
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