Hiking with Your Dog 
in the Wilderness

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear is one of the dog-friendliest places.  

To date, the San Bernardino National Forests allows dogs on their trails. Dogs are no longer allowed on National Park or National Monument trails.  We want to keep as many forest trails open to dogs in our Big Bear Valley as possible.

Every time you are on our trails with your dog, you are an ambassador for all dog owners.  Ensure a safe and happy hike for both you and your dog, as well as fellow hikers, by sticking to the rules. 

There is a time and place for off-leash activities.  It is never in the wilderness.  

Many visitors come up to Big Bear with their dogs without a full realization that they are now surrounded by wilderness. Urban dogs have no idea of how to behave in the wilderness.  They can't tell a coyote, a deer or a bear from another dog.  Not knowing their way around, they get disoriented and lost. Being lost is as terrifying for your dog as it would be for you. And that's a huge wilderness for you to be out there looking for your dog, putting you at risk.  

Any walk in the woods in Big Bear Valley 
is a hike in the wilderness. 

Hiking in the wilderness is not a romp in a dog park. A dog chasing another dog is one thing in a fenced-in dog park; the same dog bolting after wildlife in the wilderness is a whole other story. 

>>  Please read:  Jazz's Story.

This sign is posted in bear country and reads: 

"You are entering a wilderness area and must accept certain inherent dangers, including snow, steep terrain, water and wildlife. There is no guarantee of your safety. Bears have injured and killed visitors and may attack without warning and for no apparent reason. To enhance your safety and protect park resources, follow the recommendations posted below." 

Keep this in mind:  Big Bear Valley is bear (and coyote) country. It is the natural habitat of Black Bears. The above cautionary words apply. Although black bears rarely attack people, these strong predators are potentially dangerous and are capable of seriously injuring or even killing humans and/or their dogs.  They need to be afforded their due respect. 

A dog can disturb a bear and lead it back to you. Don't believe it?  Read this for yourself, then ask yourself:  How fast can I run? 

Visitors with their dogs must learn first how to treat the wilderness by respecting its needs first.  It's not a right for your dog to be in the
wilderness, it's a privilege. This is the home of wildlife; they do not deserve to be scared or chased by dogs.

We are the wilderness' uninvited guests.  

1.  The San Bernardino National Forest Service allows pets on a six-foot leash. Obey the leash law.  Don't allow your dog to run free. 

About leashes: a six-foot leash will give your dog enough room to tackle the trail without getting tangled up in underbrush or other hikers.  Also, make sure your dog has its identification tags.

Your dog may be the perfect off-leash dog at home, but here in the wilderness, those wild instincts can kick in and that same well-trained dog can be off sniffing out a carcass, checking out scat (bear poop), or chasing wildlife deep into the woods where it can get hurt or lost.  Dogs sniffing in holes can be infected with rabies or distemper.  

Sources of information: BBDC; Pet Regulations.
Any questions? Call
the National Forest service at (800) 280-2267 or (800) 444-PARK.

Please use common sense.  Even if your dog is leashed, sometimes it makes NO sense to take him/her on a hike in the wilderness with you.  

  • If you do not have full control of your dog even on a leash (we've all seen those recalcitrant dogs in dog obedience class, as well as those that are stronger than their humans), you won't magically get more control while on a wilderness trail. Your dog can have you hurtling in a direction you don't want to go (down). Leave that dog at home.

  • If your dog already chases after passing cars or animals, this inclination is amplified as in the wilderness its inhabitants are unleashed and make unexpected appearances. In hot pursuit, dogs have been to known to slip off their collars or pull so hard that their owners let go of their leashes. Respect the wildlife. Do not allow your dog to traumatize the wildlife in their home. And besides, can your dog tell the difference between a harmless garter snake and a rattlesnake?  No. I didn't think so.  Leave that dog at home.

  • If your dog already acts threateningly to humans and/or other dogs, this tendency is amplified in strange places, especially narrow hiking trails.  Big Bear trails are shared by people and their pets, pack animals (horses, llamas, burros, goats, dogs) and wildlife.

    Even if it is leashed, your dog can lunge at a passing hiker. Some of the paths are narrow and even a short leash may not prevent an aggressive dog from lunging and hurting others.  Lawsuits are costly and dogs get euthanized for their aggressive behavior. Dogs no longer get "one free bite."  You are liable for any bite of any person in a lawful place. Leave that dog at home.  

2.  Keep your voice low and preserve the natural peace and quiet. 

People make the drive up to Big Bear Valley in search of nature and its priceless peace and quiet and freedom from the distracting noises and man-made racket in the metropolis below. Don't mess it up for them.

This means no impressive loud commands to your dog.  Nothing shatters nature's peace and quiet than dog owners who yell for and shout at their dogs.  The only thing worse than a noisy owner in the wilderness is a dog that won't stop barking/yapping at everything.  Leave that dog at home.

3.  Stay on the path and walk single file in the middle of the path to protect the surrounding vegetation, even if the trail is wet, muddy or icy. You can wash off your boots or shoes, but the plants you crushed are permanently damaged. Walking in the wilderness is not the same as a Sunday stroll, arm in arm, in the park. 

The San Bernardino National Forest has the highest concentration of endangered plant species in the United States.  Don't you and your dog go trampling them into extinction! Some areas now ban dogs from using trails. This is due to past problems which arose from off-leash dogs.

4.  Unless passing or being passed, maintain a distance between you and your dog and other hikers, yet be friendly with those you meet on the trail.   Not everyone loves dogs and some dogs are notorious heel nippers. Please do your best to promote a positive image for dogs. 

5.  Hikers without pets have the right-of-way. Yield to them. Some people are afraid of dogs. In general, when you meet another trail user, you will be wished well if your dog is under total control, i.e., on a short leash.

6.  Pack animals have the right-of-way. Usually the largest animal has right-of-way on trails because they are less maneuverable. Stepping off the trial may cause them to suffer an injury. Most hoof-stock -- horses and mules -- can be spooked by dogs. If you meet a horse-packer, the courteous response is to yield by stepping off the trial with your leashed dog and allowing them to pass. 

7.  The old saying "Leave only footprints" applies to dog poop too. To protect wildlife and to keep other hikers' boots and bikers' wheels odor-free, please take your dog's Zip-Locked poop out with you  to be disposed outside the wilderness area.

It is not enough to leave your dog's poop on the side of the trail or to bury it in the wilderness. Dog waste is not the same as that other animals, even that of coyotes or wolves, as it can do harm to the environment, especially near water sources that wildlife depend on.

Big dog, big poop.  That's just the way it is. Leak-proof Zip-Loc bags now come in all sizes. No excuses.

We also stuff plastic grocery bags in our pockets, just in case we run out of Zip-Loc bags or need a second bag for double-protection.  We find these freebie bags ideal for removing trash from our wilderness areas. Even on a short hike you can help out by packing away trailside litter.  The Scouts have the right idea:  A Scout is taught to leave a place in better shape than s/he found it in.

8.  Carry in water (and a bowl) for your dog.  

Dogs get dehydrated faster than humans as they expend much more energy. Dehydration can contribute to heatstroke, hypothermia, frostbite, mountain sickness and death. The streams are not safe to drink from for you or your dog.  Those days are long gone. 

Give your dog rest periods, as they will hike until they drop, just to please you. 

>>  Please read:  Casey's Story.

If you're going on a lengthy hike, pack dog food and a first aid kit with supplies for cut paws, bites, ticks and sprains: Vet
bandage tape (which sticks to itself but not to hair or
skin), antibiotic cream, gauze, tape, towel, antiseptic lotion, tweezers, scissors and a SAM splint. If you're going to be hiking in an area with rough terrain, consider getting some dog booties to protect tender paws.

Also, make sure that all of your dog's vaccinations and medications are current, including rabies, bordatella, and heartworm.  Southern California is not an endemic area for Lyme disease, but cases have been occuring; ask your vet about vaccinations.

After any hike, do a careful check for ticks and for any burrs or foxtails in your dog's coat. Foxtails can mean an expensive trip to the vet if you let them get in your dog's nose or ears, so avoid hiking through areas with lots of them.

9.  Practice basic hiking etiquette:

  • Be courteous and respectful of others. Protect the quality of their experience.

  • The person climbing the hill has the right of way.

  • Hike with a human partner or stay together as a group. 

  • Hike in small groups.  Split large groups into groups of 4-6 persons/dogs.

  • Schedule your hike to avoid high traffic times.

  • Kill Nothing but Time.
    Take Nothing but Pictures.
    Leave Nothing but Tracks.

  • Preserve the past.  Observe, but do not touch cultural, historical structures or artifacts.  

  • Do not damage or remove any rocks, plants or wildlife.

  • Practice the Principles of Leave No Trace: http://www.lnt.org/

>>   Dog-Play:  Hiking & Backpacking Links

10.   Share this page with your dog-loving friends.

Back to:

>> The Woodland Trail

>> Big Bear Lake

Click here for lovable dogs awaiting adoption at the 
Bear Mountain Dog Rescue
in Big Bear Valley.

"Adopt, Don't Shop"  ~ "Spay...Don't Litter"

These pages are dedicated to the memory of Laki 
and the good and kind people at 
Bear Mountain Dog Rescue.


September Morn 2002