Dogging adventure in the North

Photo Credit: Photo Dagmar Norton

Dogging adventure in the North

👤Amanda Follett Hosgood 🕔Nov 25, 2013

Dogging adventure in the North--Find the best pet-friendly spots by following your best friend’s nose

Some say dogs tie people down. In our household, it might just be the other way around.

What if we turned the tables on our four-legged friends and let them choose our next vacation destination? Where would they take us? Well, it would probably be somewhere outdoors, with lots of space to run and beautiful mountains to wander amongst. How far wrong could a person go?

We’re thinking not too far. Next time, consider taking a vacation not in spite of your favourite ball-and-chain-of-fur, but because of them.

This is far from an exhaustive list of pooch-approved adventures in the North. (Increasingly, tourism operators are recognizing the growing pet travel market and an online search for pet-friendly accommodation will turn up options in most communities.) But what we’ve listed here aren’t just pet-friendly, they’re pet-over-the-moon-with-tail-wagging-happiness destinations. You know—those places where your four-legged friends can really rip.

North Beach Cabins

Nothing says romp quite like 25 km of beach right outside your doorstep. Haida Gwaii’s North Beach has expanses of wide-open space for walks, stick-throwing and swimming.

Owner Lisa Schultz allows dogs in all four cabins at North Beach Cabins, as well as the tree-house-style Backpackers Inn (although your dog would need to climb a short ladder.) On this particular morning, Schultz has just watched two surfer guests run down to the beach with boards and beasts in tow.

“It’s wonderful to have that kind of spirit and youthful, loving-life energy around,” she says. Her own golden retriever, Boone, likes to visit guest cabins on his daily rounds and Cupcake (the cat who thinks she’s a dog) might also end up dropping by to say hello.

“This is the perfect place to bring a pet,” Schultz says. Many easy day hikes exist within an hour’s drive of North Beach, and hiking maps are available at North Beach Cabins. “I think people are really happy to take their dogs out and let them run.”

While pets don’t need to be leashed, Schultz asks that dogs aren’t bothering other visitors and are kept in the immediate vicinity of your cabin. A one-time $28 pet fee applies for the duration of a visit. Also, keep in mind these cabins are very rustic (no electricity means no vacuum) and leave them as dog-hair-free as possible.

Paw note: Haida Gwaii is home to a large population of small black-tailed deer. It is faux paw for your pooch to chase them, so keep Fido leashed around wildlife.

Onion Lake (and other) trails

While lift-accessed downhill skiing is great, it does exclude our four-legged companions. Until those ski-hill managers wise up, look at it as an opportunity to get out and ski under your own steam.

Onion Lake Cross-Country Ski Trails, located halfway between Terrace and Kitimat, has a six-km loop that has been dog friendly for the past five years. The area’s most popular trail, the club has plans to extend the dog loop, according to Snow Valley Nordic Ski Club president Liz Thorne.

In fact, winter road trippers could hit several dog-friendly Nordic ski areas along Highway 16: the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre, near Smithers, has seven kilometres that are pooch approved and Prince George’s Otway Nordic Ski Centre has five kilometres of dog trails.

Paw note: For a fun ride, invest in skijoring gear (all you need is a dog harness, people harness and bungee leash) and let your dog do the work.

Ripley Creek Inn

While visitors come to Stewart in summer to check out grizzly bears and the Salmon Glacier, six to eight feet of snow means it’s make-your-own fun in the winter, and Ripley Creek Inn makes a great base for you and your four-legged sidekick.  

The inn has six rooms available for travellers with pets. These rooms are less expensive than other rooms ($95 in the low season versus $105) as they’re smaller, but they’re clean and no additional dog fee applies.

“We get people with pets all the time,” manager Sheldon Rogers says. “Usually tourists, but sometimes we’ll get some blue collar corporate traffic.”

With endless backcountry, Stewart is truly the wild north, and has little in the way of maintained ski or snowshoe trails, Rogers says. However, the area is popular with snowmobilers, who leave packed trails that are great for walking or cross-country skiing. When frequently mild coastal temperatures dip below freezing, crusty snow can be walked upon without snowshoes.

Although there are no local snowshoe rentals, Rogers has a pair he says he’d be willing to lend.

“We get a lot of snow. It’s definitely something you can do,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to get lost. We’re in a bowl—it’s surrounded by mountains.”

Though not dog friendly, the inn also has a sauna for two-legged travellers to ease aching muscles after a day spent trekking through all that snow.

While the road into Stewart is open year round, travellers might be held up for several hours during avalanche control. Prepare to be patient.

Paw note: Ripley Creek’s resident chickens mean dogs must be leashed while on the property.

Ross Lake

Located just east of Hazelton, a couple kilometres north of Highway 16, Ross Lake Provincial Park is a popular ice-fishing destination and, because the road is kept clear all winter, a great spot to stop and stretch the legs—whether you travel on two or four. On a bright, sunny day, nothing beats a walk on a frozen lake with your best friend.

Paw note: Discarded fish guts abound. Keep pooches that enjoy stinky things close at hand.

Norton North Ranch Cottages

Dagmar Norton doesn’t mince words: “It is pet paradise,” she says about Norton North Ranch Cottages, 30 minutes west of Prince George. Indeed, treats are provided on arrival and you can leave the leash at home.

“We take pride in that we have an off-leash policy,” says Norton, who estimates about 30 percent of guests bring pets. “We actually encourage people—let your dogs off the leash. These dogs, they want to run.”

The Nortons keep five kilometres of walking trails plowed all winter and snowshoes are provided with each cabin. Resident horses are socialized to dogs and not bothered when a curious canine barks at them. In fact, the Nortons have two strays of their own.

“We do ask the guest if their dog is friendly,” Norton says. Out of respect for non-pet-toting visitors, owners are also asked to keep their dogs close to their own cottage. Out of three cabins, the larger two are most appropriate for dogs and The Old Logbarn, the largest cabin at 950 square feet, has a tiny dog nook under the stairs with its own dog bed.

Paw note: Campfires and barbecues go all year long, so bring your woollies and settle into the winter outdoors.

Ancient Forest

Located 113 km east of Prince George on the south side of Highway 16, the Ancient Forest Trail officially opened in 2006 and offers gentle snowshoeing through towering cedars, some up to 2,000 years old and several metres in diameter.

“The Ancient Forest Trail is a popular place for dogs and their families. Visitors are very respectful of the Ancient Forest and take care of business where their pets are concerned,” says Nowell Senior with the Caledonia Ramblers. “The dogs love it!”

Paw note: The trail is 2.3 km long and an easy 90-minute hike for most adults, children and, of course, dogs.

Mountain River Lodge

Close to Mount Robson and one hour west of Jasper, Mountain River Lodge is the perfect place to take a furry friend. Owner Claudia Pajunen says the lodge’s two cabins have been pet friendly for over 10 years and they’ve never looked back.

“The whole thing about pets changed dramatically since my husband was growing up on the farm,” Pajunen says. “They’re family members now. People want to travel with their pets and take them along on vacation.”

People are pleasantly surprised when they realize the pet-friendly cabins are clean and safe, not the dingy and dated accommodation associated with smoking rooms. Hardwood floors and leather furniture don’t just look good, they’re also relatively easy to clean, Pajunen points out.

The area abounds with outdoor activities, including the famed Berg Lake Trail, which is open year round and trackset for cross-country skiing in winter. While dogs need to be leashed within Mount Robson Provincial Park, there are plenty of other quiet trails where dogs can run.

There is a $15 surcharge for pets (it takes longer to clean the room, Pajunen explains). The area abounds with wildlife, so keep runners close at hand. That said, well-behaved dogs don’t need to be leashed at the cabins.

“We’ve never had any issue with our four-legged furry guests,” Pajunen says.

Paw note: Unfortunately, the cabins are now closed for winter, but re-open in May.