I love my dogs, but I’m often jealous of people who have dogs that are trustworthy off-leash. Zorro and Tulah are just not those types of dogs. I adopted them both as adult hound-mix former strays, so they were never trained as puppies. I think more than anything this is the biggest factor that works against them for being off-leash dogs. Tulah has some dog-aggression, a strong prey drive, and a nose on her. I think she’d come back to me off-leash. She has gotten loose on me a few times, and she’s come back on her own time (often hours), but it’s just too likely that she’ll get herself into some trouble while she’s following her nose. Zorro is pretty attached to me – maybe too attached – but because he spooks easily I worry that if he spooked off-leash while we were out hiking he may revert back to feral dog/survival mode and I’d never see him again. So, my dogs are on-leash dogs.
I like adventure, and so do my dogs, so I decided that we’d have to figure out a way to go camping and hiking even though they were both going to have to stay tethered or contained the whole time. I also planned our first camping trip to be solo so that I could assure myself that I could take care of both my dogs on my own without having to rely on help or an extra set of hands. It really couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
So here’s our camping/hiking recap and some gear recommendations and tips that I found useful for our trip.
First off, I had to find a dog-friendly campground. Many primitive camp sites are dog-friendly, but I wanted to make sure we weren’t anywhere too popular so that Tulah wouldn’t spend her whole trip barking at other dogs. I settled on Moosamaloo Campground in the Green Mountain National Forest. It’s a pretty rustic place with some vault toilets and a couple hand pumps for fresh water. There are a few trailheads right from the campground and plenty of hiking trails 10-15 min drives away.
I decided on two nights for our first camping adventure. If it didn’t go well, at $10/night I wasn’t going to be out a lot of money if I had to head home early. The campground was a three hour drive from home and we got there on Wednesday in the late morning. Tulah and Zorro got out of the car and we walked around the campground looking for a site that had some open areas to set up a zip line system to use as a dog run and a wide open area that kept anywhere I tethered them not too close to the tent or the fire ring. I settled on site 14 and brought the car around to set up camp.
Luckily the spot had a large picnic table that had cement legs so I could easily use their Kurgo Quantum leashes to tether each of them to a leg of the table. They were happy to watch me set up our tent and put together the campsite a bit. Because I planned on doing a lot of solo car camping with the dogs when I bought my tent, I bought a Coleman Instant Cabin. It really is a cabin – I have the 6-person tent and I can set up a full queen mattress, a large dog crate, and still have plenty of room to store gear. It also has almost 6ft clearance, so you can stand up to change (I love that feature!). Is it the best tent out there? Nope. But if you’re doing mostly fair-weather car-camping and don’t want to spend an hour setting up a tent, it’s perfect. It takes me about 2 minutes to set up with a rainfly by myself. You cannot beat that!
After I set up the camp, I got the dogs ready to hike Mount Moosamaloo. The trailhead is right at the campground, so I figured it’d be a great first day hike. Zorro was a little overwhelmed and tired from the trip, so he kind of gave up hiking about 1.25 miles in. Instead of pushing it, we bailed on getting the peak and went back to camp and explored the little nature trail in the campground.
I gave the dogs some snacks and I ate lunch and then a small rain storm hit us for a couple hours. We hung out in the tent and took a short nap and I started reading Finding Gobi – an amazing story of a little stray dog that followed Dion Leonard, an ultra stage-racer, through the Gobi Desert in a race in 2016.
When the rain cleared, I brought the dogs out for another short hike up to Voter Falls and a nice scenic wildflower area I saw on the Moosamaloo area map. This time I brought Zorro’s K9 Sport Sack Air since I wanted to make it out to the scenic area even if Zorro wasn’t feeling the hiking. Sure enough, within a quarter mile of starting to hike, Zorro started to throw himself on to the ground acting exhausted and like he couldn’t take one more step. I put him in the pack and we hiked up to the wildflower field. When we got there, Zorro got out of the pack and we ran around the fields and took dirt roads back to the campground for dinner.
The first night was Zorro and Tulah’s first night in a tent. I brought their crate just in case it seemed like they’d try to tear through the tent walls if they heard anything outside the tent. They were perfect angels. They curled up on a blanket and my sleeping bag and slept through the entire night. I was up until about 10pm and read the rest of Finding Gobi and felt very thankful to have had a successful first day camping with my two little strays.
We woke up around 6am on Thursday and I made breakfast for me and the dogs. Whenever I needed to, I could tether the dogs to the zip line or the picnic table so I could move around and go back and forth to the car easily. The plan on Day 2 was to drive over to Brandon Gap and pick up the Long Trail to hike to Gillespie Peak. When I was looking at the trail map I couldn’t believe there was a mountain with my last name, so we had to go bag it. It was going to be a 3.3 mile trip out to the summit with a lot of climbing, so I was really hoping that Zorro was going to be able to handle it. He has a ton of energy, but he sometimes decides he’s not going to move, so I have to have a backup plan if he decides he’s done. I packed up Tulah with extra water and snacks in her Kurgo Baxter backpack and I used the K9 Sport Sack Air as my pack and planned to carry or transfer my snacks and water to Tulah’s pack if I ended up having to carry Zorro in the pack.
The dogs were complete champs! Zorro and Tulah loved the Long Trail and maneuvered the rocks and climbs so well. I had Tulah attached to my waist using the Quantum Leash and I held the Quantum Leash like a normal leash for Zorro. Tulah led the way, I was in the middle, and Zorro followed right behind me. We didn’t break any speed records, but we moved pretty well stopping for lots of water and snack breaks. It was 85 degrees, so it was important to keep the dogs hydrated and rested if we were going to get to Gillespie Peak. I used the Kurgo Gourd Water Bottle and Kurgo Zippy Bowl for the dogs and it worked out perfectly. They stayed hydrated and made sure to mark the trails along the way!
The first mountain you start on at Brandon Gap is called Mount Horrid (seriously). It’s a pretty steep and rocky climb, but it’s over in less than a mile. After hitting that peak, you descend a bit down a forested ridge and then climb Cape Lookout Mountain. Again you descend a bit, but stay along the ridge for another 1.5 miles up to Gillespie Peak – the highest point in Windsor County. Cape Lookout Mountain has an awesome view and we stopped there both on the way out and back to get water and snacks and to take some pictures. Gillespie Peak is pretty tree-lined, so you don’t get a great view from the trail, but if you look out through the trees you can definitely see that you’re quite high up (3,366′). At Gillespie Peak we met two thru hikers who were kind enough to take our picture!
On the way back, we hiked up to Great Cliff. The Great Cliff is a nesting place for peregrine falcons, so it is closed from from March 1st to August 1st. Luckily, we were hiking on August 3rd, so we were able to get up there. The views were absolutely spectacular! The pups seemed to enjoy it, too. I’m afraid of heights and I was attached to 60lbs of dog, so I wasn’t going to go too close to the edge, but they kept on trying to pull me out closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.
I packed the pups back into the car and we went into the town of Brandon, VT. It was adorable and I definitely want to go back! At this point, I had only seen 3 other people the entire trip, so it was nice to get a chance to chat with some locals, get some cell service, and drink an iced coffee from Gormet Provence while sitting by the river. We then grabbed a late lunch at Heart and Soul Cafe. I had a great veggie sandwich and the pups were able to lay in the grass and sleep.
We took the scenic route back to camp from Brandon and drove by Silver Lake and other parts of the Moosamaloo Recreation Area. When we got back to camp, I tethered the dogs up and I took a quick bucket bath and changed into some clean clothes. The rest of the evening I spent reading Eat & Run by Scott Jurek by the fire and drinking some North Country Hard Cider while the pups dug holes and slept in them. We turned in for bed around 9pm and we fell fast asleep. I woke up around 1am and found that Tulah had stolen my pillow and was sleeping right on top of my head and Zorro had stolen the bottom half of my sleeping bag and made himself a little nest. Note to self: Next time bring a dog bed for the dogs – they are like the princess and the pea and a blanket isn’t enough!
At 4am, I woke up to the most terrifying sound coming from 15ft away from our tent. It sounded like a hollow scream/whistle with a chirping sound following it. It kept going for about 5minutes and I was freaking out. The dogs on the other hand raised their heads, looked toward the sound, looked back at me, and then went back to sleep. The dogs didn’t seem concerned, which made me fairly confident that whatever it was wasn’t going to eat us, but I still didn’t want whatever it was to hang out that close to the tent. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I turned on my lantern and that seemed to move the little guy along. I heard the wailing get further away after a couple minutes. It was either a fox or a bobcat (the call sounded the most like the video below).
I woke up again around 6:30am. I fed the dogs breakfast and I started to pack up camp. The camp had started to feel like home and Tulah and Zorro had settled in so well that I was pretty sad to leave. But with thunderstorms in the forecast and some commitments back on the Seacoast, it was time to go. In about an hour I had the car all packed up and we were on our way. We stopped at the Rochester Cafe & Country Store on the way home. I ate a veggie breakfast sandwich on the porch while the dogs relaxed and watched the small town morning hustle and bustle, we got gas and then drove the rest of the way home without stopping.
All in all, it was an amazing trip and I’m so proud of the dogs for doing such a great job! I never would have expected that a trip with two dogs who I was going to have to be tethered to for 3 days would go so smoothly. We barely saw anyone at the campground or hiking, so that made things a lot easier for me since Tulah wasn’t running into any off-leash dogs (her biggest issue). Zorro was OK with most of the hiking, so we ended up getting to do the big hike I wanted to. Sure, it would have been easier to do the trip alone and I would have been able to stay longer and run/hike further, but it was a perfect way to spend a couple days during a rest week post-VT100.
So, if you’re thinking about camping with your dogs, even if they have to stay on-leash, know that it’s totally possible!