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One of the best things about living in and visiting the eastern Sierra are the thousands of acres of public land available for recreating. These mountains, valleys, and tablelands allow us incredible freedom in the ways we can visit them, including bringing our dogs along. No matter whether the land is administered by USFS, BLM, or LADWP, chances are Fido is welcome. The odds are also good that there will be a water source or two along the hike, and often quite a lot of shade available for rest stops and lunch breaks. We explore these public lands with our dogs year round, choosing to drop lower in elevation during the winter months, and heading for the hills when it warms up.

Having a dog (or two) is almost a prerequisite for living in the mountains, and on any day you’ll find locals out running the trails, riding horses, or hiking with a dog.  In addition to all the wonderful wild places, Bishop has a great dog park if your dog’s taste runs more to chasing frisbees or you just need to get him or her out during a busy day in town.

photo of fenced dog park

We’ve gathered together some best practices regarding hiking with dogs, some hazards to be aware of, and some resources in town to help outfit you and your dog for a safe and enjoyable hike. Most of us think nothing of loading our dogs up and simply heading out, but over the years we’ve learned a few tips we’d like to pass on.

The Elephant in the Room – to leash or not to leash

photo of leashed dog hiking with backpacker

We know this can be a touchy topic but we recommend always carrying a leash when you hike with your dog, and even it may not be required and you may not use it; you’ll have it. We’ve used collars and leashes as impromptu slings to help an over-tired dog, relied on a good harness  to allow a refreshing swim close to shore in bigger water than we were willing to risk if unleashed, and taken advantage of a free assist on the uphills with a big dog in a harness. Most experts suggest that you leash your dog with a 10′ or shorter nonretractable sturdy leash and a harness – much less pulling. We can think of any number of good reasons for leashing including the following:

  • Safety of the dog
  • Protection of wildlife
  • Trail Etiquette

Safety of the Dog

The mountains and deserts are great places to explore, but it’s good to remember that they are wild places. We see our fair share of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lion, snakes, and even fawn-protecting deer around these parts; and keeping your dog on a leash means keeping your dog out of harm’s way. Even water can be a potential hazard, especially during spring melts when normally placid creeks turn into raging torrents. Play it safe with a leash and everyone enjoys the hike without worry.

Overheating can be a concern during the summer months. Dogs pant and sweat through their pads to cool off, and being much closer to the ground they are exposed to more radiant heat coming off a trail. A leash discourages long, cross-country running that can raise your pup’s body temperature even faster. We learned this the hard way with our large dogs on a summer day hike in the Sierra; they got too hot and we had to inch our way back home working from shady spot to shady spot.

photo of woman hiker with three dogs

Toxic plants, thorns, and seeds like foxtail can cause problems long after the hike – leashing your dog helps minimize the exposure to these off-trail hazards. We know; we’ve watched in horror as our labrador lifts his leg and teeters next to a cholla cactus on one of our regular 395 stops… now we keep him on a leash during his road trip potty breaks. It doesn’t bother him in the least, and we spend much less time fretting.

Protection of Wildlife

Most dogs find chasing things almost irresistible and in the backcountry that instinct can lead to all sorts of mischief. From disturbing young wildlife to getting themselves hurt in the chase, it’s never a good idea to let dogs run after another animal. Plus, how are you going to get that once-in-a-lifetime photo if your dog mistakenly scares off the buck (or bighorn sheep or fawn)?

Wildlife can also turn on your dog, resulting in injury or illness. No one enjoys riding home with a dog that’s been “skunked”, or going through the stress of getting a dog with a snake bite to the vet on time. Leashes just give you such peace of mind, take up little space, and best of all – dogs get used to them pretty quickly!

Trail Etiquette

It can be hard to believe, but not everyone is a dog lover. And even if everyone you meet on the trail is, they may prefer that they meet your dog at the end of a leash. Keeping your dog under physical control can be very reassuring to other people on the trail and it demonstrates generosity and tolerance for non-dog folks. It can also really foster dog-friendly places, as people’s dog fears subside.

Riders (horse and bike) and hikers have the right of way on a trail. Unleashed dogs can be a nuisance or even cause accidents with equines and bikes- so always move off the trail with your leashed dog and let the animals and riders pass by. Many mules by nature are not fond of dogs, so you may also be keeping your dog safe from a well-aimed kick if you move off trail with your dog under control. Generally it’s best to move well uphill from the riders and stay in view; and a pleasant greeting will help the horses and mules realize you are just a friendly human and not a scary monster. It should go without saying that you should never let your dog run after a horse or a mule, after all you never know when someone might need a ride out!

image of dog in a mule's pack bag

Photo: Kent Reeves

One of the big challenges in our well-loved backcountry is what to do with human and animal waste. We recommend that you carry bags for your dog’s waste and carry it out if you are on a day hike;  if you double or triple bag it you can safely store it in a designated backpack pocket until you can dispose of it at a dumpster or trash can. If you are backpacking or prefer to bury it; use the same guidelines as for human waste, which is to bury it 6-8″ deep in a hole at least 200′ from trails, camps and water.


You don’t need any special equipment to hike with your dog, aside from a leash, but there are many products available that help dogs do well on longer hikes, share the burden of carrying food and water, and address emergencies on the trail.

Dog Pack

Dog packs come in all sizes and allow your dog to carry some of the load on a long day hike or overnight trip. Many outdoor retailers carry dog packs, and most dogs quickly adapt to having the extra weight and girth (although we have seen our own dogs underestimate the space needed to sideswipe a tree from time to time). You’ll want to make sure you only have the dog carrying a maximum of 25% of it’s body weight, and even that will depend on the animal’s age and size.

photo of a dog wearing a pack

Collapsible Water/Food Bowl

Water is essential to a good hike and if your planned route doesn’t include a good, steady source of water, you’ll have to carry enough for your four-legged buddy. A collapsible water bowl makes it so easy to dole out that water without waste, dip a bowlful from a lake, or feed a little midday snack. Most come with a carabiner that clips on to the outside of your pack, keeping it handy.

photo of dog near lake with collapsible bowl


Booties aren’t something you’ll strap on for every day hike, but there are times when you may need them. Hiking over sharp, abrasive granite, over crusty spring snow, or very hot sand are a few conditions that can injure your dog’s pads. If you know you’re going to be spending time in such an area, or you are out for several long days of hiking, you may want to consider picking up a set of booties for your dog. It’s important to get your dog used to the booties well in advance of your trip or you may lose your investment the first time out.

image of dog bootie for the trail

Specialty Collars / Harnesses

Harnesses can be a dog-owner’s best friend. Harnesses really discourage pulling, so they can make being leashed easier on the owner and the dog – the dog learns quickly that there’s little reward in pulling, so they tend to walk better beside you. Harnesses don’t put any pressure on the dog’s neck or trachea – no choking sounds while lunging at the end of your leash any more. Like booties, you’ll want to practice with the harness at home before the trip, but most dogs adapt really quickly to the putting on, wearing, and taking off of a harness.

image of dog harness

First Aid Kit

You probably already carry a basic first aid kit, but to make sure you have Fido covered, consider adding some old, clean wool socks to use as emergency booties (keep them on with duct tape over the sock and around the dog’s lower leg), kid’s benadryl, tweezers and maybe even needle-nose pliers in you are in cactus or porcupine country. Buffered aspirin is usually okay for pain in an emergency, but make sure you check with your vet for dosage and possible dog-friendly anti-inflammatory meds to carry instead.

Raingear, Personal Flotation Device, Sweaters, etc.

While our dogs don’t generally wear sweaters or raingear because they have a lot of hair, some breeds can really benefit from having an extra layer.  Nights can be chilly even in the summer if you are camping in the Sierra.

We’re big fans of Personal Flotation Devices (which we’ve heard referred to as DFDs – dog flotation devices), even with dogs that are natural swimmers. There are a couple of reasons for this, including the fact that our high elevation lakes are COLD! Year round. We don’t use the PFDs for a quick swim during a hike, but if we are paddle boarding, kayaking, or boating our dogs proudly sport their PFDs.

image of dog wearing a flotation vest

Favorite Trails

Where to start? We’ll quickly list a couple of our seasonal favorites, then link you over to some lists of trails that you might explore with your dog.


Tyee Lakes Trail: Start at Lake Sabrina in Bishop Creek Canyon – approx 5.5 miles out and back. Great early summer hike.

Discovery Trail: Just one mile, but you can spend hours here. Up in the White Mountains with views of the Sierra and the Ancient Bristlecone Forest.


McGee Creek Canyon: Spectacular fall color. Expect a good number of other hikers. An up and back hike as far as you want to go.

Sabrina Basin Trail: Out and back is about 7.5 miles. You’ll share the trail with other dogs and possible horses. Go whe the fall color hits Bishop Creek Canyon.


Along the Lower Owens River: Drive out to the Lower Owens from Hwy 6 (5 Bridges Road) or from Pleasant Valley Dam and you’ll find some great winter walking along the dirt roads. Beautiful vistas, close to water, and plenty of room. Watch out for cars on the road. Well-loved by fishermen and women. For another idea, check out an Owens River Gorge hike as shot by Richard Kinney on YouTube:

Tungsten Hills: Gigi de Jong put together a great blog post on winter / spring hikes, all of which are dog-friendly. Check out the Tunsten Hills hike here:


Volcanic Tablelands: Once wildflowers begin to appear in the high desert, make a point of walking out on the Tablelands. While there aren’t any real marked trails to follow, it’s easy to create your own favorite walk out there. Share the trail with runners and hikers in the early season.

Lower Rock Creek Canyon Trail: A local’s favorite, and well-used. Keep your eyes open for mountain bikers and other hikers. You can start at the top, off U.S. 395 just below Tom’s Place, or start from the bottom below Paradise. Parking available on either end; just watch out for cars on the sometimes busy road.

Local Resources

Veterinary Hospitals
Outdoor Retailers

Additional Resources

Feature Photo Credits: Mitchel Jones on Flickr (

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7 hours ago

Spring brings flowers, but also birds and festivals! The Owens Lake Bird Festival is always a wonderful event - we'll post more about it as we get closer but mark your calendars for April 26-28th.
Thanks, California High Sierra !It’s film festival time for both nature lovers & film buffs alike! Don’t miss out on the Owens Lake Bird Festival and the 5-day Mammoth Lakes Film Festival this #spring season. Click 👇 to learn more about these & other High Sierra spring festivals. #CAHighSierra Image appears courtesy: Visit Mammoth . . . Friends of the Inyo Mammoth Lakes, California Mammoth Lakes Film Festival
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Spring brings flowers, but also birds and festivals! The Owens Lake Bird Festival is always a wonderful event - well post more about it as we get closer but mark your calendars for April 26-28th. 
Thanks, California High Sierra !

4 days ago

Just another beautiful Bishop late winter day! ... See MoreSee Less


Comment on Facebook

One of our favorite places!

Just spent the night at Brown Town and enjoyed the view.

This is just beautiful! If only we could be there in person for the sounds and smells. Thanks for sharing.

Wish there was a way for us to share our Bishop pictures in comments.

Miss Bishop

Now if you can just bottle up the air with the amazing smell of Bishop and send it to me 🙂

Chem trails

Beautiful indeed!!!

Thanks so much. So pretty. <3

Wayde Eddy

Very nice! What trail is this?

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6 days ago

Information from Jessica Strickland and Trout Unlimited


Hello folks,
As many of you have heard, CDFW has been talking about simplifying their state trout regulations for the last couple of years. They’ve released their proposed changes, which are relatively significant. The chance to comment is in person at upcoming public meetings. This is very important if you have an opinion on their changes. Go to the following website to view the changes and for more information: CDFW website info page:

PUBLIC MEETING – EASTERN SIERRA - Wednesday, March 20, 2019 6-8 p.m. Talman Pavilion, Tricounty Fairgrounds, 1234 Fair St., Bishop
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 6-8 p.m. Redding Library Community Room, 1100 Parkview Ave., Redding
Wednesday, April 3, 2019 6-8 p.m. Betty Rodriguez Regional Library, 3040 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno
Saturday, April 6, 2019 Noon-2 p.m. Bass Pro Shops, 7777 Victoria Gardens Lane, Rancho Cucamonga
Wednesday, April 10, 2019 6-8 p.m. Colonial Heights Library Community Room, 4799 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 6-8 p.m. Truckee-Tahoe Airport Community Room, 10356 Truckee Airport Road, Truckee

IF YOU CANNOT MAKE THE MEETING CONTACT: Roger Bloom, CDFW Inland Fisheries Program, (916) 445-3777

The biggest change being – all waters under Section 7 general regulations for the Sierra district have been replaced with the following simplified regulation, “Open year-round, 5 trout bag, 10 trout possession limit, no gear restrictions.” The obvious change here being unless otherwise specified - fishing is now open year around. They’ve also shifted seasons around for waters with special restrictions in the following way:

All Year
Closed to fishing all year
September 1 through November 30
Saturday preceding Memorial Day through September 30
Saturday preceding Memorial Day through the last day in February
October 1 through Friday preceding Memorial Day

They have also made some changes to special regulations – IE – Crowley, Upper Owens, Walker River, etc. I’ve went through and compared most the waters of the Eastern Sierra. Some notable changes: Crowley – they’ve extended the 5 fish no gear restriction season from July 31 to September 30. Upper Owens between Crowley and Benton Crossing Bridge– removed the monument and extended "no gear restriction" season to September 30, open all winter but with no take. Golden Trout Wilderness – removed gear restrictions. Rush Creek regulation added to protect fall spawn. This isn’t an exhaustive comparison, just some of the major Eastern Sierra waters.

Feel free to contact me with any questions. Trout Unlimited staff will be in attendance at as many of these meetings as possible. Please pass this information along!

Jessica Strickland

California Inland Trout Program Director

Photo: Debra Varva
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Nathan Foth

When will these proposed changes take place?

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