When road-tripping daydreams page languidly through our psyches I-95 seldom intrudes. The brute stretches from the Canadian border to Miami and is America’s highway for more than 110 million people. Of its 1917 miles more than 1000 are classified as “under heavy congestion.” Each day 13,000,000 vehicles steer onto an I-95 on-ramp an on special days that total can easily exceed 50 million.
That doesn’t sound like a road-tripper’s paradise but there is plenty on the I-95 corridor to set a travelin’ dog’s tail to wagging. Aside from its convenience to so many it is easy to find pet-friendly lodging along the interstate. And there are a surprising wealth of canine adventures waiting just off an upcoming exit. Let’s take a state-by-state look...
Coming south from the northern terminus of I-95 at Houlton you will have driven through the Maine woods for hours and chances are your dog will be itching for a look at the Atlantic Ocean. Leave the highway at EXIT 182 south of Bangor and follow Route 1 for 43 miles to Camden Hills State Park on the shores of West Penobscott Bay. The park encompasses 5,700 acres, including ten named mountain peaks. The trail system features 20 short trails - most less than two miles - that visit all ten peaks, including Mount Megnticook, the highest mainland mountain on the entire Atlantic coast. Of the paths to 1300-foot Ocean Lookout, the Megunticook Trail is the one to take for its extended ocean views on the return route down the Tablelands Trail.
Making your way back to I-95 the highway begins to hug the famous Maine coast, peppered with dog-friendly beaches. Two of the best can be experienced at Old Orchard Beach (EXIT 36) and York Beach (EXIT 7). For a quiet enchantment with your dog stop at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (EXIT 25), named in honor of the pioneering conservationist and author whose seminal work “Silent Spring” introduced Americans to the dangers inherent in widespread use of chemical pesticides in 1962. The refuge is scattered along 50 miles of rocky Maine coast. The Rachel Carson Trail in Wells is the only place dogs are permitted. It is a one-mile loop located at refuge headquarters that meanders through pine woods and offers views of rippling tidal salt marshes, a very easy leg-stretcher for the dog.
Coastal New Hampshire doesn’t hold many delights for your dog so it is best to keep motoring into Massachusetts. Eight miles south of Boston and just a short trot off the interstate at EXIT 12 is Blue Hills Reservation. The Metropolitan Parks Commission made the Blue Hills one of their first purchases for land set aside for recreation in the state back in 1893 and today there are more than 7,000 acres of hills, meadows, forests and even a rare Atlantic white cedar bog waiting for your dog in Boston’s backyard. Great Blue Hill, rising 635 feet above the Neponsett Valley, is the highest of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills chain. Most of the 125 miles of trails are marked but a trail map is a wise purchase for day hikes - one is on sale at park headquarters (695 Hillside Street) or the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (1904 Canton Avenue).
Moving into Rhode Island, after you pass Providence the Ocean State becomes a sea of trees. By EXIT 5 you will be in the middle of Arcadia Management Area, the largest int he state with almost 14,000 acres kept in a natural state “more or less,” as the brochure says. The sheer variety and quality of these shady trails conspire to make Arcadia the best place in Rhode Island for a day of hiking with your dog. For an exceedingly peaceful hike take the Ben Utter Trail north of Route 165 to visit Stepstone Falls. The soft dirt path traces the lively Wood River under giant pines that escaped logging due to their awkward location by the stream and passes foundations of old mills. If your dog is after views and sniffing in every direction, include the Mt. Tom Trail on your agenda. This pleasant trail skirts Parris Brook and climbs quickly but easily to the 430-foot summit - not the highest point in the park but blessed with 360-degree views of miles of treetops from the rocky ledges.
The Long Island shoreline that I-95 traces through Connecticut is notoriously dog-unfriendly, and not that welcoming to human visitors either. Bluff Point Coastal Reserve just south of the interstate at EXIT 88 in Groton is the last remaining undeveloped public land of any size along the Connecticut coastline. That is an irony since it was one of the first to be developed when Governor John Winthrop (1698-1707), grandson of the founding governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, made his home on the peninsula and subsequent generations farmed the land for more than a century.
Over the years more than 100 vacation homes were built around the headlands of Bluff Point. Each and every cottage was destroyed during the Hurricane of 1938 and none was rebuilt which is why you bring your dog here today. Most of your dog’s trotting around Bluff Point will take place on a wide, level cart road that serviced the long-gone agricultural fields. The trip from the parking lot to Bluff Point in the Long Island Sound is 1.6 miles through alternating maritime forest and open shore land. Easy grades take you up to your ultimate destination atop the pink granite rocks of the bluff. A short detour leads to a one-mile wide sand spit that connects to the small Bushy Point Beach where your dog can romp between October 15 and April 15.
For the best hiking with your dog in the Nutmeg State take EXIT 47 up I-91 to New Haven and Sleeping Giant State Park. The “giant” is an east-west running basaltic ridge that resembles a man resting on his back. Just about any kind of canine hiking fare is on the menu in this cherished park. There are more than 30 miles of trails running from the feet to the head of the Giant, the first trails in Connecticut to be designated a National Recreation Trail. Most are rocky and tricky but even the novice trail dog can tackle the gently ascending road that makes up the 1.6-mile Tower Path. Your destination on top of the 739-foot Mount Carmel summit is a hulking four-story stone observation tower that would not be out of place in King Arthur’s time.
Most of I-95’s 23 miles in New York traverse the bedroom communities of Westchester County but before crossing the George Washington Bridge and exiting the state why not get off in Manhattan and visit Central Park (EXIT 1)? Everyone knows Central Park but if you have never walked through its 843 acres chances are your image of what it looks like is wrong. Are you picturing rock outcroppings? Rolling hills? Waterfalls in dense woodlands? It's all part of Central Park.
The park covers 6% of the entire island of Manhattan. It would take the better part of a week to cover all 58 miles of footpaths with your dog, taking you past 9000 benches and across 36 individually designed bridges. The park is studded with 26,000 trees and a good part of its acreage is under the water of 14 lakes and ponds. And the genius of Central Park is that every inch of it was crafted not by nature but the hand of man. This naturalistic appearance is the design of architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux exactly 150 years ago.
As improbable as it may seem, even with a typical 70,000 visitors in a day it is possible to hike in relative solitude with your dog in Central Park. The two best places to disappear with your dog are The Rambles in the center of the park where many twisting paths intersect under a tangle of trees and hillocks and in the rugged northern end around Great Hill and the Ravine. Although your dog is not allowed to swim in any of the lakes, ponds or fountains here you can find some doggie splashing on a hot day, including a waterfall in the stream.
Your dog will be trotting on surfaces that range from asphalt to wood chip to dirt and even a bit of paw-friendly grass in the Wildflower Meadow. Dogs are also allowed to share the bridle paths int he park. Best yet, dogs can hike with you off-leash between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. During the day you will find groups of dog owners congregating with dogs romping off-leash in places like the Great Lawn and elsewhere keep a leash in hand if you are asked to tether your dog.
New Jersey may be America’s most densely populated state but lying due east of the New Jersey Turnpike that doubles as I-95 here is more than a million acres of pinelands so remote that they have spawned tales of the legendary winged creature known as the “Jersey Devil.” So far there have been no documented captures of the Jersey Devil, a creature with the head of a horse supported by a four-foot serpentine body. Perhaps your dog can sniff one out.
Your best way to explore this vast tapestry of imprenetrable scrub pine, swamps and bogs is through the Wharton State Forest (EXIT 3), most of which is the former 100,000-acre estate of Philadelphia financier Joseph Wharton. Many of the indecipherable 500 miles of sand roads through the pine barrens date to the American Revolution. The main hiking trail is the pink-blazed, 50-mile Batona Trail, a wilderness path that begins at Ongs Hat in the north and ends at Lake Absegami in Bass River State Forest. The Batona Trail is easy walking on paw-friendly sand for most of its length. Despite the overwhelming flatness of the surrounding countryside, there are undulating elevation changes on the trail itself. An aquifer inside the Pine Barren’s deep sand beds holds 17 trillion gallons of pure glacial water and often percolates to the surface in the form of bogs, marshes and swamps. The Batsto River is stained the color of tea by cedar sap, adding to the region’s mystique. It makes a worthy canine swimming pool.
I-95 splits from the New Jersey Turnpike to cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and follow the tidal flow for 50 miles through Philadelphia. Take EXIT 22 and cross the city on the Vine Street Expressway to Fairmount Park, the largest contiguous landscaped municipal park in the world. Begun with just 5 acres in 1812 it now covers 9,000 acres and is the bucolic home to an estimated 2,500,000 trees. The backbone of the park is the Forbidden Drive, so named when it was closed to automobiles in the 1920s. The 7-mile paved trail travels along the Wissahickon Creek to the Schuylkill River; canine hikes can be shortened by several bridges across the Wissahickon. In addition, there are many blazed single-track trails climbing steeply out of the Wissahickon Gorge. Oh, and before you leave, take your dog for a run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art - just like Rocky. The world class museum overlooks the Schuylkill River in the park.
In the middle of your short hop through Delaware you will pass directly over Wilmington State Parks (EXIT 7B). You can hike with your dog directly under that award-winning bridge through Brandywine Park that was the final link in I-95 between Boston and Washington when finished in 1967. The park, Delaware’s first when created n 1885 by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, is listed on the National Historic Register. It connects to two other parks: Rockford Park, with its signature Italian Renaissance tower, and Alapocas Woods, where the dramatic grantie cliffs are high enough to claim th estate’s only natural waterfall and plentiful enough for the Brandywine Granite Company to have quarried over 600,000 tons of Wilmington “Blue Rocks” from this site between 1883 and 1888. All told, your dog can explore the Brandywine River here for about 10 minutes for every minute he will spend in the car getting through Delaware on I-95.
In Maryland I-95 crosses the Susquehanna River just about at the spot where the longest river on the East Coast ends its exhausting 444-mile journey before dumping into the Chesapeake Bay. Also at this point the highway skirts Susquehanna State Park. Take EXIT 89 to visit with your dog. The 2,500-acre park is a winning combination of history, scenery and wildlife. The well-maintained trails are short enough to complete and challenging without being exhausting. The abundance of large rocks in the Susquehanna River enables you to sit out in the water while your dog splashes around you. Among its 15 miles of trails the park features several loop trails in the hills above the Susquehanna River Valley. Most are around two miles in distance. If using the green-blazed Deer Creek Trail be on the look-out for a magnificent spreading white oak in the middle of the walk. The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenways Trail, which connects the park at Deer Creek with the Conowingo Dam, America’s longest concrete slab dam, is as pleasant a hike as you can take with your dog. Tracing the route of the 160-year old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal towpath, the wide dirt path stretches 2.2 shaded miles along the water. Below the dam you can chance to spot bald eagles diving to pluck stunned and splattered fish from the spillways. The great piscavorious birds favor massive nests in the 100-foot treetops along the banks of the Susquehanna River.
South of Baltimore, and just east of I-95 at EXIT 38, is reputedly the largest patch of undeveloped green space that can be seen from the air on the East Coast between Boston and Raleigh. A scrawl of the pen by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 established the Patuxent Research Refuge as America’s only refuge to support wildlife re-search. The original 2,670 acres swelled to its current size of 12,750 acres with the addition of 8,100 acres formerly belonging to adjacent Fort Meade (visitors must sign a waiver regarding possible live ammunition encountered on the grounds - don’t let your dog dig in strange holes!). There are two sections of the refuge open to the public: the National Wildlife in Prince Georges County and the North Tract. There are some 20 miles of trails in the North Tract, including the paved 8-mile Wildlife Loop access road which is lightly traveled. The best hiking for yoru dog is on the Forest Habitat Trail, opposite the visitor center. The wide, soft trail contours pleasantly as it circles for 2.5 miles through mature forest with limited understory. Two other hiker-only trails of less then a mile are available: the Little Patuxent River Trail which loops through the moist ground by the river and the sandy Pine Trail.
After circling the nation’s capital, I-95 plunges south again into Virginia and shortly slices through Prince William Forest Park (EXIT 150), the largest protected swath of land in the Washington DC metropolitan area at over 15,000 acres. This was some of the earliest European-settled land in the country. Early tobacco farming in the area drained the land of much of its nutrients and for centuries only a few farms survived around the creeks flowing into the Potomac River. During the Depression of the 1930s this was one of 46 locations of marginal farm land selected to be developed for recreation. Prince William Forest became a part of the National Park System in 1940 and work camps from the Civilian Conservation Corps were established to build roads and trails and bridges.
Although just south of the nation's capital in this densely populated area, the trails in the forest are refreshingly uncrowded - always an attraction for canine hikers. As you motor around the Scenic Drive loop the dozen or so parking lots at trailheads scarcely have space for ten vehicles each. That makes these 37 miles of trails a prime destination for a lively dog. The canine hiking here is through the only preserved Eastern Piedmont forest in the National Park Service. You will be working up and down and around the many slopes in the Quantico Creek watershed - often with long views through the forest that features little understory in many areas. If you head off on the North Valley Trail and continue about one mile down the Pyrite Mine Trail along the North Branch of the Quantico Creek you will reach the remains of the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine. The mine opened in 1889, pulling nugget-like rocks known as "fool's gold" for their appearance to the prcious metal. In fact pyrite is loaded with sulfur that kept the operation profitable into the 1920s, including an important stretch during World War I when as many as 300 men worked the mine. Many acres of historic underground workings, pilings and foundations have been reclaimed and are remembered today.
The 182 miles of I-95 through North Carolina cut an invisible line between the coastal plain and the rolling Piedmont hills, passing through no major public recreation areas. So this is a good time to immerse your dog in a bit of American military history. Dogs are almost universally allowed on our preserved battlegrounds and you can explore both our Civil War and American revolution heritage in the Tarheel State.
South of EXIT 90 at Bentonville the last full-scale Confederate offensive of the Civil War took place on March 19-21, 1865. Some 25,000 weary troops under General Joseph Johnson opposed 60,000 marauding Union soldiers under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman. After an initial burst the Confederates withdrew from the field and the war’s end was only two weeks off. The 6,000-acre battlefield has been preserved as a state historic site with well-preserved earthworks. Harper House, which houses the Visitor Center, served as a Union hospital during the battle; there were more than 4,000 casualties on both sides during North Carolina’s largest Civil War battle.
Leaving the interstate at EXIT 20, travel east for 46 miles to Moores Creek National Military Park. Here on February 20, 1776 General Donald MacDonald, marching to the sea with 1,600 Loyalists to join the regular British Army were tricked into funneling across Moores Creek - a dark, sluggish stream - at a narrow ford in front of hastily erected American earthworks. Planks on the Moores Creek bridge were removed and the Highlanders had to pick their way through the fog across the creek. Reaching the opposite bank they were met with withering fire at the earthworks. What Patriot musketry didn’t take care of, a swivel gun and artillery did. The Loyalists lost 30 killed and 40 wounded. Only one Patriot died.
The victory demonstrated surprising Patriot strength, discouraging the growth of Loyalist sentiment in the Carolinas and convincing the British there would be no quick crushing of the rebellion. In fact, a little more than one month later North Carolina instructed its delegation to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to vote for independence, the first American colony to do so. Big consequences emanated from a small battle in the swamps of North Carolina.
Moores Creek is a winning combination of park and historical site. The one-mile interpretive history trail rolls across a well-groomed landscape of pine trees, open space and a winding creek. The reconstructed bridge and preserved earthworks, rehabilitated in the 1930s, vividly tell the tale of the trap set by the Patriots and the unwelcome terrain the Loyalist had to fight through. There is more convivial canine hiking around the picnic area and on the Tarheel Trail. This interpretive path ducks into the forests to interpret the production of naval stores (tar, pitch and tupentine) that were the region’s chief economic resource during the Revolution.
Rolling into South Carolina, cross Lake Marion, the Palmetto State’s largest lake and make the first exit west (EXIT 90). Up the road is the Congaree National Park that protects the largest contiguous area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States. More than 52 million acres of floodplain forests have been decimated in the southeastern United States in the past century making Congaree’s 2,000 acres of virgin forest special indeed.
The marquee trail under the 150-foot canopy of pine, tupelo and bald cypress is a two-mile boardwalk loop that lifts hikers above the flooding of the Congaree River that occurs an average of ten times a year. The park’s forests harbor 20 state or national champion trees including loblolly pines, hickories and bald cypress.
Dogs are not allowed on the boardwalk but a Dog Trail has been created to take your best hiking partner through the swamp. Dogs are permitted on all other park trails, unimproved roads and primitive campgrounds. This is all flat, easy going for any dog on uncrowded trails - and a marked canoe trail explores the meandering Cedar Creek.
Back on I-95 the highway angles back to the Atlantic Ocean and the first major city in 430 miles since Richmond, Savannah, Georgia (EXIT 99). Savannah is about as pet-friendly a city as you will find along I-95. Your dog can join you for refreshment at one of the many outdoor cafes that line the Spanish-moss draped streets. And if you ask, your dog might be able to join you on one of the trolley tours that haunt Savannah’s 22 historic squares laid out by city founder James Oglethorpe who founded the Colony of Georgia in 1732. Don’t make the trip out to Savannah’s Atlantic Ocean beach, Tybee Island, however. Dogs are not allowed on the beach any time during the year.
Instead, head back for I-95 and travel an hour south to EXIT 29 where the highway gets the closest it has been to the Atlantic Ocean since Maine. The destination is Jekyll Island, one of the best places you can bring your dog anywhere. Dogs have a long history on Jekyll Island, back to its founding as a hunting club in 1886. Its founding members were among America’s wealthiest men - so much so that it was once estimated that club members controlled one-sixth of all the world’s wealth.
Today dogs are welcome on all ten miles of Jekyll Island’s Atlantic Ocean beaches from the dunes of St. Andrews Beach in the south to the jungle-backed Driftwood Beach in the north. Poop bags are provided at beach access points. Afterwards, your dog can shake the sand from her paws with a stroll along the groomed paths of the 240-acre historic district where members built mansion-sized “cottages.”
For all intents and purposes your dog’s tour of I-95 ends here, even though Florida’s 382 miles of interstate still lie ahead. You can tiptoe over the state line to EXIT 373 and take your dog to the beaches on Amelia Island but after that you find mostly restictions and prohibitions against your dog in coastal parks and ocean beaches. But your dog should agree hat it has been quite a trip.
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