Doggin’ America’s Top Ski Resorts

No, we’re not talking about schussing down a mountain slope side-by-side with your dog. And dogs and tightly groomed cross-country trails don’t mix. But if you are seeking a first-class destination for your trail dog come summer you can do a lot worse than considering some of America’s top ski resorts...

Sun Valley - Idaho.
In 1879 a tall, wiry prospector named David Ketchum built a small shelter along the Trail Creek to use as his base of operations in the area. He did not stay long. By 1880, when mining operations began to be permanently established, Ketchum was long gone, rumored to be in Arizona, or perhaps dead in a saloon standoff. The new town called itself Leadville but the United States Post Office turned down the name because Leadvilles were as common as dashed dreams in the West by that time. The settlers decided to name their town after pioneering David Ketchum, whose rudimentary shelter still stood down by Trail Creek.

For more than a decade Ketchum boomed but the collapse of the silver market in 1894 opened a gash in the town’s economy that drained 90 percent of its population. The town recovered some with an infusion of sheep ranching but by the 1930s there were fewer than 300 people living in Ketchum. In 1935 Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch was hired by Union Pacific Railroad Chairman W. Averell Harriman to scout the American West for the best site to build a destination ski resort like the tony resorts in the European Alps. Schaffgotsch scoured the mountain regions of the West and rejected such places as Aspen, Jackson Hole and Yosemite. He was prepared to return to New York and report his failure when a railroad representative from Idaho asked him to check out Ketchum. Within three days, the Count wired Harriman: “Among the many attractive spots I have visited, this combines more delightful features of any place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland, or Austria for a winter sports resort.” Eleven months later Sun Valley Resort opened to international acclaim and Ketchum’s future viability was assured.

Ketchum features over 40 miles of trails located within a 5-mile radius of town. The marquee walk is the 5-mile Bald Mountain Trail, at the end of 3d Avenue at River Run Plaza on the edge of town. The trail crosses numerous ski trails up 3400 feet to an elevation above the tree line at 9151 feet. Not only are dogs allowed on Bald Mountain, but halfway up the mountain, in a glade of giant fir trees, is a drinking fountain with a perpetually-filled dog drinking bowl built right into the trail. About the only place dogs are not allowed is on the ski lifts.

Other trails around Ketchum include hikes around Corral Creek in the Sun Valley resort and additional alpine walks north of town on Highway 75 at Fox Creek and Adams Gulch. These dirt and grass trails are afire with wildflowers through the summer months. Further up Highway 75, just seven miles from Ketchum is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, with 756,000 acres of public land. A highlight in the Sawtooth Mountains, with more than 40 peaks higher than 10,000 feet, are more than 300 high mountain lakes. Several of the lakes, including Baker Lake and the Norton Lakes are within two miles of a trailhead.

The Harriman Trail is a 31-kilometer corridor in three segments that is open to hiking and biking in the summer and cross-country-skiing and snowshoeing in the winter that starts at the Sawtooth National Forest headquarters. The trail climaxes in Galena, overlooking the headwaters of the Salmon River.

Ernest Hemingway spent his final years in Ketchum and he is remembered with a memorial on a shaded bank of Trail Creek in Sun Valley. Nearby, in the Ketchum Cemetery on the northern edge of town on Route 75, is Hemingway’s unadorned grave. Guarded by a sentry of trees, the marker is flush with the ground and offers no more than a name and dates for the life of America’s most celebrated writer of the 20th century. Hemingway’s four dogs - Black, Negrita, Neron, and Linda - are buried in a neat patio at his home in Cuba.

Stowe - Vermont.
The first settlers in what would one day become world-famous ski resort Stowearrived appropriately enough, in 1793 pulling a sled. In 1807 Thomas Jeffersonsigned an embargo act fordbidding trade with Great Britain and its North American colony, Canada. Not about to be cut off from their most lucrative market in Montreal, northern Vemonters began driving cattle north of town through a sliver of trail between the thousand- foot cliffs of Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak at 4,395 feet. Thus was born Smuggler’s Notch. Later, fugitive slaves used the notch as an escape route and in the 1920s illegal liquor flowed from Canada down through the notch. Today, Smuggler’s Notch State Park is the keystone of Mt. Mansfield State Forest, Vermont’s largest forest with 37,242 acres and Smuggler’s Notch Resort.

Underhill State Park is a gateway with several trails, including a paved road, to ascend busy Mount Mansfield, site of the Stowe Mountain ResortLaura Cowles Trail (2.7 miles), Sunset Ridge (3.0 miles), and Halfway House (2.5 miles) are all moderate length climbs to the summit. From the end of the Mount Mansfield Toll Road the relatively easy scramble to the summit is totally across bare rocks (the surrounding vegetation area, one of only two places in Vermont you can find true alpine tundra is, in fact, off limits). Once on the “Chin” of Mount Mansfield your dog can soak in extensive 360-degree views. You’ll know if it is a clear day if you can see Mount Royal and the skyscrapers of Montreal.

Across Smuggler’s Notch is a rollicking hike on the Elephant’s Head Trail to a small clearing at the top of a 1,000-foot cliff. The trail climbs stone steps from the roadway to Sterling Pond, the highest life-sustaining alpine pond in New England (trout are stocked by helicopter). The trail drops to the shoreline where canine hikers will meet a single impassable rock climb for most dogs. A bushwhacking detour through thick spruce will probably be in order. From this point the way is seldom level with plenty of hopping from root to rock. Keep an eye out for many species of plants found nowhere else in Vermont that reside happily among these moist, cold cliffs.

The views from Elephant’s Head sweep up and down the rugged notch and directly across to hulking Mount Mansfield, scarred by a 1983 landslide. The return trip can be over the same route or continue down the hillside switchbacking across rocks and roots. This loop is completed only by walking the dog along the narrow, winding Route 108 through the notch. This trail is closed from February to mid-July to protect peregrine falcons.

In the T-shaped village of Stowe the popular Stowe Recreation Path begins behind the Community Church on Main Street with various connecting places along the Mountain Road. The five-mile greenway towards Mount Mansfield is notable as the first such path whose land was donated by individual owners rather than purchased by the government.
This is an easy canine hike though farmfields, meadows and woodlands with ample opportunity for a romp for your dog in the adjacent meandering Little River.

Hunter Mountain - New York.
As the closest ski resort to New York City, Hunter Mountain is the Catskill Mountains’ premier winter playtime destination. For much of the 19th century Hunter Mountain, named after an early owner, was also thought to be the highest peak in the Catskills at just over 4,000 feet. It turned out to be the second-highest but still features the highest ski slopes.

Hunter Mountain’s popularity scarcely abates when the snow melts. Four hiking routes, including a graded, old jeep road lead to the highest firetower in the Catskills (and second highest in the Northeast) on the summit. The premier hiking path in the Catskills, The Devil’s Path, so-called for the rugged terrain it follows, also crosses Hunter Mountain. This route rises to the summit from Stoney Clove Notch, a climb of 2040 feet in just over two miles. Although it is the steepest climb on the trail, the route up the mountainside is technically easy for a dog, using old service roads. There is scarcely a downhill step on the long, steady pull up Hunter Mountain. Don’t expect many vistas on the way up but the tower affords long east-facing views.

The Devil’s Path slices through the heart of the Catskill Mountains, tagging seven mountain peaks in its 27-mile east-to-west journey. The eastern segment (over Overlook, Indian Head, Twin and Sugarloaf mountains) opened in 1930 and the western continuation over Plateau, Hunter and West Kill mountains was completed in 1935. From start to finish, Devil’s Path features an elevation gain of 18,000 feet - more than 3 1/2 miles of climbing. There are, however, ample opportunities to sample the central Catskills without experiencing the entire trail. On the eastern edge, a popular trail twists to multiple vistas and a nine-story, steel-framed lookout tower on Overlook Mountain. More adventurous canine hikers will want to tackle the crags and outcroppings of 3573-foot Indian Head Mountain. Do so, however, only with a liftable dog as the final ascent to the summit features several high steps and pull-ups.

To scale the 4180-foot Slide Mountain - the highest point in the Catskills use the nearby red-blazed Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail. The climb from the trailhead to the summit is a steady ascent on a rocky woods road, a doable hike for any dog. The final half-mile is an easy walk through a fragrant spruce alley that compensates for the general lack of overlooks. A loop can be formed for the return trip down Slide Mountain on the blue-blazed Curtis-Ormsbee Trail, one of the prettiest hikes in the Catskills. The descents through the birches and hemlocks plunge steeply at times so save this alternate route for athletic dogs. 

The Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail tags two other peaks in the Burroughs Range. John Burroughs grew up on a farm in the Catskills in the 1840s and at an early age pledged to become an author. He honed his skills as a government worker but found himself being drawn away to his love of nature. Eventually he published a series of nature essays in 1871, extolling the simple pleasures of the outdoors. In short time he moved back to the Catskills to take up fruit farming. Burroughs would come to publish 23 influential volumes of collected essays. The “Father of the American nature essay” was one of the six charter members named to the Ecology Hall of Fame.

Lake Placid - New York.
In the United States, Lake Placid is synonymous with winter sports. Lake Placidis one of only three cities to host two Winter Olympic games, in 1932 and 1980 and today the permanent facilities are part of the official U.S. Winter Olympic Training Center.

Melville Dewey, the genius behind the Dewey Decimal System of library book classification, established Lake Placid as a resort community when he built the Lake Placid Club in the onetime ironmaking town. Today, although its winter heritage is much in abundance, outdoor adventurers seek out Lake Placid year-round.

Lake Placid is the destination of choice for canine hikers in search of spectacular views of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks. The premier area trail is the Wilmington Trail, a long, straight climb up and over Marble Mountain and across a rocky ridge to the summit of 4,867-foot Whiteface Mountain. The going can be wet and muddy on the well-worn path and views won’t kick in until reaching the rocky glacial deposits but the 360-degree views at the top are unforgettable. After all the hard work from you and your dog on the 5.2 mile linear trail you will be sharing the summit with many others who have driven cars up the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway.

More outstanding views can be found on Haystack Mountain (of the High Peaks and the Saranac Lakes chain to the west); Mt. Van Hoevenberg (of the High Peaks and Mount Marcy to the south); and Mt. Jo (open vistas of the High Peaks Wilderness in three directions). All these hikes feature similar moderate woodlands walks before steep final climbs to exposed rocky ledges. Mt. Van Hoevenberg can be approached from the north or south - the northern approach tours the Olympic boblseld and luge runs. Mt. Jo is the only loop in the bunch (2.3 miles) and nearby is the trail to Rocky Falls, a series of tumbling cascades with a canine swimming hole.

When you want to take a break from scaling the Adirondack Mountain slopes you can relax on the Brewster Peninsula Nature Trails, a spiderweb of pleasant wooded trails on the shore of Lake Placid.

Steamboat Springs - Colorado.
James Crawford is the father of Steamboat Springs, having settled in a cabin on Soda Creek in 1874. Instead of becoming “Crawfordville” legend has it the town was named for the rhythmic chugging of a hot spring that disgorged mineral water 15 feet into the air. The medicinal springs brought the first settlers to the valley and later the town became an international ski jumping mecca with the arrival of Norwegian champion Carl Howelsen in 1913. Today outdoor enthusiasts don’t wait for the snow to fall to make their way to “Ski Town USA.”

In town, the Yampa River Trail system links Steamboat Springs with the surrounding mountain area. The trails provide easy dog walking along the Yampa River and through city parks. More than 150 hot springs gurgle around Steamboat Springs. The Hot Springs Walking Tour visits seven historic springs around town, including Heart Springs. The origin and history of each spring is detailed on interpretive signs.

To get out of town head for the Spring Creek Trail, an 8-mile round-trip that begins at the corner of Amethyst Drive and East Spring Street. The route is an easy canine hike on a well-graded trail that meanders up to the Spring Creek Reservoir and Dry Lake Campground. Just north of town is Fish Creek Falls, a 283- foot plunging waterfall that is the town’s leading visitor attraction. Canine hikers will know it as the starting point for the Fish Creek National Recreation Trail. Long wooded inclines at the beginning of the trail give way to a steep, rocky climb before leveling off in alpine meadows on the 5-mile journey to Long Lake. Continuing past Long Lake, you shortly reach the Continental Divide. The elevation gain on this out-and-back trail, Forest Service Trail #1102, rises from 7400 to more than 10,000 feet and and patches of snow in shady spots will delight your dog even into the summer.

Notchview - Massachusetts.
With more than 40 kilometers of cross-country trails spread over more than 3,000 acres Notchview is one of the Northeasts’ premier nordic ski destinations. They average more than 80 days a year of trail skiing and you can even ski on one trail with your dog - a 2-kilometer loop south of Route 9. The rest of the year Notchview is one of the best places in Massachusetts for active dog owners to bring their dogs. 

The earliest inhabitants of this land were the Mohican Indians who were run off their land in Albany, New York and relocated to Stockbridge in 1664. It would be another century before English settlers filtering out of eastern Massachusetts would force the Mohicans off this land as well. Remnants of the tribe today can be found in Wisconsin.

By the end of the 19th century the land that would become Notchview supported 20 disjointed homesteads. In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Budd, who earned The Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in France in World War I, met the widowed Helen Bly in London. Mrs. Bly lived in a 250-acre estate on Route 9 she called Helenscourt. The two married and returned to the Berkshires where they set about consolidating the local farms and building the 3,000-acre estate Notchview. After considering leaving the property to the Commonwealth or the Episcopal Church, Colonel Budd decided to bequeath his farm to The Trustees of Reservations. He died in 1965 and the park opened to the public in 1969. Colonel Budd was seldom seen on the farm without his beloved dogs - they are welcome at Notchview still.

Whatever you have in mind for hiking with your dog is on the menu at Notchview. There are more than 15 miles of paw-friendly hiking trails available. First time visitors can sample Notchview on the Circuit Trail that loops back through the middle of the property, ducks out of the trees for a quick view and finishes back at the Visitor Center. The 1.8- mile trail travels just about the entire way on a pebbly farm road that is kind to the paw. Although the land has long supported farming most of the open land has been reforested in red spruce and northern hardwoods.

After this easy ramble you can decide how much of the large park to chew off with your dog. The highest point at Notchview is the 2,297-foot Judges Hill but the reserve averages more than 2,000 feet so your dog can keep his four-wheel drive in reserve for most of the day. Across Route 9 is an excellent leg stretcher - the Hume Brook Forest Interpretive Trail. This route was created in the 1970s to educate the public about multiple use management and demonstrate the basic principles of modern forestry.