Joan Merriam: Dog-friendly wintertime diversions |

Joan Merriam: Dog-friendly wintertime diversions

The December Geminids reached their height on Dec. 13-14, but there is still time this weekend to star gaze with your dogs. The best time to see the meteor shower is around 2 a.m. anywhere there's a dark sky.
Courtesy of Unsplash |

Now that the holidays are almost upon us — for those of you celebrating Hanukkah, they’re already here — we’re often too busy with all those last-minute “to-do’s” to think about much else.

But before you know it, the celebrations will be over and we’ll all be smack in the middle of the winter doldrums — so I have some suggestions for out-of-the-ordinary activities that will help kick you and your canine pal out of your lethargy.

Star gazing

First, look up! It’s a bird …it’s a plane … no, it’s a meteor shower!

These spectacles of nature occur several times a year, but this year the December Geminids promise to be especially dazzling because there’s no competition from the moon.

December 13-14 was the height of the Geminids, but there’s still time to catch this wonderful display, which can average 120 meteors an hour.

The best viewing is around 2 a.m. anywhere there’s a dark sky, and where you can get a wide view overhead.

If you’re willing to drive, head up Highway 20 to the Omega Overlook, or further on to Blue Canyon. (In fact, the International Dark Sky Association designates the entire region surrounding Nevada City as part of the International Dark Sky Places Program.)

Be sure to bring along a blanket or two, and wear warm clothes: then cuddle up with your furry pal, settle back so the stars and sky fill your field of vision, and you’ll instantly be able to spot the meteors as they streak by.

Flight of the butterfly

Another fantastic option for a winter getaway is the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove.

Part of the appeal for all of us dog folks is that the area around Monterey and Carmel is famously dog-friendly: you’ll find dog-friendly accommodations from spartan to luxurious, almost every restaurant that has outdoor dining allows dogs, and dozens of beaches permit dogs, both on- and off-leash.

As for the butterflies, they hunker down in Pacific Grove from October through February on their winter migration, and the Monarch Sanctuary is the best place to observe them.

When they’re clustered in the pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees, they look like dead leaves — but once the air warms up between noon and 3 p.m., they begin fluttering through the air, often alighting on visitors’ heads and outstretched hands.

The park is both free and handicapped accessible — however, dogs are not allowed in the sanctuary itself.

Take a hike

Talk of winter activities in northern California wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Yosemite — but you’ll definitely want to wait until January when the crowds thin out.

And don’t be discouraged by talk that Yosemite isn’t a good place to bring your dog: you’ll be surprised at how much there is to see and do with your dog in and near the park.

In general, leashed dogs are allowed on all paved trails, sidewalks, and bicycle paths (although not in areas of unplowed snow), and in picnic areas and campgrounds at Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Bridalveil Creek, Wawona, Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Tuolumne Meadows.

Dogs are also permitted on the paved Lower Yosemite Falls pathway, the walk to the base of Bridalveil Fall, the Wawona Meadow Loop, the first mile of the Mirror Lake Trail, and at Glacier Point.

Some of the fire roads also allow walking with your dog, including Four Mile Road, Carlson Road, and the Old Big Oak Flat Road between Hodgdon Meadow and Hazel Green Creek. Ask a ranger if any of these are open in winter.

While dogs aren’t allowed in the park’s lodging areas, they are permitted at the Tenaya Lodge, about two miles from the south entrance.

There are also many pet-friendly vacation rentals in the Yosemite region.

Tahoe bound

Closer to home, the areas surrounding both Donner and Tahoe are bursting with winter activities that you and your pup can enjoy, from strolling through the streets of Truckee and Tahoe City, to back country snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

For instance, Tahoe Cross Country and Tahoe-Donner Cross Country allow off-leash dogs to join their owners while cross-country skiing.

For snowshoers, some of the most popular areas for dog-friendly snowshoe excursions are around Meeks Bay, Echo Lakes, Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, Big Meadow, and Page Meadows.

You may not be thinking about beaches in the winter, but Waterman’s Landing beach is a dog-friendly all-season favorite, and a great place for your pup to play in the snow and even take a dip in Tahoe’s icy waters.

After you’re done playing and trekking, how about some liquid refreshment?

Local dog-friendly breweries include the Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. in Truckee and the Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village, where you and your leashed, well-behaved pup can settle in for a beer — but none for Fido!

If you’d like to stay a day or two, many of the area’s hotels and motels welcome dogs.

Be sure to contact them first, however, even if the lodging is listed on sites like or Dogtrekker, since ownership can change.

I’ll be talking more about winter activities in upcoming columns — but for now, head out into northern California with your furry friend and enjoy the season!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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