For many people, pets have taken the place of children in our lives. For instance, the percentage of U.S. families with pets is double that of U.S. families with children, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. We pamper them, brag about them and look forward to being with them every day. When we travel, we don't want to leave our little fur balls behind and, increasingly, we're not.
Twenty-nine million Americans traveled with their pets in 2007. Many hotels and restaurants allow patrons to bring pets into their establishments -- or at least onto the premises. Travel guides and Web sites often indicate whether they're welcome at hotels, eateries, attractions and events. The travel and roadside assistance organization AAA and some publishers even produce guides specifically for people vacationing with dogs and cats.
Certain venues are a natural fit for people who want to explore and experience new places in the company of their animals. But pets present problems for some vacation experiences, such as cruise ships and art museums. So, while doors and attitudes are opening up in some places, they remain closed in others.
In this article, we'll look at loads of vacation themes and destinations that offer escape, excitement, new experiences and a warm welcome for both you and your cat, dog or even horse.
Into the Wild
If you and your domesticated buddy are outdoor types, many hiking adventures await you. Most states abound with public use lands that permit leash-controlled cats and dogs to partake of the wonders of nature alongside their owners. Wisconsin alone boasts 99 state parks, forests and recreation areas while Arkansas, "The Natural State," claims 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) of hiking trails and 2.9 million acres (nearly 1.2 million hectares) of national forest [sources: Wisconsin, Arkansas].
For the truly ambitious, the Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia, spanning 2,170 miles (3,492 kilometers). Each venue has its own rules and restrictions, such as a limit on the number of pets you can bring, so check with the state's department of natural resources (DNR) for the policy of your particular destination before heading out.
Don't just consider daylong hiking excursions, either. Many campgrounds and parks allow humans with cats or dogs in tow to pitch a tent and spend the night. Again, your pets will likely need to stay leashed, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy a leisurely doze while you swap ghost stories across the campfire after a long day of hiking. Call ahead to find out what restrictions, if any, a campground enforces so you're prepared to comply.
In order to ensure your trip is a resounding success, you'll want to bring along some supplies in addition to your standard camping gear. Unless you plan on letting your pets bunk in with you, a small separate tent with bedding is a good idea. Then there's your pup's (or kitty's) leash, food, water, treats and toys. It's smart to bring vaccination records, a first-aid kit and grooming supplies, too. Last, but certainly not least? Flea and tick repellent. Don't ruin a fantastic vacation by bringing any of those guys home.
What if your preferred trail mate has hooves instead of paws? There are plenty of public lands open to you, too. Some parks, such as the Watson Mill Bridge State Park in northeast Georgia, offer rental stalls. Encompassing more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of forested bliss, the namesake feature of the park is a circa-1885 historic covered bridge [source: Georgia]. Built to cross the South Fork River, the 229-foot (70-meter) bridge has the distinction of being the longest historic covered bridge in the state. In addition to riding trails, the park offers tent, trailer and RV campsites, log cabin bunkhouses and day use shelters.
The Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area stretches across the Tennessee border and meanders north into Kentucky. This horse-friendly forest offers similarly posh accommodations, including the Charit Creek Lodge, which can be reached only by horseback. But with its 125,000 acres (50,586 hectares) and 180 miles (290 kilometers) of trails, there's a lot more land to explore [source: Nice].
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages more than 245 million acres (99 million hectares) of wilderness areas, the bulk of which is in the Western states [source: Bureau of Land Management]. Many of these vast, unspoiled tracts are open to horseback travel and primitive camping. The 236,488-acre (95,703-hectare) Palen/McCoy Wilderness in California includes five different mountain ranges, dunes, broad bajadas (alluvial plains) and ironwood forests -- but no roads [source: BLM)]. Wildlife management areas (WMAs) throughout the U.S. are another option for getting away from civilization. Most offer equestrian trails and basic camping except during hunting season.
If you and your pet prefer a speedier pace, say around 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour), check out the next page for some activities the two of you can find on a road trip.
Wanderlust With Pets
So you and Fido or Fluffy prefer life in the fast lane? There's plenty of stuff out there on the open road you can do together. Communities from San Jose, Calif., to Greenville, S.C., host pet-centered fund-raising events like "Bark in the Park." These annual canine playdays vary from town to town but often feature fun-runs, agility courses, Frisbee games, food and demonstrations by police dogs.
Some towns host annual events with their own unique character, like the Annual Brewer's Memorial Ale Fest in Newport, Ore. Each May, beer lovers and their dogs gather at the Rogue Ales' world headquarters to commemorate the chairman of Rogue, a black Labrador retriever who kept company with Rogue Ales' brewmaster, John Maier, and appeared in local television commercials until his death in 2006.
Down south, Hollywood, Fla., celebrates the Super Bowl each year with the Dog Bowl. Pets and owners dress in their favorite team's colors and take part in games and canine good citizen testing.
More on sports your pet can excel at on the next page.
Agility in Action
Those agility courses we just mentioned? That can be pretty heady stuff for a pup and his or her human. The United States Dog Agility Association is but one organization that can make any talented dog's dreams come true. If you think your dog is up to the challenge -- that's swiveling across seesaws, racing up and down ramps, soaring over hurdles, bursting through tunnels, and zigging and zagging around lines of poles -- there are lots of events you can make a vacation out of.
For example, in April 2012 alone, there are major events in Camarillo, Calif., Palmyra, Pa., and Albuquerque, N.M. That's quite the road trip. But do your pet's talents swing toward the more stylistic side? More on the next page.
Best in Show
Maybe your best furry friend is more than just a pet. Could it, just maybe, be the best of breed? Some people don't just travel with their pets; they travel because of them, following the circuit of dog and cat shows. The American Kennel Club (AKC) states that it receives 3 million applications every year. You and your dog can compete in single breed shows, obedience trials, hunting tests and many other types of dog shows through 4,500 AKC-affiliated community clubs nationwide [source: American Kennel Club].
On the feline front, the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) hosts 400 competitions all around the world each year, recognizing 40 distinct pedigree breeds plus the "Household Pet Class" [source: Cat Fancier's Association].
So how to celebrate a win? Head for the destinations on the next page.
Vineyard Visits and More
While not specifically pet-centered, some destinations are pet-friendly. Several vineyards in California, Virginia, Missouri, Michigan, Florida and Oregon not only welcome pets, they name select vintages accordingly. Visitors to the Mutt Lynch Winery in California's Sonoma County, for example, can take home a bottle of Merlot Over and Play Dead.
Many popular theme parks have day facilities to board your pet while you seek thrills. Fees and facilities vary, but most parks require owners to provide food and to check in periodically to care for the pet's needs. In addition, most RV parks accept well-behaved, leash-controlled pets. At some, you'll find pet recreation and exercise areas and pet-sitting services in case you want to take a side trip somewhere your tail-wagging companion wouldn't be welcomed.
When the road starts feeling long and weary, ditch the wheels and wade into watery fun at the destinations on the next page.
Take the Plunge
Whether it's to beat the heat of summer or to marvel at the magnificence of the ocean, water lures vacationers away from terra firma. Cats might not be susceptible to the siren song of waves lapping the shoreline, but most dogs will plunge into water fun with zeal.
Minnesota claims to be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but for boating fun a little closer to the East Coast, consider Michigan. Bordered by four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan enjoys 3,288 miles (5,292 kilometers) of shoreline -- more than any other continental state [source: Michigan.gov]. With 11,000 inland lakes as well, it makes sense that most of the Michigan state parks include water and boating activities [source: Michigan DNR]. Shoreline fishing, river trails for kayaks and canoes, and motor boating in the vastness of the Great Lakes are just some of the possibilities. A few state parks, Traverse City, Ludington, Tahquamenon Falls and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Parks among them, offer kayak, rowboat and other man-powered watercraft rentals during warmer months.
If you'd rather let someone else captain the boat, charter companies from the Atlantic to the Pacific run pet-friendly sightseeing tours. For example, well-behaved animals are welcome on the Nature Cruises Aboard the Acadian in Maine and the Canine Cruise of the Chicago River.
For those of you who want to get in the water and not just ride on it, numerous state or municipal parks and beaches have dog beaches. Some, like the Coronado Dog Beach on Coronado Island, Calif., and the Susan Kimmelman Off-leash Dog Beach at Montrose Beach in Chicago, allow dogs to roam and swim without a leash. The Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit in Campbellsport, Wis., even has a designated area for training dogs in water skills.
Had enough of the great outdoors? Keep reading to find urban hot-spots that cater to pet-lovers.
Big cities have become some of the pet-friendliest places around. Luxury hotels in Atlanta, New York, Beverly Hills and Nashville don't just accept pets; they have special programs for them that include massages, bathrobes, canine cocktail hours and voice coaching lessons.
On a more modest budget, plenty of urban hotels accept pets these days, and some welcome furry guests with treats and special meals. Other amenities include providing owners with listings and directions to nearby pet-friendly restaurants, attractions and veterinary contacts upon check-in.
After getting settled, an abundance of outdoor restaurants and cafes in most cities means that you and Rover won't have to dine separately. But enough about you. What fun can your pet find in the city? Plenty. In addition to pet-centered events, you'll find guided and self-directed canine walking tours through many of the city's highlights. Along the way, you can do a little shopping in pet boutiques and other shops, such as those all along Second Street in Long Beach, Calif., where store owners provide fresh water and treats for their canine customers.
For some off-leash fun, you can head to a dog park. These fenced green spaces offer acres of free-range excitement. Your pet can socialize with other dogs, play Frisbee, run through an agility course, hydrate at a watering station and take a dip in a swimming pond. You can play along or relax on a bench. You might even get lucky and catch a special event like the working-dog demonstrations and human barking competition that are part of Santa Maria, Calif.'s, Woof Pac Park's Dog Days of Summer program.
Is your ideal vacation more about relaxing and enjoying the good life? Then a spa or resort that caters to quadrupeds and their people is the answer.
Dogs vacation with their owners disproportionately more often than cats do. People vacationing with dogs comprise 78 percent of all people who vacation with pets, according to the U.S. Travel Association. But at feline-friendly resorts and spas, cats find the adoration and pampering they innately feel is their ancestral due. Typical accommodations include litter boxes, scratching posts, room-service menus, custom pet beds, and food and water bowls. The FireSky Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., offers in-room spa packages for cats and their owners. Catnip toys, massages and birthday cakes are some of the pampering services provided at the W Hotels in New Orleans, and the Ritz-Carlton in New York offers "fashionable carry bags" for Fluffy to ride in during sightseeing excursions.
Resorts that cater to dogs offer similar amenities with a slightly more rigorous activity program. After canoeing down New River, visitors to the Dog House Resort in Jefferson, N.C., can relax in suites named after famous movie dogs. San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif., has 17 miles (more than 27 kilometers) of trails through the ranch gardens. Both pets and people can conclude the tour with in-room massages. Room-service menus, fenced play areas and pet-sitting services are standard fare at doggie resorts.
Use the links on the next page to help you plan a fabulous pet-included vacation.
We live in a sharing economy. And a pet-loving economy. So what happens when the two collide? Learn more about pets and carsharing at HowStuffWorks.
More Great Links
- American Automobile Association. "AAA Guide Book Identifies 'Most Accommodating Cities' for Travelers with Pets." AAA Newsroom. Sept. 26, 2006. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.aaanewsroom.net/main/Default.asp?CategoryID=8&ArticleID=480
- American Kennel Club. "A Beginner's Guide to Dog Shows." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.akc.org/events/conformation/beginners.cfm
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy. "About the Trail." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-trail
- Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. "Adventure Travel Trips & Fun Outdoor Activities in Arkansas." Official Tourism Site of the State of Arkansas. 2009. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.arkansas.com/outdoors
- BeachConnections.net. "Microbrewer Honors Famous Dog on Oregon Coast." Oregon Coast Beach Connection. June 9, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.beachconnection.net/news/beerdo060908_558.htm
- BringFido. "Dog Bowl III." Events. January 2009. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://bringfido.com/event/1509
- Bureau of Land Management. "About BLM." U.S. Department of the Interior. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/About_BLM.html
- Bureau of Land Management, California. "Palen/McCoy Wilderness." U.S. Department of the Interior (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/wilderness/wa/areas/palen-mccoy.html
- "Camping with Pets." PetTravelCenter. (Jan. 11, 2012) http://www.pettravelcenter.com/page_items/itemList/124
- Cat Fancier's Association (1). "Atlanta Selected to Host 2008 CFA International Cat Show." CFA International. September 2008. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.cfa.org/documents/press/2008Intl-show.pdf
- Cat Fancier's Association (2). "CFA Shows." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.cfa.org/client/shows.aspx
- Cat Fancier's Association (3). "Persian Named 'Best in Show' at the 2008 CFA International Cat Show." November 23, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.cfa.org/documents/press/2008-Intl-Show-Results.pdf
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition 30 volumes. "Michigan." Macropaedia Volume 12, pg. 105. Chicago: Helen Hemingway Benton, Publisher, 1980.
- Georgia State and Historic Parks. "Watson Mill Bridge State Park." Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 2009. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://gastateparks.org/net/content/go.aspx?s=101.0.0.
- Greenberg, Peter. TravelDetective Bible. New York: Rodale, 2007.
- Langlois, Cherie. "Dog-Friendly Summer Travel Destinations." DogChannel.com (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.dogchannel.com/dog-training/travelwithdogs/dog-friendly-summer-travel.aspx
- Maine Tours. "Bar Harbor Cruises." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.mainetours.net/tours/tourDetail.cfm?tour_id=9760
- Mantle, Stacy (1). "Kitty Comforts." Cat Fancy September 2008: 20-21.
- Mantle, Stacy (2). "The Good Life." Cat Fancy July 2008: 10-13.
- Mercury Chicago's Skyline Cruiseline. "Our Tours." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.mercuryskylinecruiseline.com/
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources (1). "Boating in Michigan." The Official State of Michigan Website. 2009. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10365_10884---,00.html
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources (2). "Boating in Michigan is Fun." The Official State of Michigan Website. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10365_10884-22788--,00.html
- Michigan.gov. "Frequently Asked Questions." About Michigan. Official State of Michigan Portal. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,1607,7-192-29938_30243-103397--,00.html
- National Park Foundation. The Official Guide to America's National Parks, 13th Edition. New York: Fodor's Travel Publications, Inc., 2009.
- Nice, Jennifer. "Trail Rider's Vacation Destination Guide." Horse Illustrated July 2008: 34-38.
- Pets on the Go! "Transportation: Cruise lines/charters." (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.petsonthego.com/transcruischrtr.html
- Robins, Sandy. "Great dog beaches around the country." MSNBC.com. July 30, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25800681
- Robins, Sandy. "Unleash Summer in pet-friendly wine country." MSNBC.com. April 16, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24097196
- Thornton, Kim Campbell. "Dogs Welcome: Resorts roll out the red carpet for canine guests." Dog Fancy July 2007: 24-27.
- United States Dog Agility Association Web site. (Jan. 11, 2012) http://www.usdaa.com/index.cfm
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Enjoying Wisconsin State Parks with Your Pet." Dec. 29, 2006. (Jan. 10, 2009) http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/pets
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Wisconsin State Park System: Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas and Trail