By Carol Brooks
In the cold winter months, it can seem daunting to find fun outdoor activities for you and your dogs. But with a little planning, you can enjoy a dog-friendly winter adventure through the Virginia countryside to eat, hike and even enjoy some wine or cider.
Your well-behaved dog is in for a treat. These suggested lunch and vineyard stops allow dogs inside. The hike destination, the State Arboretum of Virginia, is about 60 miles from D.C. and allows dogs to run free off leash on most of its property.
You can go directly to the arboretum via the fastest route or start out early and create an all-day adventure. The all-day adventure option begins with a drive through Virginia’s famed horse country to lunch in dog-friendly Middleburg, followed by a dog-tiring winter trek, and then a relaxing visit to a unique vineyard.
Lunch in Middleburg
I suggest the adventure option, which is what my friend and her dog, Aspen, and I did recently. Start with lunch in historic Middleburg. Take the scenic route by following directions via Route 50 to Middleburg. This picturesque 18th-century town is about 20 miles from the arboretum and a perfect place to break for lunch. Many of the town’s restaurants allow dogs on their patios (when open). Market Salamander, a gourmet market and cafe that sits on the corner of Route 50 and West Washington Street, allows dogs inside all year. Yes, well-behaved dogs are allowed inside! In addition to gourmet food that is available to eat in or to go, with 24-hour notice they will put together a personal picnic basket. Visit their website for more information: www.marketsalamander.com.
After a lunch stop, continue on Route 50 another 20 miles to the State Arboretum on the left. This tranquil tract of land in Boyce, Va., situated on the northern corner of the Shenandoah Valley, is home to a collection of 6,000 trees and shrubs. It offers numerous marked trails of varying lengths that loop around the property and highlight its extensive plant life. The rolling terrain in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes a delightful setting for this comfortable winter hike for any level of hiker.
From Route 50, turn left and drive into main parking area, which is across from the Community Garden and next to the Arboretum Information kiosk. Note: dogs are allowed off leash on this property except in parking areas, horse trails, and within 200 yards of buildings, and must be under voice control at all times. Please follow their pet guidelines so everyone can enjoy this property.
Before choosing a route, take a moment to review what’s available at the kiosk, including trail maps and a pet poop bag station. We decided to head out (from the main parking lot) on the Wilkins Lane Loop Drive, which is the main gravel road that loops around the interior of the property. Most of the trails are accessible from this loop, and you can ramble around on trails such as the Herbaceous Gardens, the Native Plant Trail, or Ginkgo Grove. Trails range in distance from .75 miles to 2 miles, plus you can weave together any length you want.
The terrain at the Arboretum is open and inviting, allowing you to see which paths will return to your car from almost any point. Dogs are allowed off leash on these trails. We wandered to the wetlands and climbed the steps of the lookout tower for an expansive view of the arboretum. From that vantage point, we discovered a magical path through conifers featuring natural rock ledges perfect for climbing and well-maintained boardwalks to vary the hiking terrain. You can also choose the longer 7.5-mile Bridle Trail on the outside perimeter of the property; dogs must be kept on-leash on the Bridle Trail. For more information and directions, visit www.blandy.virginia.edu/arboretum.
Relax at a Dog-Friendly Winery
After our invigorating hike at the Arboretum, we headed to our final stop for the day, Cobbler Mountain Cellars just off Route 66 in Delaplane, Va. This dog-friendly gem allows dogs on-leash in the tasting rooms and off leash anywhere on the expansive grounds. Upon our arrival, Aspen fell asleep at our feet in the tasting room to the sounds of live music after her adventure at the Arboretum. On chilly days, if you want to sit outside, you can warm up at one of the many outdoor fire rings stocked with wood. Cobbler Mountain features wine tasting in the main room and hard cider tasting in the back “Pub Room” area. Though we didn’t explore them, it also boasts over 7 miles of hiking trails. Visit www.cobblercellars.com for more information.
Be sure to start your adventure early in the day. The winery closes at 5 pm. Market Salamander opens at 8 a.m. and as of this writing, offers a Sunday Brunch until 11 a.m. The State Arboretum of Virginia is open dawn to dusk, 365 days a year, and is free to the public.
The State Arboretum of Virginia: 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce, VA 22620
Market Salamander: 200 West Washington Street, Middleburg, VA 20118
Cobbler Mountain Cellars: 5909 Long Fall Lane, Delaplane, VA 20144
What to Bring: Wear hiking shoes or boots. Bring water for you and your dog, poop bags, layered clothing, and blankets and towels for after-hike clean-up.
Distance: 0-7 miles or more. You decide.
Fido-Friendly Features: Off-street parking, fun dog-safe on- and off-leash trails, wide trails, numerous trash cans and recycle bins.
Public bathrooms available
Use: hikers, horses, dogs.
Best Time to Go: Anytime.
Rated: 2 paws (moderate)
Carol Brooks is co-owner of DogOn Fitness, a daily exercise service for dogs. She specializes in high-energy and overweight dogs, providing them with working walks, running, adventure hikes, and training reinforcement. Headquartered in Reston, DogOn Fitness services Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, MD. Visit them on the Web at www.dogonfitness.com.