Montana, the World’s Best Dog Park

Eleanor and Beatrice are lucky, lucky dogs, and this post will hopefully give you an idea as to just how lucky.

Once a year, I drive from Austin, Texas, to Bridger, Montana, simply so that Eleanor and Beatrice can go on vacation. They love–and love is perhaps too underwhelming a word–going to Montana. They get to eat cheeseburgers on the drive up, sleep when they aren’t eating cheeseburgers, and I kick them out to swim in the Wind River Canyon as we’re going through Wyoming and we’ve all had enough of the car. And once at my parents’ house…nirvana. They swim in irrigation canals, go on long hikes in new places, chase rabbits, roll in all things disgusting, and play with my parents’ five dogs–Pearl, Ruby, Bob, Matti, and the sometimes Zeke–the other luckiest dogs in the world.

I am seldom able to take a week off while up in Montana (hey, I’ve got other adventures and wanders for which I must allot time), meaning that I’m working from the friendly confines of my mum’s office. Come afternoon, however, if the dogs have not been adventured, they’ll start to nudge me, reminding me ever so gently that it is time to go hike. Considering that there are seven of them in total, that is a lot of nudging. It’s just easier to give up and take them all outside simply so I can get some work done.

Beatrice, Eleanor, and Matti Loaded Up and Ready to Hike!

While in Bridger, which is basically just over the Wyoming line, we have two regular dog-hike options: my parents’ house and Red Lodge. Bridger is about 30 minutes from Red Lodge, so it is completely feasible to work all day, then head over the mountain to hike for a couple of hours. During the summer, particularly near the summer solstice, it is light past 9:00 PM anyways, leaving plenty of time for a good five-mile hike.

My parents’ house boasts a fantastic dog park right outside their front door. Alas, this option is only available in the colder seasons, think October right up until early June, because of rattlesnakes. We’ll see other animals–deer, some of their horses, jackrabbits, and the like–but rattlesnakes are the summer deterrent. My parents’ dogs are smart enough to leave off, but Eleanor and Beatrice are city girls, and I fear they might be curious about things that go buzz. Plus, I just hate snakes. But the hike is about an hour. It has enough up to get your heart rate going, enough sagebrush to clear your thinking, and a fantastic view of the Clark’s Fork valley.

Sunrise Overlooking the Clark’s Fork Valley

A few years ago, I got mum a book on for Mother’s Day: Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains. It turned out to be a great gift for both of us, and we began venturing beyond their backyard, especially over near Red Lodge.

Red Lodge is actually a small ski town southwest of Bridger. My brother and I grew up skiing there on weekends when we were in high school. As you might guess if there is skiing, the elevation is higher and the temperatures are cooler. For hiking, what this really means is less chance of snakes, which is why it is our preferred summer hiking option. That doesn’t mean that other animals are not out and about, however. Deer and elk are frequent in the area, as are bears and any number of small varmints. I just notice

Colton and Matti Hike Red Lodge

And then there is Missoula, with Laurie and Bobo and Greta! Dogs are once again blessed by an abundance of options for adventure. We can take them swimming in the Clark Fork, for a walk on the old fire road behind the house, or best of all, to the landing for both a hike AND a swim. At the landing, it’s a good mile from where we leave the car until we get to the river, giving all the dogs a chance to lose a few tennis balls, scare up some birds, and play chase.

It has been said before and by many a writer more eloquent than me that there is no purer joy than a happy dog. They’re all bliss, all in the moment of that adventure. They are with their person, they aren’t worrying, and all they know is the delirium of the fun to be had. It is for those moments, those happy-dog moments, that I make a 25-hour drive from Austin to Bridger. Yes, it’s a long way, but it is so very worth it.


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