COLUMBIA, SC — With no real mountains and few sweeping vistas in the Midlands, the best way to appreciate the fall foliage in the Midlands is to hike through hardwood forests. In most cases, those trails also are great places to walk your dog. (In each case, they require leashes.) Here are some ideal places to mix Fido with foliage, or to take a dog walk among the dogwoods:
Congaree National Park: Some dog owners have stayed away from the park because dogs weren’t allowed on the boardwalk. But the park is experimenting to determine if dogs and people can co-exist on that boardwalk. There have been no complaints so far, and the test run has been extended through the fall foliage season.
Hint: Dogs probably will prefer the dirt trails, where they can sniff the borders to their heart’s delight. The park is off Old Bluff Road near Hopkins. www.nps.gov/cong.
Sesquicentennial State Park: The paved trail around the lake is a sweet walk for humans, but the 3.5-mile sandy loop trail is ideal for dogs on a leash. The sandy surface is ideal for paws and the wide trail means they have more room to wander more while on leash. The park is on U.S. 1 in Northeast Richland. www.southcarolinaparks.com/sesqui.
Timmerman Trail: This 1.5-mile paved trail built by SCANA is where you take dogs that are distracted by crowds. While hordes flock to the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks, the Timmerman Trail seldom is crowded. And the surrounding forest fed by Congaree Creek is gorgeous. It’s an out-and-back walk. Enter the SCANA headquarters property off 12th Street extension near I-77 and turn right quickly into the trail and canoe launch parking lot.
Harbison State Forest: The key here is to stick to the hiking only trails. Dogs on leashes don’t mix well with mountain bikers. There are three short hiking-only trails. Or you can park as far down the entrance road as possible and walk on the road past the vehicle gates. From that point, there’s almost no vehicle traffic, making for a nice dog-walking experience. The forest is off Broad River Road in the Harbison area. There is a parking fee. http://www.state.sc.us/forest/refhartg.htm
Saluda Shoals Park: The 2.25-mile paved trail along the river has well-manicured shoulders most of way, making it a better spot to walk a leashed dog than most of the river’s edge trails in the Midlands. There also are a smattering of dirt trails. And dogs love to explore along the edges of the cool Saluda River. Saluda Shoals is off Bush River Road in the Irmo area. http://www.icrc.net/saluda-shoals-park
Places to avoid crowds and people: Columbia’s Riverfront Park, and the Riverwalks in Cayce and West Columbia are extremely crowded from about 11 a.m.-6 p.m. most weekend days during the fall. Unless you have a very well-behaved dog who sticks close by your side, the other dogs and bike riders can be a major distraction during those times. Also, dogs aren’t allowed on the pedestrian trail along the Lake Murray dam.