True story: A woman from Chattanooga is walking to her hotel in downtown Atlanta and stops at an intersection to wait on a light. A runner comes up with a dog and asks if she could hold the leash while he ties his shoes. He finishes with the laces, straightens up, and without another word sprints down the block and around the corner. Long minutes pass. Finally the dog looks up at the woman and says, “It’s just as well. I’m a trail runner, anyway.”

OK, it’s a true story up to the part when the dog talks, but I like to believe that’s what the dog was thinking. Dogs really do love to run, and the best place for that is out in the wild. When it comes to runs and hikes, trails are better for dogs for the same reason they’re better for us: softer surfaces, lack of traffic, and the variety of terrain and scenery that inspires exploration.

A great place to ease yourself and your dog into running in the Chattanooga area is the Guild Hardy Trail on Lookout Mountain, starting from Ochs Highway, Ruby Falls, or Cravens House. The Guild Hardy Trail is an old railroad bed dating back to the 1880’s so the path is wide and the climb gentle. Adventurous runners and hikers can make longer, more technical loops with steeper ascents on the adjoining singletrack trails. “I love running with my dog on the Guild, Gum Springs, and Rifle Pits trails on Lookout,” says Cynthia Fallowfield.

Fresh water can be sparse on Lookout so carry extra for your pup, especially in summer. Unlike sweaty humans, dogs rely on panting to release heat. Regular water breaks will give you a chance to assess their condition as you both cool off.

Water is often a deciding factor in whether a trail is a dog favorite. Blane Andrews agrees that the trails near Cravens House are convenient for both long and short runs. But afterwards, his dogs Willow and Dallas are always eager to stop by Glen Falls for a swim. “The dogs and I like to go to places with lots of natural water sources,” Andrews says. The North Chick Gorge is another favorite. “Willow likes to skip all the nonsense going on at the Blue Hole, and go a couple of more miles in for the less populated watering holes,” she says.

“The Cumberland Trail is great for running with dogs,” says ultrarunner Dreama Campbell. “There isn’t any mountain bike traffic and the trails aren’t jammed with people.”

Her dog Hank regularly runs the Rock Creek and Soddy Gorge sections, but his favorite is the rugged and spectacular Possum Creek segment, where water is plentiful. “The creeks are fabulous!” Campbell says. If you value solitude, beauty, and aerobic challenge over having a five bar cell signal, you and your pup will enjoy exploring just about any section of the Cumberland Trail. Dreama and Hank also recommend Savage Gulf, Foster Falls, and the ten mile Mullens Cove Loop in Prentice Cooper.

Runner Joe Klein endorses that thought: “Anywhere out in Prentice Cooper is good because there aren’t many people out there.”

Crystal Lee Watson runs often with her dog Harper at White Oak Mountain in Collegedale, Enterprise South, and Lookout Mountain.

“White Oak is my favorite,” she says. “Even though there are lots of mountain bikers, there are so many intersecting paths it’s easy to avoid them. There are lots of streams Harper can jump into to keep from overheating and for a quick drink of water.”

Clearly, we are blessed (or just doggone smart) to live in an area with so many options for canines and humans alike.

So I’m sitting at my desk, wondering what became of that abandoned pup in Atlanta, and our family dog Shylo is suddenly at my side. Her big eyes look up at me, tail wagging madly. Her ears perk for the slightest hint I might offer. You know what? She’s absolutely right: I need turn off the computer and get outside.

Where to, girl?

Note: Remember to pack that leash. Many destinations require one, either by posted regulation or common sense, so have a leash ready whenever you expect frequent interactions with other animals, automobiles, or people.