It's Finally Spring, so Get Outside and Walk your Dog!!

Dr. Julie Hunt

If I had a nickel for every time I say, “your dog needs to lose weight,” I would be rich indeed!

This article offers an overview of some of the wonderful places in the Exeter area where owners can walk dogs in a safe, outdoor environment. However, each location has rules and regulations about dog walkers. In general, they all require that dogs be on leash and that owners clean up after their dogs. Some offer “poop bags” but I recommend always having a supply in your car in case the public supply is empty. If we want these public areas to continue to allow dogs, being respectful of each property and following basic rules is essential. Some areas may allow hunting during certain seasons, so please refer to town websites or call the towns for clarification. (Stratham banned hunting at Stratham Hill Park in March 2014.)

The most common reason for authorities to disallow dog walking in a public space is that owners neglect to clean up after their dogs. Dog poop can contain parasites that infect other dogs and in some cases can affect public health. Another reason dogs are banned is that a few owners allow their dogs off leash and subsequently a child, runner, or other walker is bitten, knocked down, or frightened. So if you want to continue to walk your dog in your favorite place, pick up after your dog and keep it on leash!! Keeping your dog current with rabies vaccinations is a NH state law and critical to being a responsible dog owner, too.

Below are highlights of each trail location. The first two areas are owned by the Town of Exeter and are interconnected by a tunnel under Route 101, but they have separate access and parking:

  1. Oaklands Town Forest — The Oaklands is a series of popular, fairly flat mountain biking and walking trails. One can walk in and back out the same trail, or do a long loop of several hours. The area abuts a few houses, but is otherwise all in woods or along a power line. There is minor swampy water, but no good swimming for dogs. The parking area is off Rt. 85 on the left heading north toward Newfields. The trail markers can be tricky and confusing, so it helps to get a map.
  2. Henderson Swasey Town Forest — There are two entrances to this popular town forest. The main one is located next to the railroad bridge underpass on Rt. 85 and an unofficial one can be found off of the industrial park on Rt. 27 behind The Rinks. The trail markers are quite good here, it is all wooded, and there are many interconnected loops. It is a bit smaller but hillier than Oaklands and there are some cool geologic formations, but no water. Mountain bikers abound! NOTE that Henderson-Swasey Forest is not to be confused with Swasey Parkway (along the Squamscott River) where dogs are definitely NOT allowed.
  3. Powder House — This trail is located in downtown Exeter off Jady Hill Rd. It is a convenient, short loop, which is wide open and scenic because it faces across the Squamscott River toward Swasey Parkway. I frequently see water fowl (including my favorite, the Great Blue Heron) and there is often boat traffic, which is fun to watch. The Powder House is an historic structure where munitions were stored in the war of 1812, and allegedly gun powder stored there was used in the Battle of Bunker Hill. There is water here but it not safe for dogs due to current and steep banking. This is the perfect loop when you are in a hurry or have a dog with short legs!
  4. The Academy Woods — Owned by Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA), this is a series of very popular, small loops through the woods along the Exeter River. There is lots of swimming access for dogs, but plan for mud! The main entrance is at the PEA track but there is space for 1-2 cars at the Drinkwater Rd. access. PEA has recently posted new “leash only” signs and dogs are not allowed on the athletic fields, so please respect the regulations. Loop trails are between 1-3 miles and can be wet/flooded, especially along the river areas in the spring. PEA trail map
  5. Raynes Farm — Raynes Farm is located 1.2 miles from the intersection of Rt. 101 and Rt. 85 on the right hand side going north toward Newfields. This is a former working farm and the terrain is primarily expansive fields with a beautiful, historic barn. It is not especially well known so tends to be quieter. This 50 acre property was obtained by the town of Exeter with a grant from NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). It runs down toward the railroad tracks and Squamscott River but water is not accessible. This loop is longer than Powder House area but smaller than the others listed here.
  6. Stratham Hill Park — This park in Stratham is a fantastic resource for Seacoast families. There are long interconnected loop trails mostly in the woods, but some in open fields. There is one main hill with a fire tower at the top (with great views!) and several smaller hills. This park is very popular because it has a large parking lot off Jack Rabbit Lane, is well-marked, and dogs can go off leash in the wooded areas. However, even when off leash, dogs must be with the owner at all times and under excellent verbal command. Dogs are NOT allowed off leash on the Park’s lawns, athletic fields, or parking lots. The front parking lot off Rt. 33 is harder for dog owners since it leads directly through picnic grounds, lawns, and athletic areas where dogs are not welcome. Jack Rabbit Lane parking leads away from the prohibited areas toward the woods but can be muddy! You are almost guaranteed to see other dog walkers here as well as runners, walkers, skiers, snowshoers, and mountain bikers depending on the season. Stratham trail map
  7. Conner Farm — Conner Farm is a 240 acre area located near Brentwood Country Animal Hospital on Rt. 27 between our hospital and exit 9 off 101. It is also a former farm now tended by NH Fish and Game. Recently, a descendant of the original farm family decided to renovate the farmhouse and live there. Because of this change, there is a revised parking lot and entrance. The area is mostly open fields and has limited trails. It is generally not busy except during hunting season, when Fish and Game stocks it with pheasant so it is not a great time to walk your dog! Fish & Game's Conner Farm page