Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

Posted by Keith Anderson on 29th July 2022

Hiking combines all of your pup’s first loves: sniffing, exploring, and spending time with his favorite person in the world—you. You won’t find a more enthusiastic hiking companion anywhere.

That said, even though your dog would follow you to the ends of the earth, there are places you don’t want to lead him unless you’re 100 percent prepared.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you venture into the wilderness with your furry friend:

Know the rules, regulations, and laws

Not all trails are open to dogs. And if they are, most of them require dogs to be leashed. Massachusetts, where some of our favorite dog-friendly hikes are located, is one of several states that are known for having trail restrictions for dogs.

Before arriving at the trailhead, you should read up on any dog-related rules or regulations. As a general rule, most national parks in the U.S. do not allow dogs on hiking trails, but most state parks do. See our list of National Parks that are Dog Friendly.

Read the trail description

Always read the trail description before setting out. Knowing what to expect on the trail will prevent you from common hiking pitfalls: getting lost and being caught unprepared. A trail description will also help you decide whether the trail is a good match for your dog’s stamina and ability level.

For example, the trail description for Mailbox Peak, one of our recommended trails in Washington state, explains that there are two ways up the mountain. Both are challenging, but one is known for being steep and dangerous. The last thing you want to do is end up halfway up the mountain with an injury, either for you or your pup!

It’s also important to know the incline and difficulty of the terrain. Are sections of the trail steep and rocky? One of our favorite hikes in Colorado, Willow Lake Trail at Maroon Falls, for example, becomes extremely rocky just above treeline. To protect your dog’s paws from hot or sharp rocks, you might want to throw a pair of dog shoes on your pup, or choose a different trail.

Prepare for trail hazards

Reading the trail description also will alert you to potential trail hazards. For example, Falls in the River Trail, one of our recommended hikes in New Hampshire, is known for having moose on the trail. Moose can be aggressive and dangerous when they feel threatened. If you know to look out for them, you’ll be able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

Other trails, like some of our favorite spots in the Lake George area of New York, allow mountain bikers on the trail. This is something you’ll want to know before you or your dog has a close encounter with a bike around a hairpin turn.

Check (and respect) the weather

Although we love hiking in Colorado, many of our favorite dog-friendly hikes in the Rockies, like Mt. Bierstadt in Idaho Springs, take you above tree line, which puts you at risk for afternoon storms. These are common and can come on quickly during the summer.

You’ll want to check the weather before you go, and always be prepared (and willing) to reverse course if the weather turns on you. One of the biggest mistakes hikers make is pressing on when they should turn around and try again another day.

Dog Hiking Harness

Pack appropriately

When day hiking with dogs, there are a few things you’ll need: a leash, water and snacks, poop bags, and a first aid kit. And if you’re considering an overnight hike, your packing list will be even longer.

Some of our favorite trails are best enjoyed as multi-day hikes, such as South Sister, one of several scenic trails we recommend in Oregon, and Mt. Shasta, one of our favorite destinations in Northern California. These longer hikes require careful planning, especially when you’re bringing Fido along. Along with extra food and water, you may want to consider a dog backpack so your pup can help carry the load.

Look for hikes with natural water sources

Dogs get dehydrated fast, especially when they’re working hard. The best hikes for dogs include plenty of natural water sources, like Alice Lakes, a dog-friendly hike in British Columbia that passes by, you guessed it, several lakes. We love waterfall hikes, too, such as Moonshine Falls, one of several waterfall hikes we love in South Carolina.

Lakes and streams are great places for dogs to rehydrate and also cool off. But use common sense. Even if a trail map shows streams along the way, depending upon where you’re hiking and how dry the conditions are, you may not find water. Nothing’s worse than a hot, thirsty dog searching for water in a dry riverbed. Although we have some favorite spots to hike with dogs in Arizona, this is a part of the country where you can’t count on finding water on the trail. You’ll want to bring it with you.

Practice trail etiquette

On the trail you’ll pass other dogs and people who aren’t comfortable around dogs. You also may run into through-hikers in places like North Carolina, where some of our favorite hikes are located along the Appalachian Trail. These long-distance hikers will be carrying heavy packs and won’t be able to move out of the way quickly if a dog runs toward them. These are all good reasons to keep your dog leashed when hiking.

Another reason for a leash is to minimize your dog’s impact on the natural environment. When dogs wander off trail, not only can they get into trouble (i.e., getting quilled or skunked), they also can damage fragile plants and trees. We all should strive to be low-impact hikers, and this means staying on the trail.

Being informed and prepared before you hit the trail with your pup will ensure a safer, more enjoyable experience for both of you. For more about trail safety, read How To Keep Your Dog Safe on the Trail.

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