Top Ten Hikes with Dogs

Our favorite dog-friendly hiking trails will inspire you to get outside with your best furry-faced pal.
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Hiking with your dog brings a new spin to a favorite pastime.
Hiking with your dog brings a new spin to a favorite pastime.  (Nathan Borchelt)

Dogs crave adventure, especially in the outdoors with their best friend (that would be you). Watch a dog trot along the trail, greedily inhaling scents of game and fallen logs. The well trained will alert you to things you might have otherwise overlooked—from birds and beetles to hidden animals and interesting plant life.

Hiking with dogs is different from hiking alone or with human companions. There's a special rhythm to walking with a canine on a trail—even the most ordinary leaf or rock can be one of nature's great wonders. Plus you'll get exercise, spend time with a beloved companion, and gain a new appreciation for the great outdoors. The good news is that there are plenty of dog-friendly trails across the country—some require leashes and others dictate only that your dog stays in sight and obeys voice commands. Most national parks don't allow dogs off the pavement, but the majority of trails in state and national forests and on BLM land are dog-friendly. Generally, national monuments, national battlefields, and national recreation areas also have trails you can hike with your dog. Plus, there are dozens of books, websites, and videos dedicated to the subject. Sites like BringFido, Hike with Your Dog, and have detailed information about local and regional resources across North America. It's not a matter of "no place to go" but more a quandary of picking your first outing!

Almost any dog can become a trail hound. A lot of hiking with dogs is common sense—smaller dogs are more suited to shorter distances, and bigger dogs generally have greater endurance and can cover more territory with their longer strides. Dogs need to develop strength, stamina, and trail sense, just like people. Start with a short trail—one or two miles at most. The abbreviated distance will give you and your dog a chance to gauge fitness, trail manners, and water and food consumption. While some dogs are well suited for leashless travel, keep in mind that they are generally safer when on a leash—especially if you encounter wild animals, cliffs, or fellow hikers. You can even plan multi-day trips that involve camping—hikers and their canine companions frequently embark on epic adventures involving places such the Ice Age, Pacific Crest, and Appalachian trails.

Always bring a collar, a leash, and current ID and shot tags. Chances are you won't need medical treatment mid-hike, but a small backcountry first-aid kit with antibiotic cream, bandages, gauze, aspirin, and tweezers can be used for both you and your furry-faced friend. Pack a lightweight water bowl, especially if you're traveling along waterways used by other hikers as a water source. If there's a chance of cold, miserable weather, consider a dog raincoat. If you're combining hiking and canoeing, a doggie life jacket might be the safety buffer you need for peace of mind. Typically, dogs don't need booties, but for travel over sharp volcanic rock; hot desert sands with prickly cactus; or crusty, snow-covered terrain, foot protection might be in order. Most parks and forests encourage a "leave no trace" policy for both human and dog waste. Bring plastic bags or a trowel, depending on the type of terrain you are covering. Dog packs are great if you have a mid-size to large animal. A good rule of thumb: The load shouldn't weigh more than 20 percent of your dog's weight. Once you're geared up, there are literally tens of thousands of trails you can explore with your dog. Our list will give you some ideas on classic dog hikes and what to look for in your own neck of the woods.

Published: 29 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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