When you’re out hiking and enjoying the outdoors, do you often find yourself thinking, “My dog would love it out here?” You are not alone. After all, it’s only natural to want to share the beauty and benefits of hiking with your closest friends. But with so many areas closed to pets, how to find dog friendly trails?
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we understand the special bond you have with your dog. We have heard that same ancient whisper from deep in the mind, telling you to just let your pup jump in the car and come along.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to find the best dog friendly trails — whether you’re looking for a regular exercise hike close to home, a day on the trail in a nearby state park or an epic trip to one of the national parks.
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Your best bet for finding dog friendly trails is to start looking in your own back yard. Local trails, which are kept up and controlled by a town, city or county government, are more likely to allow dogs than trails on land administered by the state or federal governments.
Check the website for your city’s parks and recreation department to find out the best local dog friendly trails. Most local parks departments give out maps of local trails with a lot of helpful information included.
If you’re ever in doubt as to whether a particular trail allows dogs, call the department and talk to a live person. It’s better to do your research before heading out than to have your hike spoiled by incorrect or out-of-date information.
There are also several non-government websites that will steer you toward the best dog friendly trail near your home. The site Bringfido.com has an excellent list of dog friendly trails throughout the country.
Another strategy for finding dog friendly hiking trails is to join or consult your local hiking group. Most cities and towns have at least one group of trail-hardened hikers who are dedicated to the local trails.
These are typically the folks who know where you should take your dog and where you should not. A good place to start looking for a hiking group is the American Hiking Society’s list of affiliated hiking organizations.
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There are more than 10,000 state parks in the U.S., and they typically protect their states’ most beautiful and sensitive lands. More often than not, they have the best hiking trails as well.
Most state parks allow dogs but have strict leash laws. Usually, dogs must be kept on a leash between six and 10 feet long at all times. However, there are some state parks that don’t allow pets at all. Meanwhile, there are others that don’t allow them in certain parts like on beaches or in wildlife areas.
The helpful website Hikewithyourdog.com has a state-by-state list of state parks with hiking trails along with links to websites where you’ll find each park’s policy on dogs. The National Association of State Park Directors also provides links to state park websites.
Generally, you’ll find a particular park’s dog policy on its website under the heading “rules and regulations,” “protect and respect” or something similar.
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Whether they are in a national forest, recreation area, monument or park, federal hiking trails have some of the strictest rules about dogs. While we’d all like to take our dogs on the best hikes in North America, this is just not possible in many federally controlled areas.
Before you get too upset about this, consider that no-dog rules are about protecting resources, wildlife, other hikers and, of course, you and your dog.
That said, there is no sweeping federal policy for or against hiking with dogs on public land. While the policies in each forest or park are generally similar to each other, they vary depending on the level of federal protection in a given area.
For example, dogs are allowed in most national forests. However, not all forests have the same leash policy.
There are also areas within a national forest where dogs are not allowed such as established wilderness areas. It’s best to check the rules of each forest as well as those implemented for each trail you want to hike before heading out.
The same goes for the national parks and monuments. While dogs are generally not allowed in the back country, on park shuttle buses and in park-run hotels, there are still many opportunities for hiking with dogs throughout the federal parks system. Again, it all depends on the park.
For instance, you can hike with your dog on a leash on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon but dogs aren’t allowed below the rim. It’s a good idea to check the pet policy of each national park or monument. A park’s pet policy is generally under the “plan your visit” tab.
The website Hikewithyourdog.com suggests seeking nearby alternatives to national parks, where dogs are allowed on more trails. Many national parks are close to local, state or even private lands that are just as beautiful and iconic, but have different rules about dogs.
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ETIQUETTE AND THE HIKER-DOG
No matter where you’re hiking, it’s a good idea to learn the finer points of trail etiquette before you bring along your dog. You also must decide if your dog is a natural “hiker-dog.” Ask yourself if your dog has the right temperament for hiking on trails where you’re likely to run across other hikers and other dogs.
According to Lisa Densmore Ballard, the author of two guidebooks about hiking with dogs, “If your dog is aggressive or overly protective, it will not be a good hiker-dog.”
Finally, you should make sure that your dog is healthy enough to hike at your pace. Remember, if it’s a hot day for you, it’s a hot day for your dog too.
If you need water, so does your dog. While this commonsense approach will cover a good deal of what you need to know, all dogs, trails and other hikers are different. So the more information you have, the better your adventure will be for you and your dog.