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Bring Fido Along! Where To Find Dog Friendly Hiking Trails

Bring Fido Along! Where To Find Dog Friendly Hiking Trails

Whenever I pull out any of my hiking gear, my dogs Murray and Munson both go nuts with excitement. I have no doubt they believe their sole purpose in this life is to keep me company whenever I’m out on the trail.

If I have a trip planned where dogs are not welcome, I have to be super sneaky about packing and getting out of the house with my gear. Otherwise, they’ll both give me sad puppy dog eyes for what seems like days if they have to stay home.

Most times though, I hike on trails where my furry friends are welcome. I have learned over the years that my canine companions look forward to getting out on the trail as much as I do.

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Dog Friendly or Not?

Before heading out to your trail of choice, check the rules and regulations of the area where you will be hiking to ensure dogs are permitted on the trail. Bringing your dog on trails where he or she isn’t allowed can result in a hefty fine, or worse, being asked by the ranger to leave the trail altogether.

Wesser Creek trailhead

Murray, and more recently Munson as well, usually accompany me on hikes but there are locations where they are not welcome. Normally, I have found the following to be the general rule of thumb regarding dogs on trails:

U.S. Forest Service Land and Trails 

Trails on U.S. forest service lands are typically dog friendly and trails here are my optimal choice for my hiking needs. In western North Carolina, my go-to hiking area, dog friendly hikes are located in Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, DuPont State Forest and even the Asheville area in general.  Links are included so you can choose your own dog friendly trail in each area.

National Parks 

National Parks have differing regulations depending on which park you are visiting. In general, pets are allowed in all of the national parks to some degree or another, but there are usually strict regulations on where you can go with your four-legged friend.

By necessity, the rules are in place to ensure the safety of the park’s natural resources, wildlife, other visitors and park employees, and even your own pet. National parks are home to natural predators, hazardous plant life, and rough, uneven terrain – all of which can prove dangerous to dogs.

However, there are a few specific national parks that roll out the red carpet in welcome for Fido. Follow the link to 21 of our country’s best dog friendly national parks.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Land

These lands are typically pet friendly areas. Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In some cases, especially in the back country, off-leash pet policies can be found in some cases on BLM and DNR land.

With any of these jurisdictions it is always wise to check ahead for current rules and regulations, even if the location has been pet friendly in the past. Regulations may change and since trails can be far from home, you don’t want to arrive at the trailhead and discover you cannot hike much beyond your car in the parking lot with your furry friend beside you.

Murray and Munson on the Trail

When my dog Murray was 5 months old, I sent him off to a professional program where he participated in a two-week long on-site doggy boot camp. I missed him terribly during the two weeks he was gone, but if I had it to do over again, I would send him off to this same program without hesitation. Asheville Dog Rehabilitation specializes in correcting problem dog behaviors but also trains to specific needs of the dog owner.

While at boot camp, Murray was trained for general obedience like the usual sit, stay, come, and heel commands. Murray was a rambunctious pup, so he definitely needed to learn these commands, but my primary focus was for him to receive specific training for off-leash hiking.

Murray’s trainer worked with him one-on-one on trails around Asheville and Hendersonville, North Carolina. Murray was exposed to everything he might experience on trail: mountain bikers, horses, adults, children, other dogs, strollers, even a wheelchair. He graduated from the program with flying colors!

Since completing boot camp four years ago, Murray and I have been able to tweak his training to my specific needs while we are out hiking. He responds 100% to all voice commands and hand signals I give him, and he is never a bother to others out enjoying their day. I cannot recall a single day on the trail where other hikers have not noticed how well-behaved Murray is and always thank me as they pass.

Murray with his RuffWear pack

Munson never participated in any specialized training similar to what Murray received. Because of this, Munson is less reliable for consistent voice command behavior. He hikes off leash only on trails that historically are very lightly trafficked, permit voice control vs a leash, yet his leash is always at the ready if we encounter other hikers.

Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

If you plan to bring your dog hiking with you, first familiarize yourself with trail situations that can be hazardous for the dog, for the hiker, or for other trail users. Be sensitive to others on the trail who are uncomfortable around a dog they do not know, especially if your dog is large.

If you are in an area where off-leash hiking is a possibility, be sure your dog responds 100% to voice commands and is comfortable around people and other dogs. If not, keep Fido leashed especially while in parking lots and at busy trailheads.

For your dog’s safety, vaccinations should always be up to date and make sure your dog is on a flea and tick preventative. Also important is to make sure your dog is microchipped, wears a collar with identification information, or other identifying tags in case you are separated while on your hike.

Get Out There

I’ve always loved hiking with my dogs and their trail love is obvious; whenever I touch my backpack they are headed toward the door, ready for whatever adventure awaits them. So grab a leash and your favorite canine hiking buddy and head out for some dog friendly adventures of your own!

Murray and Munson’s Gear

These are the items that we use all the time when hiking. All items are trail tested and Murray and Munson approved.

RuffWear Pack

Personalized Collar

Hands Free Leash

Trail Bowl

 

Chillin’

 

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49 Comments

  1. As someone who loves hiking but is afraid of dogs I don’t know, I really appreciate how thoughtful you are about bringing your dogs on the trail. They’re very cute too!

    1. Hi Hailey! Murray is an awesome canine companion. He alerts for bear too so I feel much safer with him with me.

  2. Great article! We love hiking with our 2 Australian shepherd. We go at least a few times a week in the summer!

  3. What great information about bringing your furry friends! I would have just assumed dogs can go to all parks since they are outside. I wish we could take our pups on more hiking trips but they aren’t as well behaved as they should be. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love that you bring a water bowl for the dogs. I’ve seen so many people who don’t and the poor dog suffers. These are all good tips for hikes with your best friend.

    1. My dogs love the collapsible bowl but can drink out of my cupped hand in a pinch. Of course, I think they prefer mud puddle and creek water though!

  5. I love that more and more places are becoming dog friendly. We will be RV living soon, and so when traveling we will want to find places to hike, rest, stay, and they need to be dog friendly as we have a 90# black lab and a 14# shih tzu 😉

    1. Yes! Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite strict in their no dogs on trail policy. With good reason: it’s the most visited national park and is home to thousands of black bears, in additional to all sorts of other wildlife. We have to do our part to keep the park’s wildlife free from diseases transmitted by dog poop.

  6. I think it is great to be able to find all the hikes that your dogs can join in the fun! I’m sure they love it!

  7. This is a great article. One of my most frustrating experiences is when I want to hike somewhere and dogs aren’t allowed…. So i’m grateful for this breakdown of where is okay and where is not.

    1. I live in the backyard so to speak of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dogs are not allowed to hike on any trails there, but there are plenty on local options available. I wrote this article to help people looking to hike where dogs are allowed.

  8. This is a great resource to research dog-friendly trails. So cool so many places allow to bring our favorite traveling companion.

    1. There are plenty of dog friendly trails across the US so I hope this article helps out the pet parents looking for good, safe options.

  9. Awww! Your pups are so adorable! Our dog does the same thing – as soon as I am putting on my hiking shoes, he starts going crazy with excitement. Its a shame though when others are on the trail with ill behaved dogs – I’m not saying mine is perfect but it can be challenging bringing a dog sometimes

    1. I agree that the ill-behaved dogs can ruin the trail experience. I paid well over $1000 to have Murray professionally trail-trained and he is a gem on the trail.

  10. Great tips. Murray and Munson are such fun names and they are cute too. I love that you shared so many ideas

    1. I lived in Georgia for nearly 30 years and three of my kids are University of Georgia grads. We name our pets with Georgia football in mind: Aaron Murray (UGA quarterback when all three of my kids attended classes there) and Larry Munson, the legendary football announcer.

    1. Thanks Hera! We always travel with our pups too and with an energetic goldendoodle and mini schnauzer, we’re always looking for safe trails to take both dogs on.

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