An ultimate guide to hiking with dogs, including tips to prepare for the trail, dog hiking gear, trail hazards, and 50 dog-friendly national parks to visit.
If you’re like us, you probably do everything with your dog. You watch Netflix together. You go on walks together. Maybe you even do dog yoga together.
So, if you go hiking... it makes sense your dog would come too, right?
After all, people — dog owners included — are turning toward the trails more than ever, with national park visits reportedly hitting record numbers in 2020.
But, as a responsible pet parent, it’s important to know your furbaby isn’t just any trail buddy and that hiking with your dog isn’t always a walk in the park. You have to train your dog to handle the great outdoors.
Which is why, in time for Canine Fitness Month in April, we compiled an ultimate guide to hiking with dogs, including pointers to prepare your pup for the trail, dog hiking gear to drool over — don’t forget that dog first aid kit! — and hazards to consider. Once you’ve boned up on those basics, we even rounded up some dog-friendly national parks to take your housepet-turned-trail dog to.
Preparing For The Trail: 5 Steps for Your Hiking Dog
Even before pinpointing a dog-friendly park to hike at with your dog, you should be evaluating your pup’s pre-hike readiness, everything from their physical fitness to their obedience.
Some quick tips: As tempting as it may be, push pause on bringing a puppy on a long hike, as their immune systems and bones aren’t fully developed. Also, know that more intense backpacking trips should be reserved for the dogs who’ve earned their hiking stripes.
And while some dog breeds are indeed deemed better hiking dogs than others, we stand by the belief that the best hiking dog is a prepared one. So, follow these steps before you and your pup opt outside.
1. Visit The Vet
As the saying goes, safety first!
Before gearing up to hike with your dog, take Fido to the vet for a health and safety check and to determine just how much your dog can handle. Consider asking your vet the following questions:
Is my dog physically ready for a hike?
Does my dog need a vaccination or other medicines? (They may suggest heartworm preventative medication or insecticides to prevent fleas and ticks.)
Is my dog’s immune system strong and ready for the great outdoors?
Be prepared for your vet to maybe acknowledge that some breeds skew more physically fit and, in turn, are more natural hiking dogs than others. For instance, short-muzzled dogs struggle more in the heat than others and aren’t known for their endurance. And breeds that are traditionally bred for hunting might get overly excited on the trail.
By the end of your vet visit, you should have a clear picture of whether it’s safe to hike with your dog, as well as a baseline of how much your pup can exert themselves in a day. Even though not all dogs are naturally born to hit the trail, with a little training you can get yours into hiking-dog shape in no time.
2. Know Trail Regulations
Know that every park has its own pet policy and that some may not even be pet-friendly. Always double-check whether your desired destination allows dogs and assume a leash is mandatory.
No matter where you roam with your furbaby — whether it’s a dog-friendly national park, pet-friendly national forest, or even local trail — keep the National Park Service’s B.A.R.K. principles top of mind:
Bag your pet’s waste
Always leash your pet (on a leash no more than 6-feet long)
Know where you can go
3. Practice Trail Etiquette
There are mandatory rules and regulations regarding pets in parks and then there is trail etiquette — or, as some prefer to call it, petiquette. It’s all about ensuring your dog is well-mannered during your hike and, importantly, not being a hindrance to passersby, natural habitats, or wildlife.
So, it’s important to level up your obedience training before hiking with your dog. Consider the following petiquette pointers:
Keep your dog leashed to ensure they’re under control at all times.
Yield to others on the trail, and recognize not every hiker will want to engage with your dog.
Never let your dog stray away to reduce damage to habitats and wildlife.
Obey dog-friendly park restrictions, and respect areas that are off-limits.
Hike with only one dog at a time, and manage your dog and only your dog.
Teach your dog a quiet cue to ensure they aren’t being verbally disruptive.
Of course, not every hike with a dog is perfect and we must prepare for unexpected incidents. For example, if your dog wrangles out of their leash, they should be able to respond to verbal cues to return to you.
Remember, not all pets are allowed in parks and your dog is a steward of the canine community when they visit one.
4. Abide by Leave No Trace — Especially With Dog Waste
Everything that goes into the park must come back out. That’s the premise of Leave No Trace. And yes, it includes when nature calls — for you and your dog.
Trash like wrappers or leftover food is unpleasant for other hikers, but dog waste can be detrimental to wildlife who might view it as a mark of territory if your pup is left behind. After all, dogs are not wild animals so their poop doesn’t belong in the wild.
For this reason, never enter a dog-friendly park without poop bags and, for safe measure, bring additional bags to double bag their waste. Also never leave dog poop bags on the trail to pick up later. It’s unsightly for others and, in the event you forget to grab it, not all materials disintegrate.
If you're backpacking with your dog or camping overnight, humans and dogs should both abide by the waste rule to bury it in a 6- to 8- inch hole that’s 200 feet from a trail or water source.
5. Begin a Trail-Training Regimen
Think of training to hike with dogs like training for a marathon, not a sprint. To get your dog physically and mentally fit for the trail, begin going on hikes in small increments and work your way up to longer stints, depending on how much energy your dog has left over after each practice hike.
And if you’re wondering, “Can my dogs go on long hikes?” ...well, it sounds like you’re wanting to push yourself so you might want to push your pup, too. Which means you need to practice patience to get them fully prepared for the trail.
Endurance training not only helps your dog’s stamina, but it also can toughen up your dog’s paws, which can take a lot of wear and tear from new terrains. You might want to consider applying a paw salve as a post-hike remedy.
Packing For The Trail: Dog Hiking Gear To Pack
The longer you hike with your dog, the more you’ll need to pack. It’s all about planning for your dogs’ needs on the trail and considering the most efficient way to carry their supplies, beginning with the pinnacle of dog hiking gear — the dog hiking backpack.
Dog Hiking Backpack
Also known as the dog pack for short, a dog hiking backpack is just what it sounds like: A backpack strapped to your dog that carries their dog hiking essentials.
They’re especially important for backpacking with dogs but also long hikes with your dog to offset all of the weight you’re carrying.
Most importantly, you want to ensure your dog hiking backpack fits your dog correctly, is weighted appropriately, and loaded evenly. How to know if a dog hiking backpack will fit your pup? A general rule of thumb is to measure the circumference of the widest part of your dog’s chest and find the corresponding size. Tip: Also consider a pack with a top handle to keep your dog close.
How To Acclimate a Dog to a Dog Hiking Backpack
Once you’ve purchased your dog hiking backpack, you need to get your dog comfortable wearing it. Begin by strapping the empty pack on them and having them wear it around the house, keeping the straps snug but not so much that it will rub or chafe them. After Fido’s fine with their new accessory, it’s time to add weight to it gradually — when you pack the dog pack, be sure it’s not lop-sided and always evenly weighted — generally until you max out at about 25 percent of your dog’s bodyweight. Consult your vet for the max weight for your pet.
Food + Water Essentials
The more energy we burn, the more fuel we need — and hiking with dogs can be a strenuous activity, for humans and dogs alike. For this reason, never leave your dog out of water breaks on a hike, and know that when you’re ready for a snack so probably is your pooch. After all, they’re burning many more calories than sitting on a dog bed at home.
Don’t go hiking with dogs without the following food and water essentials, especially if you’re backpacking with dogs:
Water bowl, preferably portable or collapsible
Dog food bowl, preferably portable or collapsible
Dog food, ideally dry and high in protein
Trail snacks or treats
In addition to nourishing your dog whenever you need nourishment, also be cognizant that your pup might be hungrier or thirstier than you. Generally, larger dogs drink around 0.5 to 1 ounce of water per pound per day, while small dogs drink closer to 1.5 ounces per pound per day.
Tip: Touch your dog’s nose and, if it’s dry, know it’s water break time. Also, consult your vet about how much food your pooch typically consumes per day.
Dog Hiking Apparel + Accessories
Now, we’re not suggesting your hiking dog get gussied up for Instagram for the trails. But we do encourage pet owners to consider some dog hiking apparel that can help stabilize their temperature and even protect their paws, like the following:
Dog hiking boots can protect your dog’s paws from rough, hot, or cold terrain. Just be sure to get your dog acclimated to them at home before relying on them for extended periods, like a hike.
Dog coats are especially practical for short- or no-haired dogs hiking in colder climates.
Reflective dog jackets, collars, or leashes are essential in case you’re out after dark.
Cooling collars, usually approached with a soak-and-wrap method, are a reprieve from the heat especially for long- or thick-haired dogs.
Collars or harnesses should be considered mandatory for your dog on the trail and should include an ID tag.
ID tags are important in dog-friendly parks and beyond, just in case your precious pup gets lost.
Leashes too are a must when hiking with dogs.
Dog Backpacking + Dog Hiking Gear
Whether you’re backpacking with Fido or are on a daylong hike with your dog, you might want to consider packing up these other items for a visit to a dog-friendly park.
Dog towels to wipe dirty paws before getting in a tent or car, or to dry off a wet dog.
Nail clippers or files to avoid nails damaging tents and to level off any hangnails.
Dog brushes or combs to clean your dog’s coat of any plant materials or burrs.
Safety lights in case you’re out after dark.
Poop bags to leave no trace.
Pet-safe insect repellents in case bugs are perturbing your pooch.
Toys to entertain your pup during downtime.
Instant ice packs to cool your dog.
Sleeping pads or tents that are large enough for one- to two- people, perchance you and your pup are camping.
Dog first-aid kits are a must.
Dog First-Aid Kit
As scary as it may be, there are no vets around in the great outdoors to care for our pet in the event of a hiking accident or medical emergency. For this reason, a dog first-aid kit is a must-pack when it comes to hiking with dogs.
But what should be in a dog first-aid kit? Consider including the following items when you’re hiking with dogs:
Phone numbers (veterinarian, emergency clinics, animal poison control center)
Guidebook to dog first aid
Non-stick bandages (or old wool socks)
Styptic pencil and/or swab
Multitool, with tweezers, pliers, and scissors
Old credit card (to remove bee stingers)
Dog brush or comb
Pain medicine/anti-inflammatory agents
Dog diarrhea remedies
Saline eye solution
Antiseptic spray or cream
More Pet First-Aid Kit Considerations
When hiking with dogs, the hazards don’t always stop at the trailhead. Accidents can also happen during road trips to a dog-friendly park and occasionally at home. As a nod to National Pet First Aid Awareness Month in April, we created printable checklists for you to curate a dog first-aid kit for every which scenario.
Precautions For The Trail: Hazards of Hiking With Dogs
Hiking with your dog isn’t the same as those regular jaunts you take to exercise your dog. So many scenarios can pan out in the wild. What if your dog gets bitten by a snake? What if you find a tick on them, or they eat something poisonous? While as pet owners we never want to fathom any of these things happening, we do need to be aware of them.
In addition to having your vet’s number on hand for a professional’s opinion, also be aware of the following trail hazards and possible canine conditions:
Overexertion: Watch if your dog is limping or breathing heavily. They may be overdoing it, perhaps because they’re excited.
Wildlife: Keep your dog leashed to ensure they’re away from predators and pests, including ticks.
Wild and poisonous plants: Play it safe and don’t let your pup canoodle with any plants in the wild.
Heatstroke: Watch if your pet is gravitating toward shady spots or panting heavily. They may be overheating.
Waterborne pathogens: Discourage your dog from drinking any water in a dog-friendly park other than what you bring in to avoid any parasites or bacteria like Leptospirosis.
Weather extremes: Cold snaps and heat waves happen, as well as downpours. Be prepared to safeguard your pet through all of them.
Falling: Dog-friendly hiking trails aren’t all smooth sailing. Some might have unstable cliffs or rough terrain. Be prepared to treat your pet accordingly.
Paw injuries: Your dog’s paws can take a beating outdoors, including from hot or cold surfaces. Be cognizant of where they’re stepping and consider dog booties.
A final note: Even if you're just going to scope out a trailhead, never leave your dog in a locked, hot car.
Of course, every trail system and park has its own hazards. Researching those specific to your trip beforehand can go a long way in offsetting these hazards of the trail.
10 Dog-Friendly National Parks With Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails
By now you’re probably wondering, well, where can I take my dog hiking? You might be surprised to discover some bucket-list national parks do permit pets. And some — but not all — even have dog-friendly hiking trails in their midst.
To that end, it’s worth noting every national park has its own pet policy, so be sure to brush up on where your pup’s permitted before entering. This will ensure you and Fido have a fine time and don’t face a stiff fine.
So, which national parks are pet-friendly? To take out any guesswork, we pared down 10 national parks that allow dogs on hiking trails, including some notable grounds and lesser-known natural wonders that happily welcome you and your trail dog.
Now, what do you say? Let’s take these dog hiking pointers outside!
1. Acadia National Park (Maine)
Meandering along the Atlantic coastline, Acadia National Park boasts 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads where pets are permitted, plus three campgrounds: Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods. Isle au Haut, accessible by ferry from the mainland, is also dog-friendly.
More strenuous trails, including Acadia Mountain, Penobscot Mountain, and even the coveted Cadillac Mountain (just the west face), are not recommended for pets. In addition, swimming is discouraged in the lakes and also beaches as to not disturb any wildlife. On the note of critters, pack your tweezers and beware of porcupines!
2. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
A little over an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park brims with scenic beauty for you and your trained-up trail dog. Think waterfalls, vistas, and wildflower fields, some of which run right alongside or right into the Appalachian Trail. Much of this is protected lands for deer, songbirds, black bears, and other wildlife.
Pups are permitted on all but 20 miles or so of the park’s 500-mile trail system, so you and your furbaby have a lot of ground to cover. Pack those dog booties!
3. Yosemite National Park (California)
A granite oasis in the High Sierras, Yosemite National Park is no doubt a bucket-list adventure for hiking enthusiasts and travelers alike. And believe it or not, you can bring your dog inside the park and let them enjoy the fresh scent of Giant Sequoias in developed areas, most all campgrounds, and on fully paved roads.
Worth mentioning is that Yosemite’s dog-friendly hiking trails are limited, with the 3.6-mile Wawona Meadow Loop the most regarded of the dog-friendly trails. Other areas where pets are permitted include Chowchilla Mountain Road and Four Mile and Eleven Mile fire roads, as well as Hodgdon Meadow. Remember, the restrictions are all in the name of safety, which is especially important in Yosemite’s bear country.
Can’t resist the urge to hike a dogs-not-allowed portion of the 1,200-square-mile national park? Consider dropping Fido at Yosemite Hospitality, a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley, for the day.
4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
Right outside of Cleveland and encompassing the Cuyahoga River, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has more than 110 miles of hiking trails, and dogs are permitted on 20 of them along the Towpath Trail.
For all their beauty, the forests, farmlands, and rolling hills for which Cuyahoga Valley National Park is so renowned also house one pesky critter: ticks. They’re most active from early spring until late fall, but discourage your pup from wandering into wooded or weedy areas on trails to avoid the bugs at all costs. As well, you might want to invest in trick prevention products like collars, sprays, or gels — refer to your vet for what’s best.
5. Zion National Park (Utah)
Known as Utah’s First National Park — and Americans’ most Instagrammable in recent years — Zion National Park has many miles of hiking trails and dogs are permitted on just one of them: Pa'rus Trail, a 3.4-mile out-and-back adventure along the Virgin River.
Leashed dogs are also allowed along public roads and parking areas, developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of the Zion Lodge. Need to take a day to explore the iconic pink sandstone cliffs on your own? The neighboring towns of Rockville, Hurricane, St. George, Kanab, or Cedar City all have boarding kennels.
6. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Where the park revolves around the deepest lake in the U.S. that’s nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake National Park also encompasses a 33-mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, and pets are permitted on this year-round. In just summer and fall, pets are also allowed on the Godfrey Glen Trail, Lady of the Woods Trail, and Grayback Drive, none of which have lake views — for a dog-friendly jaunt along the lake, consider the 1/4-mile paved promenade at Rim Village instead.
Pups are also permitted on paved roads, in parking lots, and up to 50 feet away from these areas when they’re free of significant snow. Yes, Crater Lake National Park sees a lot of snow — an annual average of 43 feet! No matter where you and Fido roam, have a dog coat and dog booties handy here.
7. Olympic National Park (Washington)
Enveloping nearly a million acres — and spanning ecosystems from glacier-capped mountains to rainforests — Olympic National Park has numerous dog-friendly hiking trail options: Peabody Creek Trail, Rialto Beach parking lot to Ellen Creek (1/2 mile), Madison Falls Trail, Spruce Railroad Trail, July Creek Loop Trail, and the beaches between the Hoh and Quinault Reservations. Mentioning beaches, Olympic National Park has plenty thanks to its 70 miles of coastline.
Discourage Fido from venturing onto tidal rocks, as the sharp stones and barnacles can cut their paws. Have that pet first-aid kit nearby, in case accidents happen. Want more hiking options? A different entity from Olympic National Park, the neighboring Olympic National Forest is teeming with dog-friendly hiking trails.
8. Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)
City-slicking dogs and pet owners alike might rejoice over Hot Springs National Park. It’s half urban park — following nine historic bathhouses dotting downtown Hot Springs’ streets — and half a hiking trail system. Dogs are welcome on all 26-miles of those hiking trails, boasting mountain views and rambling creeks. There are pet waste stations throughout the grounds, so no excuses to leave dog poop bags behind!
Also worth mentioning is it can get rather hot here in the summer, so bring water and consider dog booties to protect Fido’s paws on the paved, urban portion of Hot Springs National Park.
9. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)
National parks don’t get more pet-friendly than Congaree National Park. Here, dogs are allowed on every hiking trail, plus campgrounds and the boardwalk. That boardwalk is an elevated path above Congaree National Park’s bottomland hardwood forest — one of the hallmarks of this national park.
Other areas of the 26,276-acre park take hikers and hiking dogs under the canopies of champion trees, making up one of the tallest deciduous forests in the U.S. There are also longer treks available into the backcountry — you’re going to want your pup to wear their dog hiking backpack for these!
10. Mojave National Preserve (California)
This 1.5 million-acre desert wonderland is the third largest unit of the National Park System in the contiguous United States. Set in the Mojave Desert against sand dunes, Joshua Trees, and occasional wildflowers, the Mojave National Preserve has several developed hiking trails and numerous cross-country hiking opportunities. Dogs are welcome to all of them.
Just beware that heat exhaustion is real here, as temperatures can reach upward of 120 degrees in the summer months. Don’t forget to bring extra water and maybe even a cooling collar for your pup. In addition, steer your dog away from cactus spines and also any rattlesnakes or scorpions you pass along the trail.
40 More Dog-Friendly National Parks
Even as most national parks do welcome dogs past their entrance, many don’t allow pets on hiking trails. This is often to preserve wildlife habitats, park resources, and to protect your pet from tough terrain or even predators. Rather, our furry friends might only be permitted in developed areas such as in your cars while driving park roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas, and some trail systems where wildlife’s no worry.
To that end, we've rounded up 40 more pet-friendly national parks. Sure, some are less hiking-heavy, but each is a means for you and your furbaby to make new memories.
Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Devil’s Tower National Monument (Wyoming)
Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)
Colorado National Monument (Colorado)
Glacier National Park (Montana)
Grand Tetons National Park (Wyoming)
Northern Cascades National Park (Washington)
San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve (Colorado)
Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)
Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
Natchez Trace National Parkway (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee)
Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)
White Sands National Park (New Mexico)
Denali National Park (Alaska)
Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (Tennessee, Kentucky)
North Country National Scenic Trail (Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin)
Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)
Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana, Wyoming)
Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Death Valley National Park (California, Nevada)
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California)
Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)
Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
Devil’s Postpile National Monument (California)
Assateague Island National Seashore (Virginia)
Prince William Forest Park (Virginia)
Great Falls Park (Virginia)
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)
Buffalo National River (Arkansas)
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Experiencing new moments with our pets deepens our bonds with them and also builds trust. In the case of hiking with dogs, it also benefits our physical fitness and mental wellness thanks to being in the great outdoors.
With these dog hiking pointers in hand and pet first-aid kits prepared, you can bet your boots — or Fido’s dog hiking boots — that you’ll knock your adventure out of the park.... just be sure to double-check if it’s a dog-friendly park first.
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