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The Best Dog Friendly Hiking Trails in the United States

Haley photo


March 19, 2023

Dog Enrichment

The Best Dog Friendly Hiking Trails in the United States thumbnail

Ready to hit the trails with your dog? Whether you’re looking for an easy walk or a multi-mile trek, there’s a pet friendly hiking destination that’s perfect for you and your pup.

We’ve put together some of the country’s most popular dog-friendly trails for you to explore — along with a checklist of what to know ahead of time and some frequently asked questions about dog friendly parks and wilderness areas. Let’s dive in!

Know Before You Go: Dog Friendly Hiking Trail Checklist

What to bring with you on a hike with your dog

Here are a few things to bring with you when visiting any dog friendly hiking trail in the United States.

Carry multiple dog waste bags

Keep your parks and hiking trails clean! Always pack a few extra poop bags in case you need to pick up after your pup — and consider scooping any left-behind piles you come across, too. This will make the environment safer for everyone who visits.

Pack drinking water

Some public parks or trailheads offer water bowls or fountains for your dog, but it’s a good idea to pack some of your own just in case. Never leave your dog’s hydration up to chance, especially on hot days — and even more important if you're going to be covering miles of trails.

Have your dog wear a collar or harness with ID tags

It’s important to bring a well-fitted collar or harness along with your dog’s identification tags, especially if you’ll be out in the wilderness on your dog-friendly hikes. You might also consider some type of GPS tracking device so you can always keep tabs on your pet — even if they get out of sight.

Bring a leash or two

Along with a collar or harness, bring a leash, even if the hiking trail you’re visiting is a designated off-leash area. This way you can keep your dog under control while walking to and from the trailhead.

You might also consider packing an extra leash in case you need to grab hold of another dog or intervene if a conflict arises — and it’s a good idea to read up on leash laws in your local area before venturing out.

What to do before going into a dog friendly hiking trail system

Research the trail ahead of time

Read reviews and be on the lookout for any common issues, like unruly dogs, left-behind waste, or treacherous terrain. Consider downloading a digital park map or even investing in an old-school hard copy if you'll be away from cell service.

It can be hard to find reliable information about some public hiking trails (one reason Sniffspot’s private listings might be a better option) — so when in doubt, don’t risk it. Your dog’s safety and comfort are too important.

Brush up on your pup’s basic cues and obedience training

Different trails will require your dog to have different skills. It’s a good idea to think about recall training and loose leash walking in particular to maintain good hike etiquette.

Make sure you have basic knowledge of dog body language

This will help you make sure your dog is enjoying their time and keep everyone safe! Know what signs might indicate that your pup is stressed or overwhelmed — and be ready to step in to prevent an on-leash greeting or off-leash interaction on dog-friendly trails if needed.

You can read more about interpreting your dog’s body language in this article.

Types of Dog Friendly Hiking Trails

There are so many options to choose from across North America. Here are some of the common categories of pet friendly hiking trails!

  • Off-leash hiking trails: These trails allow dogs to hike off leash, usually so long as they're under voice control. While leash laws are generally in place for safety, some trails are actually safer when your pet isn't attached to you due to rough terrain that they might cover at a different pace. This is often true of many mountain trails that end in beautiful, panoramic views at their summits.
  • On-leash hiking trails: These trails allow dogs on leash, usually with some type of length requirement that can vary depending on each route.
  • Public park trails: Whether or not you call these trails "real" hikes is up to every individual — but we think they count! Dogs are welcome at many public parks and their paths, including many easily accessible paved trails, throughout the United States.
  • National forest and BLM land: Our country boasts several national forests and Bureau of Land Management areas that allow for backcountry recreation opportunities. Sometimes these areas aren't official trails but rather networks of forest service roads, but don't let that stop you: The United States has public land covering all sorts of terrain from mountains to forests to waterfalls and everything in between. These areas are especially popular for overnight trips.

The Best Dog Friendly Hiking Trails in the United States

It would be impossible to round up every pet friendly trail in our expansive country — but we’ve compiled some of the most highly rated options below.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s a good idea to browse your local parks and recreation department website or check out national forest land in your state! You never know what hidden gems you’ll come across.

Struggling to find a pet friendly hiking trail near you?

Sniffspot might be the solution!

Sniffspot is the largest network of private dog parks for rent in the world. Each of the thousands of Sniffspot dog parks are hosted by locals on private land with 100% private bookings to maximize safety for guests and their dogs. Sniffspot offers various types of dog parks, including fenced fields, dog beaches, wooded trail systems, and more. Click here to learn more about Sniffspots near you and filter by hiking trails!

Garden of the Gods (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Off leash? No

You are welcome to bring your leashed dog to Garden of the Gods, a Registered National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, CO. You can enjoy hiking on the scenic trails that meander through red rock formations and marvel at the breathtaking views and landscape with your furry companion!

Pets are also permitted inside the Visitor and Nature Center — something that isn't true at national parks throughout the United States — but it's important to keep them out of indoor dining spaces. Please make sure to clean up after your dog during your visit.

Acadia National Park (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Off leash? No

Acadia, located on the Maine coast, is one of the most popular pet-friendly national parks! Almost all 120 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads within the park allow pets, with the exception of a few direct routes that require climbing on iron rungs or ladders.

The only restricted areas are Duck Harbor Campground, Wild Gardens of Acadia, and Echo Lake Beach and Sand Beach during high season (mid-May to mid-Sept). Everywhere else, your furry friend is welcome to accompany you, including on the free shuttles that transport visitors around the park!

Custer State Park (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Custer, South Dakota
  • Off leash? No

Custer State Park provides visitors with 71,000 acres of breathtaking scenery and outdoor adventures that are dog-friendly, allowing leashed dogs to accompany their owners throughout the park. The 18-mile Wildlife Loop is a great way to explore the park and observe its native wildlife while driving with your pet. In addition, there are various dog-friendly hiking trails available for visitors to enjoy, such as the 7-mile Black Elk Peak Loop, which offers stunning views of the Cathedral Spires and Black Hills Wilderness. However, it is important to note that designated swimming beaches and park buildings, including camping cabins, lodges, and comfort stations, are off-limits to dogs.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Canyon, Texas
  • Off leash? No

Located in Canyon, TX, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a breathtaking and dog-friendly destination near the Texas Panhandle. This natural wonder was formed over millions of years through water erosion and stretches 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. The canyon's rim stands at an elevation of 3,500 feet above sea level, and it is often regarded as the second largest canyon in the United States.

The Lighthouse Trail is one of the most popular dog-friendly routes in the park, and it is best explored during the cooler months between September and May. Visitors and their leashed dogs can enjoy the stunning views of colorful cliffs that surround the valley and take in one of the park's most iconic rock formations.

Great Sand Dunes National Park (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
  • Off leash? No

Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado features the tallest dunes in North America, located in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra.

Pets are permitted up to the top of the first tall ridge of dunes, located between High Dune and the Castle Creek Picnic Area, and throughout the adjoining Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. It's important to remember that the sand can become hot, so it's best to go early in the morning or late in the evening to protect your pup’s paws.

Washington Park Arboretum (public hiking trails)

  • Location: Seattle, Washington
  • Off leash? No

Washington Park Arboretum, located in Seattle, WA, welcomes leashed pets. This makes it a great destination for dog owners! Visitors can enjoy extensive trails that wind through the beautiful park and are filled with numerous benches for resting. The park is also home to a variety of local wildlife, providing a unique and natural experience for both pets and their owners.

Handyland (private Sniffspot hiking trail)

  • Location: Owenton, Kentucky
  • Size: 200 acres
  • Fenced: Yes

Soak up the vintage and rustic charm of Kentucky! Handyland is nestled on top of a ridge with 200 acres of land you can explore while visiting. The hosts have a pond and a large creek that runs right through our property along with beautiful rolling hills that make for a great landscape to enjoy the sunrise or sunset.

Triple Lake Ranch (private Sniffspot hiking trail)

  • Location: White Oak, Texas
  • Size: 30 acres
  • Fenced: Yes

Enjoy this ranch property for you and your furry friend to roam and get some exercise! There is a pond for swimming and trails to explore, along with shade cloth to sit and relax and enjoy the view while your dog plays.

Puppy Paradise (private Sniffspot hiking trail)

  • Location: Salado, Texas
  • Size: 30 acres
  • Fenced: Yes

Puppy Paradise’s goal is to create an outdoor daycare and boarding option for larger dogs or dogs with high amounts of outdoor energy. The hosts hope their Sniffspot listing enables owners to experience the joy of Puppy Paradise while also having some space to themselves to recreate privately!

Meracle Acres (private Sniffspot dog park)

  • Location: Dousman, Wisconsin
  • Size: 50 acres
  • Fenced: No

Meracle Acres is a huge private dog park with 50 acres of woods, trails, and ponds dotted throughout the property. The hosts note wild animal sightings sure to keep your dog on their toes, along with patches of grass, sand, and all the other midwest terrain you could dream of.

Note that this area is not fenced, so you’ll want to make sure your dog has a solid recall before you visit.

Maple Ridge Farms 100 Acre Woods (private Sniffspot dog park)

  • Location: Otsego, Michiga
  • Size: 100 acres
  • Fenced: No

Yes, you read that right — Maple Ridge Farms private Sniffspot features 100 acres of land for you and your dog to enjoy. You’ll have to come back multiple times to enjoy it all, and you won’t run into a single other soul! The trails are well maintained and often home to birds, deer, and plenty of other interesting wildlife.

Note that this area is not fenced, so you’ll want to make sure your dog has a solid recall before you visit.

FAQ About Dog Friendly Hiking Trails in the United States

Why do some hiking trails not allow dogs?

We know it’s a bummer as dog lovers — but there are several reasons why some hiking trails do not allow pets to join their owners.

  • Wildlife conservation: Many hiking trails are located in areas where there is significant wildlife population — often made up of sensitive or endangered species. Dogs can disrupt or harm the natural ecosystem. For example: Dogs may chase or attack small animals (such as birds and rodents) or disturb larger animals (such as deer or bears) which can be dangerous for both our furry friends and the wildlife.
  • Safety: Hiking trails can be dangerous. Dogs can sometimes pose a safety risk for both themselves and other hikers.
  • Trail maintenance: Some hiking trails may have fragile ecosystems or sensitive areas that require careful maintenance, and dogs can damage the environment by trampling on vegetation, digging holes, or leaving waste.

Ultimately, the decision to allow dogs on a hiking trail is up to the trail management or the local authorities, and they will consider the safety and environmental concerns associated with dogs on the trail.

Why do some hiking trails require dogs to be kept on leash?

Leash laws are often a compromise where dogs don’t have to be banned entirely but are still under control to limit environmental impact.

  • Safety: Keeping dogs on a leash can help prevent them from running off and getting lost or injured. It can also keep them from approaching other hikers or wildlife, which can be dangerous for both the dog and others involved.
  • Environmental protection: Many hiking trails are located in sensitive natural areas where off-leash dogs can cause damage to vegetation or disturb wildlife. Keeping dogs on a leash can help minimize this impact and preserve the natural environment for everyone to enjoy!
  • Trail etiquette: Hiking trails can become crowded, and not all hikers may be comfortable around off-leash dogs. Keeping dogs on a leash can help ensure that other hikers feel safe and respected on the trail.

Are off-leash hiking trails dangerous?

The answer to this question depends greatly on the specific rules and culture of each individual hiking trail.

On crowded trails where off-leash dogs regularly greet one another, it can be difficult to ensure all interactions are positive. Uncertain dogs are easily overwhelmed by quick approaches from strangers — if the trail is narrow without adequate space to flee, these pets can quickly feel trapped or resort to the “fight” option of fight-or-flight reactions.

After a few stressful experiences, previously shy dogs can lose trust in their owners and even become fear aggressive.

Sniffspot takes these risks seriously. That’s why all of our private dog park listings, including hiking trail systems, are carefully booked to make sure there’s ample time between arrivals and departures — and you can filter listings by whether or not your dog is likely to see any other animals at all, even from afar.

Can one bad experience on a pet friendly hiking trail have a lasting effect on a dog?

Even a previously social dog might develop a behavior issue (like fear reactivity) due to a negative interaction with another dog in a public place. Perhaps they get subtly bullied, feel overwhelmed, or are even bit — and they decide to preemptively try to keep other dogs away from them. Now your social dog is selective or even aggressive toward others.

While some dogs seem to let those negative interactions roll off their back (especially if they’ve been well socialized since puppyhood) others are affected in lasting ways. Each dog and situation is different. It’s important to be mindful whenever hiking or walking with your dog.

Haley photo


March 19, 2023

Dog Enrichment

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