How far your dog can hike will vary significantly based on multiple factors, including her age, breed, and fitness level, as well as the length and difficulty of the hike. The easy trail at your local nature center is a far cry from hiking a 14er—a mountain with a peak above 14,000 feet. If you’re considering adding regular treks with your dog to your outdoor adventures, research, preparation, and training are critical before hitting the trail.
How Far Can My Dog Hike in a Day?
A healthy bird dog who hunts every weekend can hike upwards of 10 miles with ease, while an energetic but short-legged French Bulldog probably can’t hike many more than two miles. When you begin contemplating hikes with your dog, it’s time to take an honest look at yourself, at her, and where you’d like to venture.
The best dog breeds for hiking include Vizslas, Labrador Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Huskies, among others. But these breeds aren’t automatically trail-ready. Even naturally athletic dogs must work up to long, challenging hikes over time.
If your best friend isn’t especially sporty, don’t worry—you can still enjoy hiking with her. Two mountaineering Dachshunds named Gretel and Summit gained an Instagram following for their outsized trail cred. When training for hikes with short-legged and toy dogs it’s important to build their stamina over time and bear in mind their physical limitations.
Whatever your dog’s breed, her age, weight, and physical fitness will inform your trail choices. All dogs lose some of their strength, stamina, and agility as they age, and older dogs often develop joint problems. If your dog is overweight, stick to easier trails until she drops some weight and her fitness level improves. Avoid hiking long, challenging trails with a puppy, because overexertion can damage her growing bones and joints. Finally, brachycephalic dog breeds—Pugs, Chows, and Bulldogs, for example—are best kept to the short and easy path because their flat muzzles can cause breathing problems and lead to overheating.
Where to Hike With Your Dog
Your favorite trail-finder app might be able to suggest some great hikes, but when you see something you like, do your own homework and double-check the dog information. It’s important to “know before you go” when hiking with your dog.
When it comes to federal lands, rules can vary. Lands administered by the National Park or Fish And Wildlife Services focus on conservation; to fulfill their mission, they tend to be more restrictive to dogs. Many national parks don’t allow dogs on many of their trails; look into the more dog-friendly national parks so your adventure isn’t an exercise in frustration. Forest Service lands, found throughout the country, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the West, operate under a directive that includes recreation. These tend to be more welcoming of canine hikers, but dogs still don’t have carte blanche.
Plenty of state parks, local parks, and preserves feature trails that welcome dogs. Check individual websites for guidelines on areas where dogs are welcome, leashing requirements, and seasonal restrictions. If you’re wondering about the best breeds for each state, take into account weather or availability of parks and trails.
Even dog owners in dog-friendly cities can often find hikes within a short drive. Check with other outdoorsy dog owners and at local outdoor retailers for good trail tips, too.
Where Can I Hike With My Dog Off-Leash?
Check the resources above: trail finders, and websites of local parks and preserves, state parks, and federal lands. In the entire national park system, only Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California allows canines to romp off leash, at the park’s dog-friendly beach beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Make sure you and your dog are truly ready for the responsibilities of off-leash hiking. If you’re looking for ways to exercise her off-leash but you aren’t sure you’re ready to share the trail responsibly, keep practicing while allowing her off-leash exercise at a dog park or on land you won’t be sharing with other hikers.
Can Dogs Hike the Appalachian Trail?
Dogs are welcome on most sections of the Appalachian Trail. A leash is absolutely required on the 40 percent of the AT that runs through national parks, and it’s not a bad idea to keep your dog leashed on the rest of the trail, too.
In general, long-distance through-hiking trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide trail pass through a patchwork of lands that bring with them a patchwork of dog regulations. Since each trail features some sections that do not allow dogs, it would be illegal (and a bad idea) for a companion dog to perform a complete through-hike.
Each trail’s main advocacy group is a great place to start your research. The Pacific Crest Trail welcomes dogs—usually leashed—along much of its length, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association provides a partial list of sections that do not permit dogs to help you plan. If you’re through-hiking the Continental Divide Trail, your dog will need alternative accommodations for the sections that pass through national parks, including Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Yellowstone.
Train Your Dog to Hike
You can train your dog to hike by focusing on these four skills:
- Socialization – Socialize your dog so she is calm and comfortable encountering new dogs, people, and situations.
- Leash behavior – She’ll need to hike on a lead of six feet or less without pulling.
- Obedience – For trail etiquette and for her own safety, train her to respond to your first utterance of the Come, Leave It, Sit, Stay, and Quiet commands. Hiking off-leash? Have this control mastered at a distance.
- Fitness – Gradually increase her strength and endurance.
Before training your dog to hike, schedule a checkup. Your veterinarian can tell you if she’s healthy enough for hiking, and ensure she is up to date on her vaccinations and flea and tick preventives.
As with all dog training, when you work on increasing your dog’s strength and stamina, patience is critical. Take it slow and don’t force your dog to hike longer or harder trails before she’s ready. She’ll do her level best to stick by your side and could hurt herself. Spend a few weeks enjoying the easy trails before adding extra miles incrementally. Each time you increase the length or difficulty of a hike, evaluate her closely for signs she’s approaching the limits of her endurance.
Train your dog to wear a pack incrementally, too. Start with an empty pack, and gradually add weight. Some healthy, athletic young adult dogs in peak physical condition might eventually carry up to 25 to 30 percent of their body weight. That’s a significant workout—think how much that would be for you to wear while you hike. Many dogs will be capable of hiking more happily, for longer, carrying 10 to 12 percent of their weight instead. So after conditioning, a strong, healthy dog who weighs 50 pounds might easily hike with about 5 pounds of cargo.
Hiking Safely With Your Dog in Any Weather
Some people hold that “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”—but that’s not entirely true for dogs. It’s your job to do some planning ahead to hike safely with your four-legged friend.
When Is It Too Hot to Hike With Your Dog?
For many dogs, it starts getting too hot to hike around 70°F to 75°F, with low humidity. Some breeds and individuals can happily hike at higher temperatures with low humidity, while others shouldn’t hike when it’s 70 degrees at all.
You’ll have to use good sense, planning, and observation to keep your dog safe. Watch the humidity as much as you do the temperature: Panting cools dogs by evaporating moisture from their lungs. Humidity interferes with that evaporation—preventing a dog’s panting from cooling her down.
In general, a dog will have a harder time handling heat and humidity if she is:
- A large or giant breed (like a German Shepherd, Mastiff, or Irish Wolfhound)
- Built for cold conditions (like a Husky, a Malamute, or a Bernese Mountain Dog)
- Brachycephalic (short-faced, like a Pug, Boxer, or Bulldog)
- Conditioned to cool weather (as she’ll be on the first few warm days of the season)
- Still a puppy
How to Keep Your Dog Cool on a Hike
- Plan to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.
- Pack her plenty of water.
- Give her ample opportunity to rest and drink.
- Take breaks in the shade.
- If you cool her with water, use it on her core—her chest and “armpits”—not her head or back.
Prepare ahead of time by checking the temperature and humidity, knowing your route, knowing the signs of heat stroke, and packing her plenty of water. Observe her closely and don’t take chances that will put her at risk.
Hiking With Your Dog in the Snow
Most dogs can manage a hike in the snow, though how far will vary based on breed and physical fitness. Arctic breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds, were bred for frosty adventures and can hike in the snow for miles when healthy. Most robust, double-coated dog breeds can handle medium to long hikes in the powder.
Breeds with single coats and low body fat don’t have the insulation they need to stay warm in the snow for very long. Think of lean dogs with close, short fur, such as Boxers, Whippets, and Doberman Pinschers. Toy and short-legged breeds can’t manage the snow once it piles up beyond a few inches. These breeds usually prefer brief walks in the snow, and require the extra warmth of a dog jacket if they’ll be outside for more than a few minutes.
Hiking Mountains with Your Dog
Many dogs can hike up a mountain, and it’s the pinnacle of outdoor adventuring for lots of avid hikers and their best friends. Factors to consider before hiking a mountain with your dog include her fitness level, the weather, the ruggedness of the terrain, and the steepness of the ascent. Peaks that require mountaineering gear are not realistic for most people hiking with their dogs. But most mountains offer easy (Class 1) trails that make great hiking options for you and your dog. When hiking a mountain, always bring abundant drinking water for yourself and your dog. Train her to wear a pack so you have backup supplies, and put booties on her to protect her paws from craggy rocks that can easily cut her pads.
Here are some questions to help guide your decision to hike a mountain with your dog, or to stick to the lowlands.
Dogs and the 14ers of Colorado
14ers are mountains with a peak elevation above 14,000 feet, and they’re risky for people and dogs. The US has 96 of these mountains, the bulk of which are in Colorado. Elevation sickness is an issue, as is the weather, which is prone to dramatic shifts the higher up you hike. Technical 14ers are a definite no-go for dogs, but there are easy (Class 1) trails you and your dog can hike on many 14ers. Summiting is another story and possible for only a very few dogs.
East Coasters: Try the Highest Point in New York
Mount Marcy is one of the most dog-friendly High Peaks in New York State, and healthy, experienced canine hikers can manage this mountain in Lake Placid. The primary trailhead leads to a popular trail for avid hikers and their dogs. It’s 7.4 miles to the summit, with some steep climbing over open rock near the top.
Or, Go Bigger With the Highest Point in the Northeast US
Most people opt to drive their best friends to the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, but there are plenty of dog-friendly trails lower down the slopes. Dogs are welcome to hike many of the trails in Mt. Washington State Park.
We’ve highlighted these mountains because they’re our neighbors in the Northeast, but all mountain ranges across the US offer at least a few dog-friendly trails.
Clearly, questions about hiking safely with your dog don’t have simple answers. Just remember the most important factor is the furry one sitting next to you on the couch. Take a good look at your dog and she’ll let you know how far—and high—your hiking adventures should take you.