Long distance hiking with a dog is a great reward at the price of great commitment. If this is your first time to my blog and you plan on hiking long distance (150+ miles) with your dog, please consider reading, “Long Distance Hiking With a Dog: Don’t Do It!”
If you still can’t be talked out of bringing your dog, at least be selective about where you bring him/her. There are certain trails that are more dangerous to hike with dogs, for various reasons. Trails that are extremely hot and/or dry, whose tread is spiky or sharp on the feet, that enter multiple National Parks, that have a lot of rattlesnakes or wolves, that require bushwacking or scrambling, or simply are so far away that your dog would be stuck in the bottom of a plane for an unreasonable amount of time, are not great for dogs. Here are my top 3 picks for long distance hiking with dogs in the U.S.:
1. The Pacific Crest Trail, Washington Section
The PCT through Washington is my number one recommendation for someone who would like to take their dog on a long distance hike. It is 500 miles from the Canada border to the Oregon border, and it offers some beautiful alpine scenery.
Dogs are allowed the entire length of the PCT through Washington, including North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier National Park (they must stay within the PCT corridor). Along the PCT in Washington, it would be extremely rare to encounter a poisonous snake, wolf, or grizzly bear. There is very little poison oak and the occurrence of Lyme disease acquired by ticks in Washington is very, very low (as it heartworm, from mosquitoes).
The average high temps in Washington, even in the hottest month (August) are still 20F+ cooler than the desert on the south end of the PCT. And, water is relatively plentiful. Also, the trail itself is not exceptionally rocky, like many parts of the Appalachian Trail.
The only thing to be careful about in Washington would be the sheer amount of wildlife. Pikas, marmots, deer, black bears, grouse, skunk, and mountain goats are all regulars. Make sure your dog is on a leash or has very good recall.
2. The Colorado Trail
My dog, Sage, has hiked the Colorado Trail with me. It is also up there with Washington as far as a great trail to hike with dogs. The Colorado Trail is 486 miles through the Rocky Mountains. There is only one place dogs are not allowed, and that is at the Northern terminus (there is an alternate beginning, that is just as beautiful and doesn’t include a road walk). And, hitchhiking with a dog into the awesome ski towns along the trail is pretty easy.
Of special concern in Colorado is giardia. Despite treating my water, I have acquired giardia more than once on the CT (and never on any other trail). It would be a good idea to have giardia (metronidazole) and diarrhea (loperamide) meds on hand for your dog (and you).
You should also be aware that moose are pretty common along parts of the CT, and they can have a bad attitude toward dogs!
3. The Long Trail
Although I haven’t hiked the 272-mile Long Trail that runs the length of Vermont, I am told it is a good trail for dogs. The LT does not go through any National Parks, it doesn’t get very hot nor have any poisonous snakes, water is plentiful, and resupply is easy.
The LT can be rugged in parts. Make sure to have good fitting booties if your dog is not used to a rocky terrain.
And, be careful in Vermont to have your dog vaccinated for Lyme Disease and have him/her on a topical tick preventive as well. You should also be doing heartworm preventive if you don’t already. See my article on “Long Distance Hiking With a Dog: Pre-Trail Health” to make sure your dog is covered for all of these trails.
There are definitely other trails that could work, depending on your dog, and maybe whether you would be willing to hike the trail in the less optimal time of year (for you). But, that is all part of the sacrifice. Happy tails!