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A brief guide to the most stunning and accessible trails open to canine hikers in the United States.

Image via the Times of San Diego

For the owners of the estimated seventy-eight million pet dogs in the United States, finding time to spend with their companion animals can be difficult. Many people juggle work, hobbies, relationships, school and parenting with pet ownership. In fact, around 44 percent of American households have a dog, which means that a very large percentage of Americans must take their pets’ needs into careful consideration whenever they travel.

Because hiring a pet-sitter or taking your pet to a kennel can be expensive and time-consuming, many people prefer to take their pets with them when they hit the road. However, this can be difficult for pet owners who wish to vacation in areas that don’t welcome pets, which unfortunately includes many national parks and national monuments. These areas are often anti-pet in many ways.

Hiking, biking and climbing are all very popular activities in the United States. For the pet owners who wish to bring their animal companions with them on their adventures, it can take some time to hunt down the best and most accessible pet-friendly hikes. Many of the best-known trails in the United States do allow pets, but have strict rules limiting where dogs can and cannot go. Most national parks and national forests allow pets on certain trails if they are restrained tightly by a six-foot-long or shorter leash.

For the pet owners who prefer to give their hiking companions a bit more freedom, there are alternatives to hiking in the country’s restricted national parks and forests. In fact, there are a few national parks that will also make the list simply because they are, when compared to other national parks, quite dog-friendly. Below are some of the very best dog-friendly hikes in the United States.

One great dog-friendly and accessible hike is the Cascades at Lake Mohigan. An off-leash park with great trails, swimming spots and dog-friendly supplies along the trails, this recreation area in Fairfield, Connecticut, is the perfect place to day-hike with your dog.

For hikers with dogs living in or around Los Angeles, Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park in southern California is a great place to visit. With views of downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean beyond, this park is both visually stunning and very dog-friendly. It is an off-leash park, so pets can have just as much fun as their owners. However, because there are no public bathrooms along the trails and it tends to be very hot in the summer, it’s recommended that hikers bring plenty of water for themselves and their dogs.

Bar Harbor, Maine, is home to one of the best dog-friend national parks in the country, as Acadia National Park is known to be one of the most dog-friendly (if not the most dog-friendly) national parks in America. Although dogs aren’t allowed to be off their leashes in the park, they are allowed on most of the park’s many trails. There are around one hundred miles of hiking trails in this beautiful natural area that are dog-friendly, so long as your pet remains leashed. With opportunities spanning from climbing the East Coast’s tallest mountain to camping in the beautiful, scenic Seawall, Blackwoods and Schoodic Woods campgrounds, Acadia National Park is the perfect place for avid hikers to take their canine companions.

Another dog-friendly gem is Mississippi’s Natchez Trace trail. This beautiful route through the wilderness has been called Mississippi’s most pet-friendly attraction, due to the fact that pets are allowed to accompany hikers on any of the park’s many exhibits and trails. Although pets must be kept on a leash at all times and are not allowed inside park buildings, the Natchez Trace trail’s rich history, cultural importance, archeological significance and calm, natural serenity makes it a top pick for hikers and their pets.

For hikers traveling to Hawaii with their pets, walking the Kealia Trail is a must. Located on the island of O’ahu near the city of Honolulu, the trail is accessible year-round and welcomes both dogs and horses. Although the trail is only 7.5 miles long, it is very steep and contains plenty of switchbacks. However, it is fully worth the climb to get to the trail’s most scenic spots.

The island’s North Shore and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the fixed-wing gliders landing at Dillingham Airfield, are visible from many places along the trail. Because it can get very hot in Hawaii, especially during the summer, it is advised that all hikers bring plenty of water for themselves and their pets. While the trail itself isn’t overly long, the tropical heat and the steepness of the climb can quickly cause dehydration in both humans and animals.

For hiking enthusiasts who plan to visit North Carolina with their pets, the North Carolina Arboretum is the place to go. A pet-friendly 434-acre park with ten miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult, this park is a lovely place to spend some time in nature. Although pets are not allowed in some of the park’s cultivated gardens, as well as the park’s buildings, they are allowed on all the trails if they are kept on a leash. The park also contains several streams, which dogs can swim in.

Dorothy Lake, in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness, is another dog-friendly natural gem. A mere two miles from the trailhead, Dorothy Lake is the perfect place to relax and play with your pet. Or, if you’re an avid hiker who wishes to add a few extra miles to your journey, Beer Lake and Deer Lakes are also destinations further down and up the trail.

In fact, if you plan on backpacking all the way out to distant Snoqualmie Lake, there are even camp sites along the trail available for the most ambitious hikers and their canine companions. If you plan on hiking this trail, however, keep in mind that there is no source of filtered water. Visitors are also required to have a Northwest Forest Pass when they sign in at the head of the trail.

Lastly, for those hikers interested in taking a walk in the desert, Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon is a spectacular pet-friendly destination. Only a half-hour drive from Las Vegas, this conservation area allows dogs on all the trails. If dogs are kept on six-foot leashes, they are also allowed in the park’s campgrounds and even in the visitor center. However, due to extreme hot temperatures and desert conditions, it is recommended that pet owners bring plenty of water for themselves and their pets. It is also advised that hikers keep an eye out for snakes and scorpions, which are known to share the trail with people and pets.

Apart from the hikes listed here, there are many other great places to visit in the United States with your pet. Most national parks do allow leashed pets on some trails, but some are more dog-friendly than others. The most important thing to remember when hiking with your canine companion is to check the rules and regulations concerning pets before going out on any trail. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as the fine for walking dogs off-leash or in restricted areas in national parks can result in a minimum fine of $75.

The other important thing to remember is to always, always bring water. Heat and exertion can kill, no matter where you are. Make sure the you and your pet always have enough water each time you step out onto the trail.

Lastly, remember to respect other hikers and have fun. Happy trails!

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