dog thru hike

dog thru hikePlan­ning a thru-hike is stren­u­ous enough, but throw­ing a dog into the mix turns the plan­ning process into a part-time job. You’re now putting togeth­er food lists, emer­gency prep plans and try­ing to build packs for two, and one of y’all can’t exact­ly lend a help­ing hand. If you’re con­sid­er­ing tak­ing your pooch on your next long-dis­tance hike here are the pros and cons you need to keep in mind.

Pro: You’ll have a friend
Thru-hikes can be lone­ly endeav­ors and, even for the most intro­vert­ed among us, weeks with­out inter­ac­tion can become drain­ing. Hav­ing your four-legged best friend on hand means you nev­er have to go it alone and won’t be lack­ing in com­pan­ion­ship. He might not be able to talk to you, but he’ll be hap­py to just sit around and lis­ten to water with you. Plus, there’s zero chance of you get­ting into heat­ed argu­ments about who ate the last Clif bar.

Con: He’s kind of high maintenance
Dogs are great com­pan­ions but they’re also pret­ty damn needy. They’ve got to be exer­cised inces­sant­ly, which the trail will take care of, but they also have to be watched like a hawk so they don’t get into trou­ble. Your dog won’t real­ize that cop­per­head on the trail isn’t his friend and it’s up to you to make sure he doesn’t try to play with it. He’s also going to try and eat every­thing in sight, so you’ll have to be extra vigilant.

Don’t for­get about clean­ing up his poop!

Pro: He’ll keep you warm
Most thru-hikes last mul­ti­ple sea­sons and at some point you’re going to feel that cold air nip­ping at your heels. Your dog will glad­ly stand in to help keep you from freez­ing overnight. Pups make great cud­dle bud­dies when they’re not try­ing to stretch and push you out of the tent.

Con: He’ll need extra training
Basic com­mands aren’t going to be enough to keep your dog safe on the trail. You have to be cer­tain he’ll come when called, stay by your side when instruct­ed and, most impor­tant­ly, leave things alone when you say. Oth­er­wise, you’re ask­ing for trou­ble and some pret­ty hefty vet bills—if you man­age to get him to a hos­pi­tal in time.

Sign your dog up for train­ing class­es that focus on off-leash skills, but also reassert your own abil­i­ties to make him fol­low the sim­ple direc­tions most dogs should already know. It’s life and death out there.

Pro: He’ll help you make friends
There’s noth­ing bet­ter to help you make friends than hav­ing a dog by your side. They’re def­i­nite­ly peo­ple mag­nets with their adorable faces and affa­ble per­son­al­i­ties so they can help you out if your social skills kind of suck. Believe it or not, meet­ing peo­ple out on the trail is actu­al­ly one of the best parts of doing a thru-hike.

Con: He can’t car­ry his own weight
While your dog might be able to han­dle a small load over his back, don’t expect him to do any heavy lift­ing. A thru-hike is hard on a dog’s body and con­trary to pop­u­lar belief it’s not safe to stick extra gear in his pack that you don’t want to car­ry your­self. He isn’t a pack mule and his back can’t han­dle much extra weight, espe­cial­ly over long dis­tances, so you’ll have to han­dle his food your­self. Speak­ing of which, if you for­get to add that to one of your resup­ply box­es you’re going to have a bad day.

There are plen­ty of argu­ments for and against tak­ing your dog along with you on a thru-hike, but with prop­er plan­ning it can safe­ly be done. Whether or not you’re up to the task is some­thing to seri­ous­ly con­sid­er before head­ing out. Your dog can be a great com­pan­ion if done prop­er­ly, or a huge lia­bil­i­ty if you go in half-baked.

Want to take your dog onto the trails with you, but chaf­ing under the restric­tions in place at many Nation­al Parks? No worries—we’ve got you covered.

Katy Trail State Park, MO
Affec­tion­ate­ly known to locals as sim­ply “The Katy,” this state park stretch­es 240 miles along the for­mer Mis­souri-Kansas-Texas (or MKT) rail­road cor­ri­dor. Its pri­ma­ry fea­ture? 237.7 miles of rail trail run­ning from Clin­ton to Machens. With 26 dif­fer­ent trail­heads and four ful­ly restored rail­way depots along the route, you and your leashed pup will have plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to stretch your legs and soak in the sights of the Mis­souri Riv­er and its bluffs. Com­bine an easy day hike from the St. Charles trail­head with a pic­nic at scenic river­side Fron­tier Park, or pad around the his­toric dis­trict and learn about the state’s orig­i­nal capital.

Olympic Nation­al For­est, WA
The Olympic Nation­al Park might have rules for would-be Bark Rangers, but the nation­al for­est has far few­er restric­tions: dogs are wel­come through­out the for­est, includ­ing all trails, wilder­ness areas, and camp­sites, as long as they are under your con­trol. Take your blood­hound sniff­ing for vam­pires in the Forks region and camp along the Sol Duc Riv­er, or head into the Buck­horn Wilder­ness toward the Sil­ver Lakes along the Mt. Townsend Trail for a mod­er­ate­ly tough trail through conifer for­est and rugged moun­tain topog­ra­phy. With over 250 miles of trail and more than 88,000 acres of wilder­ness through the wilds of the gor­geous Pacif­ic North­west, noth­ing but hap­py tails await!

Chugach Nation­al For­est, AK
5.4 mil­lion acres of nat­ur­al won­der­land encom­pass­ing por­tions of Prince William Sound, the Kenai Penin­su­la, and the Cop­per Riv­er Delta—and all of it open to you and your leashed dogs, no per­mits or trails required. If the thought of just head­ing off into the wild blue yon­der of griz­zly coun­try seems unrea­son­ably risky, there are plen­ty of devel­oped trails you can explore. Try the Byron Glac­i­er Trail near the Begich-Bog­gs Vis­i­tor Cen­ter in Portage Val­ley for an easy day hike along­side a rush­ing creek right up to the toe of a moun­tain­side glac­i­er, or give your dog the chance to walk in the paw­prints of super­stars along sec­tions of the Idi­tar­od Nation­al His­toric Trail like the chal­leng­ing Crow Pass—which, at 21 miles point-to-point, is often rec­om­mend­ed as a multiday.

Ange­les Nation­al For­est, San Gabriel Moun­tains Nation­al Mon­u­ment, CA
557 miles of hik­ing trails, includ­ing 176 miles of the mighty famous Pacif­ic Crest Trail, right in Los Ange­lenos’ back­yard? Sign us up! You might not be able to com­plete a pure thru-hike of the PCT with your pooch, but if you want to be able to say that you’ve done some miles with man’s best friend, here’s your chance. Dis­persed camp­ing is avail­able through­out the for­est, too, so stuff that back­pack (and con­sid­er one for your canine companion—unless you’d rather pack out their poo in your bag!) before you hit the road to extend your trip. Just remem­ber that every­one with four feet needs to remain on a leash no greater than six feet long and you’re good to explore!

The Appalachi­an Trail
If you just so hap­pen to have your heart set on a nice, long thru-hike, the Appalachi­an Trail is the way to go. With only three regions into which your pup can’t fol­low you (that’d be Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park, the Trail­side Muse­um and Wildlife Cen­ter in Bear Moun­tain State Park and Bax­ter State Park), that still leaves about 2,000 glo­ri­ous miles of wag-wor­thy trail for you to enjoy togeth­er. And you don’t have to do it all at once! If you’d rather spend a day strolling, try mod­er­ate­ly rat­ed Black­rock trail just out­side of Har­rison­burg, VA for an easy two-mil­er, or Mount Grey­lock State Reservation’s trail The Cob­bles for just over two miles of out-and-back wild­flower view­ing near Cheshire, MA.