If there's one conviction to which we hold tight, it's that life is better with dogs. From the dawn face-licking wake-up calls to the absolute unabashed euphoria at walk time, dogs enrich our lives and are a constant reminder to drink in the now. If you didn't catch it on Brendan Leonard's blog last week, you should cruise through his new essay, Dear Dogs:. It's an excellent ode to the downright good-naturedness of our favorite four-legged companions and a reminder that, as humans, we really could take some pointers.
Fodder for the pro-dogs on backpacking trips argument is easy to conjure: warmth in the tent, complete lose-your-mind happiness at every single body of water, photo ops, etc. As an added bonus, you can find a dog pack that makes it easy and comfortable for them to carry their own food. So, when your map is spread on your table and you're scheming the next backpacking adventure, one of your first criteria is probably the dog-friendliness of the trail. You already know to steer clear of national parks. Bummer, true, but below you'll find 10 of our dog-friendly favorites replete with show-stopping views, tree trunks for sniffin', and pristine backcountry campsites.
Before you embark, check out two important posts we've recently written:
The short of it: LEAVE NO TRACE. Leaving green poop bags in the wilderness and letting your dog tromp around off-trail is a huge no. Just…don't.
Wind River Range, WY | 17 miles | 1,800-foot elevation gain
Even simply arriving at the trailhead aptly illustrates why this is one of the classic backcountry destinations in the Rockies. Though it's relatively hard to get to (think 40 miles of gravel road), intrepid backpackers are rewarded with sweeping meadows, alpine forests, and jaw-dropping geology. Doggie heaven? Maybe.
San Juan Mountains, CO | 6 miles | 2,815-foot elevation gain
The San Juans in Southern Colorado are some of the most breathtaking and colorful mountains that grace the topographically fascinating state. Though access is relatively difficult and expensive—the Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad is the only way in—backpackers are rewarded with plentiful campgrounds, alpine lakes, and nearly spring-to-fall wildflower blooms.
The Wallowas, OR | 20 miles | 3,190-foot elevation gain
Though the long tromp in can feel laborious (for you, certainly not for your pup), the payoff is worth it again and again. The pristine alpine lakes that dot the Wallowas are ridiculously picturesque and will entertain and satiate dogs that have most certainly doubled your mileage by zigzagging across the trail the whole way.
Sawatch Range, CO | 27 miles | 8,000-foot elevation gain
This is a Colorado backcountry classic. Most complete it in three or four days, and we say the more the better—it's impossible to drink in the sweeping scenery on a flyby. Also, the miles are long and steep—pay close attention to your dog's ability and be sure that you're allowing for ample rest and rejuvenation.
Unita Mountains, UT | 12 miles | 1,000-foot elevation gain
Hello, alpine meadows and a plethora of lakes. Though many choose to do this one as a day hike, the quality of the campsites makes them incredibly hard to pass by. Likewise, the terrain isn't too rugged and the elevation gain isn't extreme, so smaller or older dogs will have a much better time on this one than the Four Pass Loop.
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC | 22 miles | 2,166-foot elevation gain
Because of the rugged and varied terrain, this region is home to one of the last virgin old-growth forests in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though the climbs are relatively steep, most are on the short side and earn access to campsites with sweeping views of sunrises and sunsets. Because of the significant variety and prevalence of wildlife here, it's important to keep your dog leashed or well within sight.
Humboldt, CA | 25 miles | No significant elevation gain
Though this one is necessarily an out-and-back or a shuttle, it provides access to one of the last incredible untouched beaches in the west. Beachy campsites abound as do incredible ocean views, quiet trails, and tons of wildlife. If you head out there, be sure to grab a tidal chart—being surprised by rising water is a poor way to wake up.
Trinity Alps, CA | 17 miles | 4,000-foot elevation gain
Though this trail is no cake walk, the geological interest and perfect solitude of the wilderness is well worth the effort. This is a trail suited to high-energy, young dogs. The payoff at the and of the trail: the peridotite-stained Red Trinities. Perfect.
Mount Baker Area, WA | 8 miles | 4,7000-foot elevation gain
It's easy to access, stunningly beautiful, and not too far of a drive from Seattle. Score. Towering Shuksan steals the show from this trail's namesake lake as it rises 9,131 feet into the sky. At any number of backcountry campsites you'll hear water tumbling from the Curtis Glaciers, and perhaps even some rumbling sounds from the glaciers themselves. The soundtrack is unbeatable, and we'd argue that the adventure on the whole is as well.
Metolious River Area, OR | 12 miles | 2,400-foot elevation gain
Here, both the journey and the destination are truly spectacular. With Mount Jefferson towering over hikers and campsites and an undulating and fascinating trail, it's all intrigue and adventure or humans and canines alike. Plus, one of the most dog-friendly towns in the country, Bend, Oregon, is just down the road.