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Hiking with Dogs in Washington: 5 Things You Need to Know

Hiking with a dog can help awaken your senses to the wonders of Washington's wild places. Your pups smell new smells and get tuckered out. And you have that extra incentive to get out of the house, hike to a beautiful destination and get great exercise.

 Hiking with a dog is different than hiking with another person. It adds layers of complication and responsibility, too. From choosing dog-friendly trails to etiquette to ensuring your four-legged buddy stays safe, we've got tips and answers to the most frequently asked questions about dogs on trails. Click on a link below to take you to the answer or scroll down.

Dundee the Aussie Shepard's first backpacking trip. Photo by Raechel Youngberg.jpg
Dundee the Aussie Shepard's first backpacking trip. Photo by Raechel Youngberg.



Can I take my dog on a hike, and does she have to be on a leash?

Rules for dogs vary from one land agency to another, but what doesn't change is that dogs should always behave in a responsible manner. Even in areas where dogs are allowed off leash, your pet should always be under voice control—this means that your dog will come when called. If your dog does not come when called, you should keep your dog on a leash. And no matter where you are going, you should always bring your leash with you.

Here's a rundown of some rules specific to certain lands across Washington.

1

National PArks

Dogs are prohibited on all trails in Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. They are also not allowed on trails (except the Pacific Crest Trail) in North Cascades National Park. In addition, dogs are not allowed on beaches in Olympic National Park, except Rialto Beach 0.5 miles north of Ellen Creek; all Kalaloch beaches (from Ruby Beach south to South Beach); and the Peabody Creek Trail.

2

National Forests

Dogs are generally permitted on U.S. Forest Service trails. There are several areas, however, where dogs are permitted but must be on leash. Certain areas do not permit dogs at all — these include the popular Enchantments area and Ingalls Lake Trail which are home to heavy hiker use and fragile ecosystems.

Dogs also must always be on leash on many trails in the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This includes most trails accessed from I-90 and on Highway 2 west of Stevens Pass. Leashes are also required on several popular trails in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

If you're unsure whether or not your dog should be on-leash, your best bet is to hike with him or her leashed.

3

Washington State Department of Natural Resources

Most Washington State DNR trails, including Mount Si and Tiger Mountain, require that dogs be on a leash.

4

Washington State Parks

Dogs are welcome at state parks but must always be on a leash. Dogs are not allowed at swimming beaches.

5

King County Parks

Dogs must be leashed on all King County trails, including Cougar Mountain Regional Park.

Rules and regulations can vary from trail to trail, so check at the trailhead for posted information. Or call the local ranger station.

A snowy trip to Paradise. Photo by Joey Johnson.jpg
A snowy trip to Paradise. Photo by Joey Johnson.

Why should I have my dog on a leash?

Dogs should be on leash to keep them, and other hikers safe. 

  • Because you care about your dog's safety

    Leashed pups are safe pups. There are a lot of natural hazards out there: cliffs, sharp rocks, boulders, rivers and creeks, even wild animals. An off-leash dog is much more likely to get hurt or lost than one on-leash.

    And then there are other dogs. Will they like each other, or won't they? If not, it is best if you can easily pull your dog away from the other one and continue hiking.

    Finally, consider other wildlife. If your dog gets between a mama bear and her cub, it could develop into a bad situation for both of you.
  • To be courteous to other trail users

    You may have the nicest dog in the whole world, but other people don't know that, and they may be uncomfortable around any dog. An unleashed dog heading towards a hiker can make them wonder: Where are it's owners? Is it lost? Is it friendly? How is it going to react to meeting my dog or my kids?

    Hiking with a dog on a leash is especially important on busy trails and ones frequented by families with children. From their short perspective, dogs appear very big to kids. And the stakes are high. A frightening encounter with a dog on trail can lead to a life-long fear of dogs or of hiking.

    Hiking with your dog on a leash is a simple, courteous thing to do - and your dog is still going to have a great time (and you might get a little extra help going up the mountain!).
  • To respect wildlife

    There are few dogs that have the self-control not to dart off after a squirrel, marmot, or pika. A leash keeps these critters safe in their natural environment, and makes sure your dog doesn't get lost or hurt dashing off after them.
  • To protect the vegetation

    Unfortunately, dogs—no matter how well-trained—are not as mindful of fragile mountain plants as hikers are. This can be the case on trail, when dogs veer off into the trees or romp in a meadow while bounding ahead of their owner. But it is particularly true at the hiking destination, especially lakes, when you stop to rest. These places usually get more impact from hikers anyway, and dogs compound that. The higher you travel, the more fragile the vegetation gets. So keep a close eye on your pets in these locations.
  • Because you're following the rules

    As mentioned above, dogs are required to be on leash in all parts of the Issaquah Alps trail system, on state park trails, DNR lands and on trails leading into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness - plus most other trails. Pack your leash and check the signs at the trailhead to see what the rules are and please follow them, even if other hikers are not.

What's the best etiquette for dogs on trail?

As a hiker, you are responsible for your own actions. As a dog owner, you have an added responsibility: your dogs actions. By following these simple canine hiking guidelines, you will go a long way to making the trails enjoyable for everyone.

  • Obey the rules specific to the trail you're visiting. Some trails are closed to dogs and many require leashes. Check with the land manager before you head out or consult the signs at the trailhead. You can also search our Hiking Guide for dog-friendly trails.
  • Keep dogs on a leash or under strict voice control at all times. Strict voice control means the dog immediately heels, stays at heel and refrains from barking. 
  • Yield the right-of-way to hikers. When dog owners meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow other users to pass.
  • Yield the right-of-way to horses. When dog meets horse, the dog owner must first yield the trail. Make sure the dog stays calm, refrains from barking and doesn't move toward the horse. If possible, move to the downhill side of the trail (so you don't look big) and hold your dog close until the horse is well past.
  • Pick up or bury the poop. The only poop atop the forest floor should be from the animals who live there. Pack a trowel and bury the waste as you would your own, or better yet, pack it out in a plastic baggie. Do not leave a baggie by the side of the trail or hanging from a tree to get later.

While most hiking trails allow dogs, that doesn't mean that they're dog-friendly. Obstacles that hikers may not find difficult can prove insurmountable for their dogs. Boulder fields, rooty and rocky trailbeds, cliffs, stream crossings and snow are all important features to take into consideration before heading out.

So how do you find a trail that is good for dogs? We recommend purchasing one or both of the Best Hikes with Dogs books by Mountaineers Books. There is one for the Inland Northwest and one for Western Washington. Each have 75 to 80 dog-tested hikes to try.

WTA's Hiking Guide also offers dog-friendly hikes to browse. 

If you're just starting to hike with your dog, try some easy trails first. See how your dog does crossing small streams, balancing on bridges and dodging big boulders. Determine how much water and food are required for a day hike, how well your dog adjusts to a pack and how she fares with elevation gain and mileage. As you get to know what kind of hiker your dog is, you'll know what to look out for with the trails you choose.

Washington Pass by lizquist.jpeg
Washington Pass. Photo by lizquist.

What should I bring for my dog on the hike?

You know about the Ten Essentials you should always have in your pack. Here are the Essentials for Dogs:

  • Obedience training 
    Before you set foot on a trail, make sure your dog is trained and can be trusted to behave when faced with other hikers, dogs and wildlife.
  • Leash and collar 
    Always carry a leash, even when it is not required. Situations may arise that warrant leashing your dog.
  • Water and bowl 
    Don't count on finding water along the trail. Pack enough for the entire day. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for your dog's day hike.
  • Dog food and treats 
    Keep your dog well fed on the trail, because she will burn more calories than usual. Bring extra snacks in case you get lost and need to spend the night in the woods.
  • Plastic bags and trowel

    Be courteous and leave the trail as you found it. Packing out your dog's poop is the best etiquette - or bury it as you would your own waste (200 feet away from the trail and water sources).
  • ID tag and picture identification 
    Make sure your dog is properly identified with tags should she become separated from you. Put a photo of your dog in your pack.
  • Doggy backpack 
    Let your dog carry her own treats and water. Check that packs have reflective areas for night hiking and are padded for a comfortable fit.
  • Basic canine first-aid kid 
    Includes gauze pads and tape in case of cuts, a couple of bouillon cubes to encourage the dog to drink if she's getting dehydrated, and antibiotic cream for dressing wounds that might be infected.