Coloradans love their dogs and love taking them outdoors. Adventures abound near Denver and all around the state, whether it be mountains, foothills, sand dunes or plains, and taking our animal counterparts with us should be an enjoyable experience. But hiking trails in Colorado are shared-use areas, where horseback riders, bicyclers, trail runners, hikers and dogs congregate to enjoy the terrain and fresh air. When dog owners follow certain spoken and unspoken trail etiquette, hiking with our furry, four-legged companions will not only be fun for us, but for everyone else too. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking with your dog as well as a list of dog-friendly hikes in Colorado.
What You Need To Know
Getting outdoors might feel synonymous with unleashing your dog, but the hard-to-swallow fact for many dog owners is that leashes are required on most trails for many reasons. Unleashed dogs, even if they are well-behaved most of the time, can pose serious problems to other users of the trail as well as the natural flora and fauna. Not all dogs are friendly with other dogs and unleashed dogs may cause aggression issues from leashed ones. Also, the natural way most dogs would greet one another is on a curved path, whereas meeting face-to-face on the trail may excite them in an unpredictable way. Some hikers may not like dogs, some may be allergic, some may be frightened if one runs up without an owner, even if that owner is running behind the dog yelling “s/he’s friendly!”
In order to allow your dog off-leash on trails, it needs to be trained with voice commands to the extent that it will heel, stay and sit before ever running up to another trail user at any time. There are certain areas that have designated “off-leash” areas which are always very clearly marked.
The least glamorous aspect of being a dog owner, but an important one, is taking responsibility for your dog’s poop. Even though wild animals take their number two’s in the forest, your dog does not have a wild animal’s diet, so your dog’s excrement will be an invasive addition to the environment. The number one rule for dog poop is to pack it out — and that does not mean bagging the poop up and leaving it hanging on a nearby bush or tree. For a more environmentally-responsible way to pack it out, buy compostable doggy bags.
Other Trail Users
On shared use trails, hikers should always yield to other trail users (bicycles, horses, trail runners) and that especially applies to hikers with dogs. For this reason, dog-owning-hikers should be extra aware of their surroundings while on the trail to ensure they are ready to step out of the way or off the path to let someone else pass. Generally, on trails with steep elevation changes, the hikers descending should yield to hikers ascending, unless the ascending hikers are stopping for a rest.
No Dogs Allowed
National Parks in Colorado, like Rocky Mountain National Park, do not allow dogs on trails or in the backcountry, though they allow them on six-foot leashes in campgrounds and on any roads that vehicles use. Other trails that do not allow dogs will have signage marked at the trailhead, though it is advisable to check online before loading your co-pilot into the Subaru. Once you find a dog-friendly trail (see our mapped guide below), make sure your dog “stays the trail” just like you. Hiking in the wilderness can be a dangerous thing for a dog (or person) unfamiliar with the terrain.
Wildlife and Dogs
There are two kinds of interactions that dog owners should avoid on trails and while camping: their dog as prey and their dog as a predator. Both of these situations are less likely to happen if the dog is on a leash and the owner is in control, but even then, awareness of your surroundings is key. Some animals, like the high alpine pikas and the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, are already at risk without the addition of your dog chasing them down. Other animals can pose a serious threat to you and your dog, like moose, mountain lions, porcupines and snakes. Knowing if those animals have been spotted or are usually in an area is essential, and keeping your dog on leash from dusk to dawn is most advisable. Hiking and camping always involve risks, which means that hiking and camping with your dog adds extra responsibility to your plate. Keep an eye on your furry friend — whether under leash or voice control — at all times because they may warn you before prey or predator approaches.
A Mapped Guide to Dog-Friendly Hikes
Let us tell you right now, some of these hikes and parks are not free. For some, you need to pay parking. Others, you actually need to pay an entrance fee. These (usually small) fees are what help to keep our lands clean, safe and available. So, throw on a smile when you hand the attendant that cash, because it’s worth it — you will appreciate it and your dog will definitely appreciate it. We promise.
Lory State Park Loops, next to Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins, 6.6 miles, moderate to hard
Dome Mountain Trail, Big Thompson Canyon Near Loveland, 9 miles, moderate
Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail, west of Loveland, 4.4 miles, easy, very popular
Bear Peak, outside Boulder, 7.7 miles, strenuous
Wheeler Pass Trail, part of the Colorado Trail, near Breckenridge, 13.5 miles, hard
Notch Mountain, near Red Cliff, 9.6 miles, expert only
Mount Thomas Summit Trail, near Basalt, 9.3 miles, moderate
Kelly Lake Trail, near Walden, 13.2 miles, hard
Marvine Loop Trail, near Meeker, 21.4 miles (overnight), hard
Rainbow Lakes, near Nederland, 2.6 miles, easy
Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs, 10 total miles of trails, easy to hard
North Cheyenne Canyon Park, near Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs, 56 total miles of trails, easy to moderate
Elk Meadow Park, South Loop, Jefferson County, 2.6 miles, easy
Red Rocks Trail, in Red Rocks Park near Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 6 miles, moderate
Alderfer and Three Sisters Park, Evergreen, .2-10 miles, easy to moderate
Golden Gate Canyon State Park, 35 total miles of trails, easy to hard
Eldorado Canyon, near Eldorado Springs, 11 miles one-way, easy to moderate
Elk Range Trail, Centennial Cone Park near Golden, trail closes during hunting season and on even-numbered weekend days for bikers, 6.6 miles, easy
Forsythe Canyon to Waterfall and Gross Reservoir, near Nederland, 2.2 miles, easy to moderate
Flatirons Vista Loop Trail, near Boulder, 3.3 miles, easy to moderate
Indian Peaks Wilderness, west of Boulder, 133 total miles of trails, easy to hard
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, 15 total miles of trails, easy to moderate
Argentine Pass, East of Keystone, 16 miles, moderate to hard
Meyer’s Ranch, Conifer, 4 miles, easy
Lair O’ the Bear, west of Morrison, 1.3 – 12.6 miles, easy to hard
Buchanan Pass Trail, begins at Camp Dick in Indian Peaks Wilderness, 7.7 miles, moderate to hard
Hermit Park Open Space, Estes Park, 13 miles of trails, easy to moderate
Three Mile Creek Trail, near Bailey, 14 miles, moderate
Rosalie Trail, near Bailey 12.4 miles, moderate
Scott Gomer Trail and Abyss Lake Trail, near Bailey, 14.6 miles, moderate to hard
Colorado and dogs go, shall we say, hand-in-paw. Make the next Colorado adventure you go on somewhere your furry pal can come too. Keep our wilderness clean, keep your dogs safe and have a blast visiting all of the destinations you and your dog can discover together.