Many of us have the lovable pets that we think about all the time when we are out and away from home. Its typically after some longing time away that you start to think about whether you can take them on your next thru-hike, what better a companion could you have?
While the answer may sound like it should be a resounding yes, the best answer in almost all cases is no. There are many hazards on the trail which can be escalated by pets like bears, snakes and more. This in addition to the need to carry more gear means this is more often than not a bad decision.
What happens should you find yourself at an impassable section of the thru-hike? Things like ladders, steep climbing and on the PCT there is steep cliffsides that all can be very dangerous to you and a dog in tandem. Let's explore this more in-depth, base our discussions on each trail and the benefits and drawbacks in which bringing your best friend you may encounter.
A question I see online frequently is whether or not dogs are even allowed on the big three trails. Additionally, people frequently ask if there are sections of the trail that are favorable or not to having dogs travel with you.
Within the Appalachian Trail there are sections where dogs aren't allowed which will mean working on a partner system with someone to help pick up your dog and drop them off after the restriction area ends.
This does mean that your dog wont complete the thru-hike with you from end to end, depending on your beliefs this may be all you need to leave them at home.
Dogs are NOT allowed in three areas along the A.T.:AT Website
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina (72 miles)
Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Zoo, New York (1/4 mile - an alternate road walk is available, which must be used by all hikers after hours)
Baxter State Park, Maine (14 miles)
There are sections on the PCT where a dog is not allowed to hike with you, this means if you wanted to hike the PCT with your dog you would need to plan for someone to pick them up from you and drop them off after the sections where they can't travel.
This increases your issues as you will then need to be in consistent contract with those who will pick up the dog. Travel on the trial isn't always a precise figure and you may end up to the location early or late so flexibility is important in the person who agrees to assist you.
Can I thru-hike with my dog?
Bringing your dog the entire way is not allowed, therefore a “pure” thru-hike by a pet dog is illegal. Leash laws vary, but one regulation that you won’t get around is the total ban on dogs on the trail in some National Parks and California State Parks.
You will not be able to hike the entire trail accompanied by your dog. For certain sections, you’ll have to leave the trail. Before the start of a restricted area, go to town and find a place to board your dog. You might have a friend dog sit. Then hike the park and then return to pick up your dog.PCTA Website
The CDT has some exceptions where dogs aren't allowed to travel with you which will, like the AT and PCT above require some additional planning and preparation before you leave. Make sure if you have someone pick them up that you coordinate the pickup location in advance in case you are running behind or ahead of schedule.
Dogs are permitted along most of the CDT, except in Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park. Make plans to board your dog while you hike these sections, or plan to skip them altogether. Many other areas require pets to be leashed at all times; please check the regulations of the local land manager for the section you’ll be hiking.CDT Website
Let's just get it out in the open, bringing along your best friend who just loves to spend time with you and can't give you as much grief as another human may sound like a trip come true. They are someone who just wants to genuinely be with you every minute of the day and exploring is in their blood.
They can help you manage yourself and not overexert your body since they will want stops for water that aren't over "miles per day" or making town by such and such day. Sometimes they are what will make you stop and smell the roses and truly enjoy your journey instead of solely focusing on the intended endpoint.
All of the positives above can make it seem like there can be no real downsides but unfortunately, there can be plenty of issues that make a dog a difficult partner. Just starting from the basics, they don't have shoes and you are planning to walk the long and hard daily grind for 2000+ miles which their paws are not typically prepared for.
I understand there are boots or shoes which can be bought for your dog which can help ease this impact overall. The next part of the trip which offers issues is in carrying the extra 5-7 days worth food and water that you will need to feed them, increasing your pack or an unnatural load on their bodies.
The next part which makes bringing your dog not a good choice is that the terrain can lend itself to many problems for you and your dog. Many places have ladders or vertical climbs/ascents which your dog won't be able to accomplish on their own without you or them being in danger.
Next, you have to take into account how dogs tend to interact with other nature. Most dogs will do their best to defend you even when they would be less at danger listening and following your lead, for example barking at the bear or pouncing at a snake. I would hate to have my dog get in mortal danger where I can't provide them help and assistance.
In researching distance that many dogs can travel the information leads to around 20 miles a day as feasible depending on their level of fitness. This number will obviously be different based on conditions like their health, age, physical size and the terrain.
If you would like to read more there is a good article here by Outdoor Dog Fun which can provide you even more in-depth information on distances.
This will be more or less based on who you find as a good company while hiking. As I would love to see dogs out on the trail, I love my 2 puppies with everything I have, because of that I will take them on overnight camping trips but not out on the thru-hikes I take. Honestly, I like the peace and quiet I get on the trips but I also appreciate the unending love they provide when I come home versus the looks of my wife when I get back stinky and smelly.
I would love to say that would be everyone on the trail but this would be incorrect. There are always people on the trail, as in everyday life, that seem to be deathly scared of all dogs and feel that they don't belong. While not too frequent they still exist out in the wild and if you do bring your dog you should keep a wide berth from them so as to not deal with the grief.
Please make sure that you take care of your dogs like you would for yourself, you need to practice LNT principles with your dog as well as yourself. This is frequently overlooked and can lead to disease spreading as it takes a very long time for many of the common diseases to die out, you need to clean up the poop and bury it at least 8 inches deep.
Whether you choose to hike with your dog is really a personal decision and should be carefully considered which requires you to prepare efficiently. You need to figure out how to help your dog handle the time where they can't hike along side you and how you will meet back up again.
I would personally love to hear from anyone who chose to bring their dog or dogs along with them and what their experiences yielded to their trip, I know I would love to bring my Drax along but he is stubborn and ill-fitting to a trip of 5 months on the road at this point.