Spanning over 2,200 miles between Georgia and Maine, hiking the Appalachian Trail with a dog (affectionately known as the A.T) is a ‘must’ on any hiker’s bucket list.
It covers a variety of breathtaking landscapes and is a true testament to the beauty of the 14 states it passes through. As a bonus, a majority of the trail is dog friendly. Who wouldn’t want to take their best friend on one of the world’s greatest walks?
Whether you hope to complete the full 2,200 miles or only a portion of the hike, like us, tackling the Appalachian Trail is a beautiful way to bond with your dog in the great outdoors. So many scents and sights for you both to explore!
Before you set off, let’s cover the most frequently asked questions hikers have about tackling the hike. We’ll also share our favorite tips and tricks for planning your trip and hiking the Appalachian trail with a dog.
Planning Your Hike
The list of information available on the Appalachian Trail is almost as long as the hike itself. It can be incredibly overwhelming to plan such a big walk, particularly when you also need to accommodate your dog.
Let’s break down the key points and look at what you absolutely must know before planning your hike.
Hiking the Full Appalachian Trail vs Short Section Hikes
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, completing the full thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail will certainly scratch that itch. Before planning a full thru-hike, you will need to look at:
How Long the Hike Takes
The average hiker takes anywhere between five and seven months to walk the Appalachian Trail from start to finish. This will vary depending on the abilities of you and your dog, weather conditions, and trail conditions.
Your Mental Stamina
The A.T is mountainous terrain, and the full hike can be very demanding both physically and mentally. You will be away from home for likely over six months and at some points will have very little communication with others.
Your Physical Ability
Starting with shorter day hikes along the trail is a great way to get a taste of its landscape. The elevation gain and loss of the trail over the full course of the trail is the equivalent of hiking to Mt Everest and back from sea level sixteen times – that’s a pretty major undertaking!
Completing the trail will take great physical effort from both you and your dog, so be sure to take the time to adequately prepare yourselves beforehand.
Considerations when Hiking with Your Dog
You need to be prepared to put your dog first. This might mean something as small as skipping out on hotels or hostels during town stop-overs if they aren’t dog friendly, or even having to stop your hike early if your dog isn’t coping.
This can be a difficult choice to make in the moment, so think carefully about the sacrifices you’re prepared to make to have your best friend by your side.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy found that the average hiker spends over $1,000 a month. This covers stop-offs and accommodation in local towns, equipment replacement, and the replenishment of supplies.
It doesn’t account for costs such as boarding your dog through sections of the trail, medical care for your dog, and other potential expenses for your four-legged friend.
The Full Trail May Take Too Long
If you’re operating under time constraints like we were, there’s still plenty to see on the many day hikes and shorter overnight trails.
For our first trial, we completed the Mau-Har Trail Loop in Virginia while away camping. It was a great teaser for the rest of the trail and encouraged us to explore other sections.
While many recommend this as an overnight hike, we chose to spread it over two nights to be able to enjoy ourselves a little bit more. This was a much better pace for our dog, also, as the terrain was quite rocky.
Each state has options like the Mau-Har Loop to choose from, so there’s absolutely no need to feel that you’re missing out if you can’t complete a full thru-hike.
So, Can My Dog Hike the Full Appalachian Trail?
This is one of the most common questions hikers have when beginning to plan their trip. Technically the answer is no – but stay with us for a second!
There are three sections of the hike that your dog will not be permitted to travel through. These are:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee and North Carolina
This stretch of the trail is approximately 71 miles long and includes the Appalachians’ highest peak, Clingmans Dome.
Baxter State Park, Maine
The northernmost 15 miles of the trail will lead you through Baxter State Park, Maine. This section of the trail is not dog-friendly.
Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center – Bear Mountain State Park, New York
The Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center is a wildlife exhibit and mini zoo that houses a number of injured animals. This section of the trail can be bypassed by taking the Blue-Blazed By-Pass trail that links Bear Mountain State Park and Bear Mountain Bridge, making it a minor issue when planning a trip with your dog.
For a more detailed look at these sections and where they are in relation to the rest of the trail, you can find the official map here.
While these sections may look like a large chunk of the hike, they really are only a minor inconvenience. Many hikers manage to work around these restrictions.
Consider Boarding your Dog
One option is to board your dog in a kennel while you tackle these sections without them. You can also choose to simply skip these sections of the trail entirely and pick back up when dogs are allowed again.
How To Access the Trail
The Appalachian Trail can be accessed by bus, train, and car from over 500 public points. Since you’ll have your dog in tow, you will need to arrange access via your own vehicle or via a support person.
Traditionally, thru-hikers will begin at the Springer Mountain start point in Georgia before heading north into Maine. If you are only looking to complete a partial hike, you can simply choose your preferred starting state and set off!
Remember that you and your pooch will need a way home once you’ve finished your hike, too. Having a support person arranged will help you get home safely and give you somebody on standby should things go wrong.
Etiquette with Dogs on the Trail
Regular trail etiquette applies to dogs and hikers while on the A.T.
Leave no trace, and be sure to bury any waste or take it away in a doggy bag when possible.
Dogs are only required to be leashed on parts of the trail that pass through National Park Service-administered lands. Apart from this, they are free to be unleashed at their owner’s discretion.
Personally, I preferred to keep my dog on a leash for the majority of our partial trail hike. I wanted to be able to manage their safety and behavior around the surrounding wildlife.
It isn’t unusual to encounter bears or snakes on the trail, and I know that my dog can be difficult to recall in certain situations. Consider your own dog’s training and personality when deciding which style will work best for you.
You will see other people and dogs out on the trail and, like in any public setting, it’s best practice for dogs to be leashed. This keeps both your dog and other hikers comfortable and lets everyone have some control over the situation.
Even if your dog is friendly, you can’t guarantee all the dogs you pass will react in the same way.
If you do decide to give the leash a miss, practice the same etiquette as you would on any other off leash dog trails. Keep a close eye on your dog and don’t allow them to approach hikers, dogs, or campsites without approval. While you love your dog, other hikers may want to keep their distance, especially at their campsite.
A well-behaved dog will make any hike easier. There are a few basic commands that you and your dog should perfect before setting out.
I would suggest working on the following commands:
- Leave It
- A recall command (such as ‘come’ or ‘here’)
These will help keep your dog safe on the trail, while also ensuring a pleasant experience for both yourself and other hikers.
Pack List for Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog
At the minimum, I would recommend bringing along the following items. Even on our shorter trek, we found that this gear played a massive part in keeping our dog happy and comfortable.
Portable dog bowl
Portable dog bowls are light, compact, and will allow you to track your dog’s food and water intake. One bowl should be more than enough.
Whether you’re completing a thru-hike or a smaller trail, your dog will be using substantial amounts of energy. It’s crucial to ensure they are getting enough nutrients to sustain them.
Since you won’t be able to carry six months’ worth of food on you, you also want to select a brand that will be readily available during your in-town stopovers. A sudden change in your dog’s diet can cause issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting. To prevent this, it’s best to introduce any dietary changes well in advance of your trip.
A high-quality leash or harness
Since you’ll be using this for the majority of your walk, you may need to upgrade your current leash or harness. Stick to the style of equipment your dog is used to.
Anyone who hikes with their dog will agree that losing their pup on the trail is one of their biggest fears. An up-to-date, clearly printed ID tag on your dog’s collar can make all the difference in this situation.
First aid kit
Every hiker knows the importance of a well-stocked first aid kit. This also applies to dogs!
You can find a full list of our first aid kit essentials for dogs here.
The Appalachian Trail is known for being rough and rocky. You need to make sure that you’re taking proper care of your dog’s paws along the way to prevent any injuries or long-term damage. While their paws will adjust overtime, nobody wants to see their best friend suffer.
It’s best practice to break in any booties on a short hike first. They can be difficult to adjust to and your dog will need to learn to find its balance. If your dog won’t wear booties, be sure to pack some sort of paw moisturizer or protection cream.
Disposable doggie bags
These will come in handy on shorter trails and during stop-overs. Out on the trail, it’s more likely you will need to follow common etiquette and bury doggy waste a few meters from the trail.
Consider as well how you will transport this gear. Will your dog be willing to carry their own pack with gear inside? Or will you need to factor it into your backpack? If you are planning on having your dog pull their own weight, you may need to account for added rest stops and extra water.
The best way to narrow down your packing list is to test any new purchases before beginning your expedition. This will save you a lot of trouble along the way if you find that certain pieces just aren’t working or are adding too much excess weight to your packs.
How Can I Physically Prepare My Dog for the Hike?
Begin by tackling shorter hikes. Even if you and your four-legged friend are experienced hikers, it never hurts to check in with your dog’s limits and work on building up their endurance. This is also a great way to test your equipment, like we mentioned before!
Take the time to familiarize yourself with your dog’s preferences and capabilities. You can use these smaller hikes to track how often they need to stop for a bathroom break, how much water they consume, and if they’re enjoying themselves.
I’d also strongly recommend experimenting with hiking at different elevations and attempting different terrains.
Afterward, be honest with yourself. Does it seem like your dog would be comfortable hiking for two days straight, let alone six months? Would they be able to carry their own pack, or would you need to account for that extra weight yourself?
The more experience you and your dog have beforehand, the better. While you’re still likely to come across scenarios outside of your comfort zone, you’ll feel far more equipped to deal with them.
Whether you complete the full trek or a partial loop, hiking the Appalachian Trail with a dog is an impressive feat that takes great teamwork and planning. It’s a true accomplishment and a fabulous testament to the bond between a dog and their owner.
So, our biggest tip? Focus on what you learn out on the trail rather than just how far you can make it. You might just discover a few new things about your dog – or yourself.