The 12 Best Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in the US

Best dog-friendly trails in the US

We’re not the only ones suffering from cabin fever these days. Our four-legged friends are just as eager to get outdoors. It is possible to keep our social distance, and still get some fresh air. And in a nation where tens of millions of us own dogs and are willing to pamper them with gifts, it’s no surprise we’re looking for places to roam with our pups. We rounded up a list of some of the favorite dog-friendly hiking trails in the United States, so you and your pooch can hit the road together. Here are the 12 best dog-friendly hiking trails in the U.S.

We based our ratings on the condition of the trails (paved or unpaved), the amount of shade they provide, availability, rules regarding leashes, and the size of the trail. Some trails are just too tiring for Fido to make it up and back. We also found most hikers and dogs prefer unpaved or even grassy trails. They’re much better on your knees!

12.  Richmond, Va.: Buttermilk Trail

Forest Hill Park trail
Forest Hill Park’s Buttermilk Trail. Credit: Olekinderhook, CC 3.0.

There’s a reason this trail is so popular. The Buttermilk Loop Trail takes you and your dog around a section of the James River in Forest Hill Park, in the Richmond metro area. The Buttermilk Trail itself is the section on the southern banks of the James. Keep in mind, the North Bank side has some crowded areas. But the Buttermilk Trail gets rave reviews from dog lovers.

  • Paved? Partially
  • Shade? Yes
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 4.5 miles, out and back, but the whole loop is 6.4 miles

11.  Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Museum of Art Trails

You’d probably never think of bringing your pooch to an art museum, but at the North Carolina Museum of Art, your dog is welcome. The outdoor park boasts sculptures for the humans to ooh and ahh at, and this easy hike offers dog waste and water stations. Dogs and art do mix!

  • Paved? Yes
  • Shade? Some
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 2.2 miles

10.  Washington, D.C.: National Arboretum Trails

National Arboretum
A stairway on one of the paths at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Credit: Nicolas Raymond, CC 2.0.

The United States National Arboretum is 412 acres of gardens and woods, right in the city, on New York Avenue NE. It’s the perfect place to give your city dog a little bit of wilderness. There’s plenty to explore, and your leashed canine is perfectly welcome! Be warned, though: Users say it’s not as well marked as it could be.

  • Paved? Both. There are about nine miles of paved road and lots of unpaved trails.
  • Shade? Yes, it’s an arboretum.
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes, except for Christmas Day
  • How long? 9 miles of the main loop road and lots of side trails

9.  Dallas: Harry S. Moss Park Trails

Dallas has a lot of great places to hike with your dog, but we chose the Harry S. Moss Park Trails because these multi-use trails offer lots of shade and a dirt path, which, in a Metroplex summer, is crucial for hikers. This is a great way to get in touch with nature along the banks of White Rock Creek, and it will help keep your dog’s paws cool.

  • Paved? No
  • Shade? Yes
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 5.47 miles

8. Tampa, Fla.: Al Lopez Park Trail

Al Lopez Park Trail gets high marks from users. “Great dog park. Nice trail. Police drive by every 15-30 minutes. The city of Tampa cleans the dog area,” wrote Jo Graber in her Google review of the park. And that’s why it makes it onto our list. Hikers love and recommend it, and there is a large, fenced dog park inside the park, so once you’re done with your hike, you can let Daisy off of her leash for a little fun with the other dogs.

  • Paved? Asphalt on the loop in the park, but the nature trail is not paved.
  • Shade? Some shade on the loop, more in the wooded areas
  • Leash or no leash? Leash on the trail, but the dog park is off-leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? The loop in the park is 1.2 miles.

7.  Houston: Houston Arboretum and Nature Center Outer Loop

Houston Arboretum trail
Houston Arboretum trail. Credit: Idawriter, CC by SA 3.0.

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a part of Memorial Park just inside the Loop. But instead of competing with runners and fitness enthusiasts on the Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail (the big one you can see from Memorial Drive), the Arboretum is a little less packed, and a lot shadier — perfect for a nature hike for you and your four-legged companion.

  • Paved? Most of the older part of the park is groomed dirt; the new parts of the trail are paved.
  • Shade? Yes
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? Just over a 2-mile loop

6. Orlando, Fla.: Orlando Urban Trail

This trail will take you and your dog from North Magnolia Avenue to Lake Sue and back. The Orlando Urban Trail is an easier trail, good for hikers of all abilities, and not hard to access if you’re looking for a quick escape. This trail ranks high among users because it’s easy, and well maintained.

  • Paved? Mostly
  • Shade? Not much
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 4.7 miles, out and back and into Winter Park

5.  Austin, Texas: Violet Crown Trail

Violet Crown Trail, Austin
The Violet Crown Trail offers many spots where dogs can cool their heels. Credit: Todd Dwyer, CC by SA 2.0.

The Violet Crown Trail, part of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, is Austin’s go-to trail for athletes, weekend outdoors enthusiasts, and dog lovers. It won’t disappoint you or your dog. There is moderate traffic here, but it’s open and friendly to dogs — and with its shady path, it’s a welcome respite from the Texas heat for hot paws.

  • Paved? No
  • Shade? Yes
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes, but sometimes closes for high water
  • How long? There are more than 7 total miles of trails. From the Zilker trailhead, it’s 3.7 miles. From the 360 trailhead to the 290 trailhead, it’s 1.8 miles.

4.  Sacramento, Calif.: Sutter’s Landing Park Two Rivers Trail

This hike down the American River will give you and your furry family member lots to explore. If you head toward the river from the Sutter’s Landing Park parking lot, you’ll hit the trail. But what puts this trail on this list is the proximity to the large, fenced dog park, as you head away from the parking lot.

  • Paved? No, groomed dirt
  • Shade? Some
  • Leash or no leash? Leash on the trail, off-leash in the dog park
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 3.5 miles, out and back

3. Los Angeles: Griffith Park Main Trail

There are more than 53 miles of trail inside this enormous urban park, and they are dog-friendly — and very popular. But we chose the main trail as the friendliest to canines because it takes you right by the Griffith Park Dog Park in the northwest corner of this green space, where you can let Bella or Max run off-leash.

  • Paved? No, groomed dirt
  • Shade? Yes
  • Leash or no leash? Leash, until you get to the dog park.
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long? 3-mile loop

2.) Denver: Highline Canal Trail

Highline Trail
The Highline Trail winds through 71 miles of the Denver Metro area. Credit: Jeffrey Beall, CC by SA 2.0.

This popular trail stretches from Aurora all the way to Roxborough Park in the foothills. Depending on where you are, your scenery could be anything from nature preserves to subdivisions.

  • Paved? Mostly paved until the last 7.5 miles
  • Shade? Lots of shade
  • Leash or no leash? Leash
  • Open year-round? Yes
  • How long: 71 miles (you don’t have to do the whole 71 miles,)

1.) Phoenix: Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Mountain Preserve trail
Outside of Phoenix is the dog-friendliest path of all. Credit: Taro the Shiba Inu, CC 2.0.

And now we come to No. 1: Phoenix Mountain Preserve. This is where the highest number of people are searching for dog-friendly trails, according to Google. That could be because there are just so many great desert trails to choose from. And that’s why the preserve, with its myriad of trails, wins the top spot.

You’ll find easy to moderate hikes here. Most of them are pretty short — 3 miles or shorter, out and back. And this is the place to access views of the city from Camelback Mountain. Please note that dogs aren’t allowed on Summit Trail to Piestewa Peak.

  • Paved? No
  • Shade? Not much. Remember city ordinance bans dogs from the trails if the temperature is over 100 degrees.
  • Leash or no leash? Leash. Rattlesnakes are native, in case you need a little convincing.
  • Open year-round? Yes.
  • How long? Less than 3 miles.

So many trails, so little time to check them out. In a big country, with tens of thousands of trails, we whittled down the list to trails that are dog-friendly and are proven to be popular with dog owners looking to take their pets on something more than a walk around the block. But don’t let that stop you from trying out other trails in your city. Happy trails, happy tails!

Brenda Ryan

Brenda Ryan

Brenda Ryan is a former content director for LawnStarter. She is a former radio newscaster and journalist. In her free time she enjoys traveling, gardening, visiting wineries, reading, and playing trivia games in her home state of Colorado.