Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 of Hiking with a Dog, you can click here to read it.  We covered diet, paws, ticks and gear.  This time we wanted to talk about a few things to consider before hiking with your dog.

Before we get to that though, we wanted to give an update on Rooney.  In Part 1, we talked about the dangers of ticks and we mentioned that our pup contracted a tick-borne illness on the AT.  Several people sent us messages asking how Rooney was doing today and we wanted to say thank you for the concern!  We’re happy to report that he’s doing great and is fully recovered.  We got off the trail when his injuries first occurred and took him straight to a vet.  He had a cast for a few days (to protect his swollen paw) and a month of medication.  Bottom line, we took time off the trail and made him our priority.  Today, he is back to his normal, healthy, happy self.

Quick disclaimer before we continue with this post – we are not veterinarians nor are we experts on dogs.  But we do have a good deal of experience on the AT.  We were living in Damascus, VA when we first brought Rooney home so he grew up on the AT and between hiking with Serial and trail running with Minutes, Rooney logged a consistent 40-50 miles a week.  When it came time for our 1400-mile section hike, Rooney was ready and we knew what to expect.

Our goal with this post is to help you look at the pros and cons of bringing a dog on a long distance hike and to help you determine if it’s the right move for you.

Is your dog ready for a long distance hike?  This is a touchy subject for some because the truthful answer is “probably not.”  It takes a lot of work to thru-hike.  Most people don’t make it to Katahdin and even fewer dogs do.  It IS possible though, if you have the right dog and you have the right preparation and mindset going in.  If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re on the right track.

  • Is your dog the right breed to be active for 8-12 hours a day?  There isn’t a list of breeds we can give you.  Just be realistic and honest about your dog’s capabilities.
  • Is your dog acclimated to the trail?  Will your dog be comfortable and respectful around wildlife, hikers, other dogs, shelters and other people’s gear?
  • Have you built up your dog’s hiking endurance?  His/her paws, joints and endurance need to be gradually built up and conditioned to the trail.  You know how the trail whips people into shape in the first few weeks?  That’s not how it works for dogs.  You should get your dog into shape the year or two before the trail.  Don’t let the trail be a shock to your pet’s system.
  • Are you prepared for your dog’s personality to (possibly) change a little?  If your dog has been raised in a home, living on the trail may change him/her.  One change we saw in Rooney is that now he is overly protective of food.  We can’t feed him around other dogs at all now.  He had hiker hunger on the trail, just like we did, and he lost the comfort of regularly feeling full.  He became very possessive of his food and even now he will snap at another dog if they get too close to it.  We are still working on changing this behavior, even though we have been off the trail for months.
  • Are you willing to put your dog’s needs before your own?  Sitting at home by your computer, this is an easy one to say “yes” to.  But you need to picture these situations and really, honestly ask yourself if you will resent your dog or ignore your dog’s needs.
    • You’ve been in the woods for 4 days and you are hungry and dirty.  You finally get to town and there are zero hostels or hotels that are pet-friendly.  Your hiker crew is ordering pizza and getting ready to shower, watch TV and sleep in beds.  You and your dog are grabbing food and heading back to the woods to sleep on the ground.  Are you okay with it?
    • You get to town and there’s a hostel that charges $10 for a bunk, but doesn’t allow pets.  The hotel charges $50/night plus a $25 pet fee.  Your only choices are to fork over the money or head back to the woods.  Are you okay with it?
    • You’re in town and found a pet-friendly, affordable place to stay (huzzah!) and your friends are heading out to the restaurant for pizza and beer.  The place you’re staying doesn’t allow you to leave your pet alone in a room so you have to skip out on the restaurant.  Are you okay with it?
    • Your dog gets hurt.  Your only choices are to have someone come get your dog and watch him/her while you finish the trail or to end your hike.  Are you okay with it?  (read this one twice and really consider it)

Pet policies on the trail.  There are two places that you are not allowed to take your dog on the AT and will require extra planning: The Smoky Mountains and Baxter State Park.  When you get to the Smokies, you are looking at 5-7 days of hiking that your dog will have to skip, unless you have a service dog.  If your dog is not a service dog, you will need to plan for this section and there are two main options:  skipping this section or boarding your dog. The Smokies are epic so we don’t recommend skipping it, but that’s your choice.  We boarded our dog through the Smokies and it was a good break for him and also a good break for us.  Taking care of a dog on the trail is hard work.  It was really nice to have a week off to just hike together and not be managing Rooney’s needs.  The place we boarded him met us in Fontana and picked Rooney up.  Rooney stayed at their hostel at the end of the Smokies and we hiked to him.  When we exited the Smokies, Rooney was waiting for us and was rested.  He was really happy to see us and start hiking again.  If you want to know the specifics of how much it cost or which hostel we used, send us an email at jill {at} atraillife {dot com}.

Baxter State Park is the second time you will need to make arrangements for your pooch.  Since it’s the end or the beginning of the trail for most hikers, it might work best to ask someone to pick you up/drop you off and stay an extra day to watch your dog.  There are boarding services there, but we can’t vouch for them personally.  When Serial thru-hiked, we didn’t have Rooney and our section hike ended in NY so we haven’t dealt with a dog in Baxter.

Trail Etiquette.  It’s always better to be extra respectful of others on the trail, especially in the beginning. Once you get to know the hikers around you and have a hiking crew that you see everyday, you can relax a bit but that takes time and will depend on the hikers in your group.  Use common sense and these basic tips that we learned to make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

  • Be respectful of others.  You don’t know if the hikers around you have allergies or a fear of dogs so keep your pup leashed and ask permission before letting your dog approach someone.
  • Speak up for your dog.  If someone else has a dog at the shelter and you don’t want your dog to play with him/her, politely say so.  If someone is feeding your dog food scraps, politely explain that you’d prefer not to start that habit.  If you are respecting other’s feelings about dogs, they should respect your dog too and it’s your job to make sure that happens.
  • Leash your dog.  Every time we went to a shelter or were near a group of people, we had Rooney on a leash.  The only exception was when we were camping away from a shelter, with people we knew well.  When we were hiking, we would let him off the leash when we were alone, but we never crossed a road or came in contact with another hiker without putting him on a leash.  Even if you think your dog has perfect response to voice commands, you can’t predict how they will react in every situation.  And more importantly you can’t predict how other people (or their dogs) will react to your pup.  Use your leash.
  • Keep your dog out of other people’s stuff.  No exceptions.  Do not let your dog eat someone’s food or step on his/her gear.  It will not lead to anything good.
  • Be prepared to sleep in your tent.  The only time we ever stayed in a shelter was in the Smokies, when Rooney was boarded.  We did see other dogs in shelters occasionally, but not often and it usually wasn’t encouraged by other hikers.  Rooney came to know the tent as his home and it was a place of comfort for him so we were content to stay in it every night.  We even used it indoors once.

Questions from Readers.  Thank you to Tracy for submitting the wonderful questions!

  1. What did you have in your first aid kit that was dog specific?  Rooney’s first aid kit included a tick key, tweezers, acidophilus supplements, paw wax and his monthly tick treatment.  His full gear list can be found here.
  2. When you started hiking could you describe a typical day (did you tire before your dog or did he tire before you)?  We tired before him, without fail.  Rooney has crazy energy.  If we had a low mileage day (anything less than 15 miles), he would do sprints at camp that night to burn off his extra energy.  He is really happy when he’s out in the woods so we never felt like he was too tired to continue, but he did sleep soundly every night.  And when we had zero or nero days at a hotel, he zonked out the whole time.  He climbed up on the bed and promptly passed out, waking only to stuff his face with food.  (Hmmm…sounds a lot like us actually).  But when he woke up the next morning, he was amazingly perky and always ready to go again.
  3. Did you find yourself taking more breaks than others because of him?  Not really.  When we took a break in the beginning, Rooney was still running around and playing.  Once we settled in, maybe a month in or so, he would take a quick nap at lunch, but it didn’t last very long and he was always ready to go when we were, and usually before us.

We hope this was helpful for those planning their hike.  It wasn’t our intention to discourage you from bringing your dog, we just wanted to be realistic about how hard it is to hike 8-10 hours every day and how much extra work it is to have your dog with you.  We love our dog a ton and have been living and hiking on the AT with him for 2000+ miles and 3 years, but even we’ve had days when we wished he wasn’t there.  It’s just the reality of it.

We never once felt that Rooney was being pushed past his limits physically, but we regularly felt that we were putting his needs over ours.   And that can take a toll on a hiker.  So pause a moment and really think it through.  If you don’t want to bring your dog, don’t feel guilty.  And if you still want to bring your dog on the trail, that’s awesome.  We’ll do everything we can to help you prepare!

If you have other questions, leave them in the comments or send us an email.  We’d be happy to answer them!  In the meantime, you can read all of our posts on hiking with a dog by clicking here.  And while you’re there, be sure to enter for a chance to win an Aquapac Mini Waterproof Camera Case. 

~Minutes, Serial and Rooney

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 24

  • Leashes for Running Your Dog : Jan 24th

    Our SportLeash products were inspired by Mr. Sledmaster, the ultimate mushing dog, Griffey (who’s pictured here). Griffey, who treats every leisurely jog as an Iditarod training session, made it well known that, as much of an athlete as I thought I was, he was certainly the best athlete in the family. The problem was running, hiking, even walking with any of the regular or waist leashes on the market was a dreadful, one-handed, cumbersome experience. So, we began to create products geared toward making this experience better. With all of the positive feedback and encouragement to make these available to everyone, the Sportleash brand was born!

  • matt cook : Feb 10th

    Thank you for this blog. It is great to know that a dog has hiked along the trail before. I bet Rooney loved it. I am planning on doing the first month of a through hike this spring. I am trying to determine how boarding fits into the schedule. At what location on the trail to do you enter and leave Great Smokey National Park? I am trying to arrange accommodations for my dog Roxy.

  • jeffrey goldberg : Mar 18th

    Thanks for sharing your experience, very helpful and encouraging. I’m planning the colorado trail for summer 2016. Roi, my 15 pound Jack Russell/poodle, will enjoy it as much as i will. Good luck with your dreams. The mountains await!

  • Laura : Nov 19th

    I am hiking with my service dog will she be allowed to hike the full trail with me? My dog will be pulling a wagon because I cannot carry a pack is that possible through the hole Trail?

    • Cathy : Dec 22nd

      A wagon on the trail is an excessive burden for the dog. There will also be sections that require you to help your dog maneuver or lift the wagon which is harder than just carrying a pack yourself.

    • Mark Keegan : Jan 22nd


      There are some sections of trail that a wagon might traverse but many rocky sections would be impassible without lifting and dragging wagon over rocks. Also consider problems with pulling uphill and then keeping it from rolling over or into your dog on the downhill.

      Recommend that you try a rails-to-trail hike first to see how it works and then section hike easier sections of AT such as North from Elk Wallow off Shenandoah National Park, VA or South from Afton, VA right off of I-64.


      • Nancy Barton : Aug 2nd

        Also if you want to harness a dog to a wagon (my Grandfather’s Saint Bernard pulled a milk cart in Slovakia during the Empire), try experimenting with an ultralight aluminum cart that is similar to the Bernese Mountain Dog carts. It can be folded up, assembled with pins (soft fat tire wheels would be a plus), and perhaps a place with a fold out platform with a bivy tent for you and your dog. I would personally recommend the Great Allegheny Passage (part of it is in the Appalachians) Rail Trail, because it is dog and disabled person friendly.
        The Smokey Mountain Park is closed to dogs, but The Cherokee park in NC. is not :-). I will be taking my Min Pin on a hike and carrying him in my custom pack along the way. I experimented in the DuPont State Forest with both my custom pack & a bicycle dog trailer for Shark and he liked it.

    • albert watabinost : Feb 2nd

      this was a stupid article. 1 month hikes? pretending that is a hike you brought a months worth of dog kibble with you instead of letting it eat naturally? yeah right.

    • Jared : Nov 22nd

      Your dog isnt a mule. Carry your own pack.

  • Meredith Young : Nov 29th

    I’ve been hiking with my male Labrador Retriever for over 3 years now. We have hiked all over VA, NC, FL, TX, TN and AZ (I’m a traveling waitress) any who am planning on heading home to VA to visit family next March and starting the AT at Mcafees Knob (just 30 minutes from where I grew up) and hiking all the way to Maine where I plan on living for the remainder of the fall. So could I get all the way to the entrance of the park where Mount Katahdin is? If so my future room mate could meet me there and pick my dog up and I could make this happen! Ps you can follow our adventures on Instagram meredithmarieyo or Facebook Meredith Marie young 🙂 pss YALLS POST AND LIFE ROCKS!

  • Olivia shoultz : Jan 7th

    I’m planning on thru hiking with mug and I’m wondering which place you used to board your guy through the smokies.

  • Chloe : May 20th

    Did you ever have any worries about bears? Or how he might react to a bear?

  • test : May 8th

    Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your site and
    in accession capital to say that I acquire actually enjoyed account your
    weblog posts. Any way I will be subscribing in your augment and even I fulfillment you get admission to consistently rapidly.

  • Leslie : Sep 22nd

    Great info! Loved reading this. Did you feed him twice a day on trail or more?

    Also, how much water a day did you need for him? I’ve read 1/2 – 1 oz./day per pound of dog. Curious what was needed considering available water sources?

    Thanks so much for your time!

  • Kara : Nov 28th

    I need better friends.

  • Shem : May 20th

    OK and i need some real feedback hereplease feel free to email me
    Minutes, Serial and Rooney, or anybody else
    First my dog is a service dog so I have no worries about where I can keep him or having to get him off the trail for sections that don’t allow dogs so there’s a win .
    Where it says non-partible water on the trail does that mean there’s water but you have to filter it or there’s absolutely no water?
    Did you have any luck or did you even try high calorie dog food anybody I need to know how bad it is or if it actually works ?
    Through hikers drop boxes which ones did y’all use did you use every single post office and other places other than post offices that I can mail boxes to?
    For example campsite offices
    In the guidebook word says there’s groceries available at places is it like a camp store where you pay an arm and a leg and have to mortgage your liver for a bag of instant food or is it like a Kroger and there is no instant food?
    How did you pack for the truck between Hot Springs North Carolina and Fontana dam North Carolina that’s almost 130 miles with no resupply besides water according to the guide books did you just pack heavy or did you stop at green corner Road and do a minor resupply for the remaining 80 miles ?

  • shamel edrees : Jan 19th

    very insightful….
    can you please tell me which boarding services you used in maine and in the smokies?

    which dog food worked best calorie wise?

    did you guys start in maine or in georgia if maine is may too earily?

  • Kim Woodbury : Mar 18th

    Hi, thanks for this! It really gives us a extremely good idea about how life on the AT with a dog is. And with everything you mentioned here, I just think to bring a dog on a trail would be abuse. I wouldn’t want my dog to suffer from hiker hunger, or get a tick borne illness because I chose to bring her on the trail with me. I will have to make other plans for her. It will be so hard to leave her for 6-7 months but I think it’s for the best. 🙁

    • Jodi : Nov 16th

      why would you comment that you DON’T plan on bringing your dog? just so you could passive aggressively mention that what these people had done by taking their dog along was tantamount to animal abuse?

      hahahaha eeeyyyyyeeee roooolllllll

  • Jordan B : Aug 4th

    Thank you for taking the time and thought to write your articles! I am planning a thru-hike in 2020. I have hiked/ lived on the trail before when I worked on a trail crew in Yosemite (5 months in 2017), so I am no stranger to living in the wilderness. However, I now have a 2 year old German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who is stuck to me like glue. I plan to hike with her next season. Your articles have given me a lot to think about. Thanks!!

  • Tyler : Feb 5th

    You might want to consider packing puppy formulated dry food as it has a higher fat content than adult food. A half/half mixture of the two would probably be more appropriate. Also, fish oil has many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, that would offer joint and cardiovascular support.

  • Taylar : Sep 22nd

    Ahh, thank you for posting this. Especially the part about personality changes—this is something I never would’ve thought about and it’s a really good point to make. I love my dogs personality, and I can’t imagine putting him through something that might change that (though I’m sure he would adore the experience). My last dog had major resource guarding issues and attacked one of our other dogs severely once, and this isn’t something I want to relive. It was a constant battle to make sure nothing triggered him. Nor do I want to take the chance on my current pup’s personality changing. So thank
    You again 🙂

  • Rob and Cat : Jan 9th

    Hey there! Do to our careers we are only able to do 3 week hikes at a time – We usually always bring our dog if it’s allowed – We aill be beginning to do 3 week stints on the AT this March and we are starting in the beginning at Springer – We realize we will be hitting the Smokies about 10 days in and was curious where you boarded your pup? We will need to board him on the southern side of the Smokies and pick him up after about a week – Any info would be great. How far off the trail was the place you used and could you hike there? Thanks so much!

  • mandy : Dec 17th

    I am a section hiker and have hiked most all of the sections that I have hiked with my dog so far. I know there are sections of the AT that you have to do some climbing on metal rungs or wooden ladders. Have you hiked these sections with your pup? Is there a way for a dog to get up around the ladders or would it require bringing them up with their rescue harness?


What Do You Think?