Federal and state agencies have rules for hiking with dogs in backcountry areas. Here are the key ones to keep in mind in the Northeast, followed by some AMC-specific regulations:
Dogs are not allowed on many hiking trails on National Park Service lands, and those that do allow them typically require dogs to be on a short (generally a 6-foot) leash and for owners to clean up after their pets. Pets may not be left alone. If you are planning to participate in ranger-led programs, visit natural or historic sites, camp, or go to a body of water within the park, check with the park to learn its dog restrictions. One exception is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT). Most sections of the AT in the Northeast, including the AMC-maintained portion, allow dogs, although often they must be on a leash. Check with local trail clubs for the dog rules on a particular route.
According to Katie Stewart, Androscoggin District ranger for the White Mountain National Forest and a dog-lover who often hikes and backpacks with her dog, pets are required to be on a leash or under voice control in developed areas such as campsites and trailheads. (If a campsite or shelter appears on a map, consider it a leash area.) Ideally, you should leash your dog on the summit of a mountain and whenever you meet others on the trail. You are required to clean up after your pets. In addition, Stewart warns people to be sure ahead of time that a trail is canine-compatible. “People put dogs, especially older dogs, in places they shouldn’t be, which can end in a dog rescue,” says Stuart. “There are a lot of trails in White Mountain National Forest that are not suitable for dogs.”
State Parks and Recreation Areas
Some state parks allow pets and others do not. For example, dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails in Walden Pond State Reservation in Massachusetts, Monadnock State Park in New Hampshire, or Baxter State Park in Maine. If you wish to hike at those places, you’ll need to leave Rover at home.
“Baxter State Park was established first and foremost as a preserve and wildlife sanctuary, [and] the majority of our lands are managed as wilderness,” says Jean Hoekwater, park naturalist at Baxter State Park. “Governor Percival Baxter, who donated the land and the money for the park and who was rarely without his Irish setter by his side, felt there should be places where wildlife was not exposed to domestic animals, especially those with a capacity for predation.” After numerous incidents in campgrounds, on trails, and at high elevations, Hoekwater says, the “no pets” regulation was enacted in the 1960s. The policy includes all domestic animals, except service animals.
In state parks where pets are allowed, you must leash and attend your dog at all times, and you must clean up after your pet. If a ranger is on duty at an entrance gate, you may have to show your dog’s proof of rabies vaccine. Note also that, in general, if another visitor complains about your dog, you will have to remove it from the park. This means the end of your outing, as pets should never be left alone in a vehicle, camper, carrier, or other type of enclosure at any time.
State forests tend to be more lenient with their dog rules. Check regulations for the forest you plan to visit, and be courteous and use common sense in these areas.
Visit our lodging page for a general summary of AMC huts and lodges where pets are welcome. Here are some specifics:
Wrigley also reminds hikers to keep their dogs on a leash around the outside of the huts, especially those in the alpine or subalpine zone such as Lakes of the Clouds and Madison Spring huts: “In alpine areas, we ask people to stay on the trail—the flora is adapted to the extreme climate but not to being walked on. We ask the same of dogs so they don’t damage the sensitive vegetation.”
As with a person, the more experienced a dog becomes in the backcountry, the better a dog-hiker it becomes. “Thru-hiker dogs are the best,” says Manikian, referring to those dogs that walk the entire Appalachian Trail. “They’ve hiked 1,500 miles before they get here. They know the routine. They stick by their owners. A once-a-year dog is nervous or curious and not comfortable, so it needs more attention.”