Hiking with Your Hound: Dog-friendly Trails in Utah

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Story and Photos by Jerson Hatch

“You know you need to exercise when your dog is fat,” this humorous, and true quote reminds me of the importance of exercising my dogs…and myself. But whether you have a chubby puppy or a skinny one, fall is a great time to enjoy changing leaves and cooler temperatures with your canines before winter. Perhaps your dogs may not appreciate the breathtaking views and vibrant colors as much as you, but they’ll love the fresh air, new surroundings and plethora of sniffable scenery.

My two dogs are unlikely friends. They have not only completely different personalities, but near opposite body types. Max, a Black Lab, is lean with long legs and unending energy. Oscar, an Australian shepherd and Corgi cross (whoops) has a thick body, long hair and absurdly short legs. While Max can be compared to a two-door Honda: quick and fuel-efficient, Oscar is more of a miniature German tank: slow, but ever pressing. Both can barely contain their excitement when they get to ride in the truck, and their tails wag with increased ferocity when they are headed for a hike.

Unfortunately, finding nearby dog-friendly hiking isn’t always easy because my favorite hiking areas, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, don’t allow canine visitors. Here are a few spots that allow pups, just remember to follow all area rules for bringing a pet…and clean up after your dog.

Mill Loop Trail in American Fork Canyon at Tibble Fork Reservoir

Located on SR-92, take I-15 Highland exit.

Distance: 4 miles including the parking lot Duration: 3 hours

My favorite hike this year, AF Canyon is a quick drive from Utah County and about 30 miles from Salt Lake. Begin on the south side of the Reservoir, just across the overflow, and hike up a series of switchbacks with beautiful views of the canyon. You’ll reach a meadow with a beaver dam at the midpoint, then start a trek back down the mountain. Depending on the season, you’ll be immersed in blankets of wildflowers, changing fall leaves, shrubs and wildlife on this loop. Several streams provide water for your pups, but plan on bringing at least a liter for yourself. Watch out for horseman, mountain bikers and dirt bikers that frequent the trail. Several other hikes, and dog-friendly camping and rock climbing sites, are available. See a list of trails on the Forest Service Website: fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsem_034879.pdf

Big Water Trail in Mill Creek Canyon

3800 S. Wasatch Boulevard, Salt Lake City

Distance: 5 miles roundtrip Duration: 3 hours

Visit this canyon on leash-free days (odd-numbered calendar days) and enjoy the secondary benefit of not encountering mountain bikes, which are only allowed on even days. For those unfamiliar with Mill Creek, Big Water Trail is a great beginner/intermediate hike that can also be used to access Little Water Trail. Little Water is a bit more difficult than Big Water, but is a mile shorter roundtrip. This trail is nice for dogs because you don’t have to carry water in with you, they can slurp from the little streams and lake. Bring $3.00 for canyon usage fee. utahhikingandlakes.com/millcreekcanyon.html

Neff’s Canyon

4175 East 4245 South, Salt Lake City

Distance: 5.5 miles roundtrip Duration: 6 hours, or turn around anytime to shorten

This relaxed, off-leash hike is near Mill Creek Canyon, but has no usage fee. Choose from several different paths and hike until you or your dogs are tired and ready to turn back. Plenty of water stops for dogs to drink from. In winter, strap on snowshoes and enjoy the trails on a white palette. The most popular way to hike is staying to the left on the main walkway, but if you and your dogs prefer a challenge, cross to the right when you meet with the creek and follow the water up the canyon to the top of the mountain. This side is fairly short, but is a decent workout for you and your dogs. My short-legged Oscar is able to climb up the trail over all the rocks and boulders without issue. The only problem is tracking him down after he wanders off chasing butterflies. utahoutdooractivities.com/neffs.html

Waterfall Canyon

Top of 29th Street, Ogden

Distance: 3 miles roundtrip Duration: 2 hours

If you reside in Ogden, try Waterfall Canyon, a moderate hike with 1,500 feet elevation gain that’s accessible year-round. When on this trail, look ahead for mountain bikers, especially on blind corners. Pay attention to your footing, as there are a few slippery places and the second half gets fairly rocky. But the view of the valley from the top and the stunning 200-foot waterfall make this hike worthwhile. Bring plenty of water because the vertical incline is tiring.Waterfall Canyon Trail Map

Bristlecone Pine Trail

Located along Highway 14, about 18 miles east of Cedar City

Distance: .75 miles roundtrip Duration: less than 1 hour

If you venture further south with your pooch, enjoy amazing views on this easy hike that takes you out to a viewing platform overlooking Zion National Park. Stop in to the Cedar City/Brian Head Tourism office and pick up their Hike & Bike Guide and to learn about nearby fall colors trails. utah.com/cedarcity/hike.htm

When hiking with your dogs, remember that if yours is aggressive, be cautious and don’t allow him off leash around others. You are liable for your dog’s actions. Dogs, however well trained, are still animals and can be unpredictable. Take time to socialize your pup with other pets and people.

Jerson Hatch is always ready for an adventure.  He has exceptional taste in socks and enjoys fine black licorice. You can usually find him in the mountains with his two dogs and horse, or racing down the slopes on skis or a board.

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The mission of Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine is to inspire and educate endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in the Mountain West through well-written content on adventure, travel, gear, health, fitness, nutrition, industry news, profiles, and ski resort information.