Great dog-friendly hikes in Colorado

For happy trails and happy tails, check out these dog-friendly hikes
Jan. 30, 2024
A caramel-colored labradoodle named Garbanzo poses with purple wildflowers at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, a dog-friendly trail in Colorado.
Garbanzo, a goldendoodle, loves to sniff and explore at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth. Follow Garbanzo @garbanzothedog.

It’s one of those perfect days in the Colorado Rockies. The sky is turquoise and a gentle breeze carries the scent of pine trees.

You’re hiking along a dirt trail with a view of a lake, a creek or a high-altitude peak and your four-legged friend sticks his snout in the air. He catches a whiff of that same breeze, smells a more complex aroma that might include some squirrels, marmots or another dog ahead. He looks up at you with what you’re sure is a grin. Yes, you both agree. All is right with the world.

A small yellow lab sits in the foreground with hikers and a bright blue sky in the background.
If you love both hiking and dogs, nothing is finer than a blue-sky day out on a Colorado trail. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

For dog lovers who also love getting out into nature, nothing is finer than a hike with Rover, Rosie, Hank or Hazel.

Here are some suggestions for great hikes with your dog. After the do’s, we’ll give you some don’ts. Yes, it’s a downer to think about what we shouldn’t do. But let’s face it. Hiking with dogs is a privilege. If we’re considerate and responsible, we can keep exploring Colorado with our poochie pals.

Lake hikes for you and your dog in northern Colorado

Dogs and people in northern Colorado will love Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland. Depending on the season, it’s a great place for dogs that love getting wet. (Beware of winter ice at Carter Lake and other dog parks.) Carter Lake is a reservoir nestled at 5,760 feet in the foothills of Larimer County near Loveland and Berthoud. This is not a loop hike, so you can go as far as you wish, then turn around. Keep your dog on a leash and try hiking along the west side of this lake, which is three miles long and about one mile wide. Along with hiking, Carter Lake offers fishing, sailing, water skiing, camping, picnicking, scuba diving and rock climbing.

A black lab with a big stick in his mouth comes out from some water off a dog-friendly trail in northern Colorado.
If your dog loves water, there are plenty of places for your pooch to hike and swim in Colorado. Here, Ozzie fetches a big stick during a hike on a dog-friendly trail in the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Boulder is a hiking mecca for dogs and people

Chautauqua Park in Boulder is a beautiful place to take your dog on a hike during all seasons. In the spring, you’ll see green meadows and wildflowers. In the winter, you might see snow dusting the peaks. If you’re a morning person, go very early to catch the sun bathing the Flatirons in red light above you.

Brian Yutzy and Kendra Skowron celebrated their engagement with some photos and their dogs, Darla and Bernie (short for Bernadette), at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.
Brian Yutzy and Kendra Skowron celebrated their engagement with some photos and their dogs, Darla and Bernie (short for Bernadette), at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Stop at the ranger cottage and pick up a hiking map along with advice. A fun loop takes you up the Bluebell Road to Woods Quarry, then you can return via the Enchanted Mesa. The hiking options at Chautauqua are endless. So, too, are the crowds. Boulder now has a free shuttle system. Parking here can be a big challenge, so you would be wise to consider using the shuttle. Dogs must be on leash for lower trails. If you have a special voice and sight tag, your dog may be off leash for some trails in Boulder County.

Head to Steamboat Springs for dog-friendly hikes

Fish Creek Falls, Upper Fish Creek Falls and Long Lake are beautiful hikes in Steamboat. During the spring, runoff from melted snow sends water roaring from Fish Creek Falls. You’ll contend with crowds and a busy parking lot to get to the first falls. The first falls are just one-third of a mile from the trailhead. Many people stop here, and the 280-foot falls are stunning. But you and your leashed dog will certainly want more exercise. During the summer, continue just over two additional miles to get to the Upper Fish Creek Falls. And if you have plenty of food and water (for you and your dog), challenge yourself to make it 6.5 miles one way to Long Lake.

During the summer months, enjoy amazing views in the high country above Boulder

Lake Isabelle in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, near Ward and Nederland, is a beautiful place to hike with your dog. Lake Isabelle starts above 10,000 feet from the Long Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Snow covers this area in the winter, so hikes don’t work then. But in the summer months, you and your dog will have a blast. Keep in mind that parking reservations might be necessary. Keep an eye on the U.S. Forest Service’s website or call for information to find out when the trail opens each spring. This is another crowded hike, but the views of the stunning Indian Peaks make it well worthwhile. If possible, do this hike on a weekday to make it easier to find a parking spot. You’ll first pass Brainard Lake, and then you’ll hike along Long Lake before weaving up some switchbacks to beautiful Lake Isabelle. The roundtrip hike is about 4.5 miles. This is also a stunning hike in the fall, and if you want to go further, you can go up to Pawnee Pass. Keep your dog on a leash at all times since Indian Peaks is a wilderness area. There is an entrance fee. Pro tip: support national forests and national parks by purchasing an annual pass that you can use for a full year throughout the U.S.

Hiking with dogs. The face of a small yellow lab in front of the craggy peaks at Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, a good place to hike with your dog.
Daisy poses with the craggy Indian Peaks behind her. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Consider dog-friendly hikes in open space areas west of Denver

Do you love castles and canines? Then, Mount Falcon Park in the Jefferson County Open Space west of Denver near Morrison is a great place to hike with your dog. Once upon a time, an iron, automobile and publishing magnate named John Brisben Walker built a castle at the top of Mount Falcon. He also hoped to build a summer White House for U.S. presidents. Alas, Walker’s wife died in 1916, then just two years later, lightning struck and burned down the castle. (Or, perhaps there was a more sinister cause of the fire. Read more about Walker.) All that remains of the castle are the cornerstone and ruins of some fireplaces. There’s also a wooden tower to climb. Dogs are allowed on leash.

a white and caramel colored Jack Russell terrier mix named Magnolia poses during a stroll at Chautauqua Park, a dog-friendly trail in Boulder.
Magnolia, part Jack Russell terrier and part beagle, poses during an evening hike with owner, Elliott Kennerson at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Explore beautiful dog-friendly hikes near Colorado Springs

The Seven Bridges hike in North Cheyenne Canyon, west of Colorado Springs, is another great hike for people who love water (and their canine companions too). This is a great hike in the summer since it offers plenty of shade. Along with your dog (on a leash), you can also take children on this one. It’s fun for kids and adults to try to count all seven bridges. You can go as far as you wish. If you do the full hike, you’ll go about six miles roundtrip and gain nearly 1,600 vertical feet. So, bring plenty of food and water. Along with great views, the hike provides some fun for railroad buffs. According to Manitou Springs experts, “The first part of the hike follows a former narrow gauge railroad bed used to haul ore from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs.”

Check out a scenic reservoir west of Colorado Springs

The South Catamount Reservoir Trail is a beautiful spot for people and dogs to explore west of Colorado Springs. This is another great trail to enjoy in the summer.

Who can resist a trail that leads you to an area known as the Garden of Eden at the base of the majestic Pikes Peak? The total round trip for this hike from the town of Green Mountain Falls is 6 miles, and you’ll gain 1,700 vertical feet. But once you make it to the top of the switchbacks, you will be rewarded with beautiful views. Dogs on leashes are welcome.

Great dog-friendly hike in northern Colorado

The Zimmerman Lake Trail west of Fort Collins off of Cameron Pass is another stunning summer hike since it takes people and dogs up to higher elevations. In the spring and fall, check with U.S. Forest Service rangers to avoid mud and snow. The hike begins at 10,015 and leads you about 1.7 miles and 677 vertical feet up an old logging road to Zimmerman Lake. The Lake is within the Neota Wilderness Area, so dogs need to be on leashes.

Roo, a mixed breed brown dog during a hike.
Roo is so happy that she’s literally glowing during a hike. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Be kind and considerate when you’re hiking with your dog on trails in Colorado

Here are some don’ts:

Don’t take your dog to a national park, and expect to go on any trails. Wildlife protection reigns supreme in national parks, meaning dogs are not allowed on trails. National forests generally allow dogs on trails, so you and your furry friend will be happier there. But, be sure to check local regulations before you head out. And in national forests, be mindful of wilderness areas, where stricter rules apply.

Don’t hike with your dog on private property (unless, of course, you own it).

Don’t ignore leash laws. This one should be obvious, but some of us believe our dogs don’t need a leash. It may be true that your dog will stick close to you, but you never know what other dogs, bears, moose or forest rangers you’ll encounter. So, keep it simple. Obey the law. And save yourself from getting an expensive citation.

Don’t take your dog on an inappropriate hike. Some dogs have endless energy and can handle climbing a 14er with you. But other pups have sensitive paws or short legs. Keep the hike right for your pooch, and bring a portable water bowl (or a simple Ziploc bag) to ensure you and your dog stay hydrated.

Finally, always, always, always pick up after your pet. Keep Colorado pristine. As the campers and backpackers say, leave no trace. Never leave waste or trash behind.

Contributors: Kati Blocker and Erin Emery.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.