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.
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.
Dogs that love getting wet will love Carter Lake, 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.
Thanks to a very wet spring and early summer, the meadows are emerald green and full of flowers at Chautauqua now. Look for the beautiful purple lupine, and if you’re lucky, a poppy or two. And, if you’re a morning person, go very early to catch the sun bathing the Flatirons in red light above you.
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.
With so much snow and runoff this year, Fish Creek Falls is roaring. To get to the first falls, you’ll contend with crowds and a busy parking lot. The first falls are just one-third of a mile from the trailhead. Many people stop here and the 280-falls are stunning. But you and your leashed dog will certainly want more exercise. Continue just over 2 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.
The trail for Lake Isabelle starts above 10,000 feet from the Long Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Keep an eye on the U.S. Forest Service’s website or call for information to find out when the trail opens since the snow has been so heavy this year. 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, 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.
Do you love castles and canines? Then, Mount Falcon Park is a great place for a 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 allowed on leash.
This is a beautiful hike with your dog along a creek that 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.”
Who can resist a trail that leads you to an area known as the Garden of Eden at the base of 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 welcome.
The hike to this lake is another high-altitude one, so if you want to avoid mud and snow, check about accessibility with the U.S. Forest Service before you go. 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.
Hike with you dog: Now for the 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 and that means 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 about 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 are convinced that 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 make sure both 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.