The Dog-Friendly Guide to Hiking in NC
Source: Isabella and Penelope
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One of the many great things about living in Charlotte is there are a variety of dog-friendly hiking trails within a couple hours drive. On the weekends, I love grabbing Isabella, Penelope, and my husband, loading up the car and exploring the North Carolina mountains.
With trails throughout the state ranging in difficulty level, we’ve never at a loss for finding a trail nearby where we can adventure and explore the NC landscape.
That said, hiking with dogs is not an activity to pick up without preparation. Just like people, strenuous trails and different altitudes can take effect on dogs. Not to mention, hikers need to bring safety gear and staples for pups just as they would for themselves.
Well, this guide covers all your bases. Read on to discover some of my favorite dog-friendly hiking trails throughout North Carolina, including the difficulty level and distance from Charlotte. Then, catch three vital tips to keep in mind while hiking with your pup.
The Best Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in North Carolina
When selecting a trail, be sure to keep your dog’s fitness level in mind – not just your own. Be honest regarding what your dog is capable of.
For instance, Isabella is incredibly fit and is always up for an adventure. I can take her on any of the trails below and she’ll flourish. On the other hand, Penelope has short, stumpy legs keeping her low to the ground. And while she is very active and capable for a dog her size, some of the more difficult trails listed below would be too much for her.
You don’t want to end up having to carry your dog back down a trail if they get too tuckered out, and the last thing you want/need is an injury while out on a trail. Your dog is counting on you to look out for him. When in doubt, start small.
Difficulty Level: Easy
- Catawba Falls Trail – Located in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville, about two hours from Charlotte, the Catawba Falls Trail is a 2.7 miles round trip hike. This trail weaves through a shady forest, allowing hikers and dogs alike to stay cool while covering the 300 feet of easy climb. The trail follows the Catawba River and provides vantage points of countless waterfalls and there are a few spots along the river where your pup can swim.
- Wintergreen Falls Trail – Inside the DuPont State Forest outside of Asheville, this 3-mile round trip hike is located about two hours from Charlotte. This hike is downhill on the way to the falls and uphill on the way back and tends to be less crowded than the other trails in the park. While Wintergreen Falls isn’t the largest waterfall in DuPont State Forest, it’s a quiet, easy hike for you and your dog.
- U.S. National Whitewater Center – Located right outside uptown Charlotte (only about 15 minutes), the U.S. National Whitewater Center boasts over nine miles of hiking trails for you and Fido. Ranging in difficulty level, the trails run through the woods and along the river. And with all the other dog-friendly activities at the USNWC – paddle boarding, kayaking, River Jam, etc. – it’s a great place to spend the day with your pup.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
- Chimney Rock State Park – Only about two hours from Charlotte, Chimney Rock State Park has several trail variations for hikers with their dogs. Hikers and their pups can start at the bottom of the trail or about halfway up at the infamous staircase. Starting from the bottom of the mountain, the trail winds gradually uphill through the forest and then forks with trails taking hikers to the peak or to the waterfall. Heading up to the peak, the trail is completely stairs. However, the path to the waterfall is an easy hike. The peak of Chimney Rock offers unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Lure.
- Crowders Mountain State Park – Located in Kings Mountain, about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte, Crowders Mountain State Park has several trails. The more difficult trail, Pinnacle Trail, offers 25-mile views ranging from the countryside to uptown Charlotte. The terrain is rugged and there is a section you and your dog will have to climb toward the top, but the view is worth it.
- Waterrock Knob Trail – At about 2.5 miles long, Waterrock Knob Trail takes you to the summit that is the 16th highest in the Eastern US and the 15th highest of the 40 mountains in NC reaching over 6,000 feet. As one of the last hiking trails prior to reaching the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s about 2.5 hours from Charlotte and worth the trip. The peak offers 50-mile views including some of the highest peaks in the Smokies and Maggie Valley. If you and your pup are looking for a more intermediate trail with impeccable views, look no further.
Difficulty Level: Hard
- Looking Glass Rock Trail – Climbing 1,700 feet in just over three miles, Looking Glass Rock Trail is a good hiking trail for you and your dog. The trail is difficult and will take about 4-5 hours there and back with Fido, but the views are well worth it. Located outside of Asheville, it’ll take about 2.5 hours to reach this trail from Charlotte.
- Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak – Found right outside the quaint town of Blowing Rock, Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak is a 6.6-mile loop with over a 2,000 feet elevation gain. Definitely more on the strenuous side, this trail takes you up Grandfather Mountain, one of the most iconic peaks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This trail is located about two hours from Charlotte in between Asheville and the Virginia state line.
- Art Loeb Trail to Cold Mountain – Located in the Pisgah National Forest, about two hours from Charlotte, the Cold Mountain via Art Loeb Trail is 10 miles round trip and is anything but easy. The mountain peak is 6,030 feet and is the tallest of five in the Shining Rock Wilderness within the forest. With 3,000 feet of elevation gain, many of the trails are unmarked, so you and Fido will want to bring a topographic map and compass. That said, it’s an incredibly scenic trail offering a little bit of everything – mountain views, rivers, forests, and meadows.
3 Tips for Hiking with Dogs
1. Pack a Safety/First Aid Pack
Just as you would pack a backpack for yourself when you hit the trails, you need to pack one for your pup as well. Regardless of whether you’re carrying items for your dog in your pack or you get a dog backpackfor your pup to wear, select safety and first aid items should not be forgotten.
A well-packed pet first aid kit carries emergency items that come in handy should your dog get injured out on the trail and you cannot immediately get him to the vet.
I really like this one from L.L. Bean. It’s packed with gauze pads, towels, iodine solution, alcohol prep pads, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, forceps, eye wash, a skin staple gun, a tourniquet, vinyl gloves, and more. It truly has everything you need for your dog in an emergency – just make sure you know how to use/administer all the items prior to hitting the trails.
In addition to a dog first aid kit, you’ll want to pack the following items:
- One or two meals worth of dog food
- Food and water bowls (I love these lightweight pop up bowls from Pack Leashes. Use code ‘IsaPen15’ for 15% off.)
- An extra leash and collar
- Dog-safe sunscreen
2. Err on the Side of Too Much Water
When it comes to packing water, err on the side of bringing too much H2O. Dogs drink a lot of water when partaking in strenuous activities – especially in the warmer months. When you’re out on the trail, you never want to be limiting your dog’s water intake.
Pack plenty of water, and as mentioned before, a water bowl to allow him to drink it easily.
3. Don’t Forget the Dog Tags
Leash laws are still prevalent on hiking trails and it’s important you’re adhering to them. Remember even if your dog is friendly, other dogs might not be or could have had bad encounters on a leash (Isabella is one of those). Not to mention, there is a variety of wildlife on hiking trails.
That said, it’s so important your dog is wearing necessary tags on its collar just in case. Accidents happen, leashes break, squirrels run by. What if you went hiking with your dog, he got loose and became lost. At least by having the proper name tag, microchip tag, and rabies tag, you’d have a better shot at getting him home.
If you’re looking for added security, I highly recommend a collar GPS tracking device. There are many lightweight options to choose with a long battery life. I know when it comes to my girls, I’ll take any extra precautions necessary to keep them safe and sound – a GPS is that added security when you’re out hiking.
So, there you have it! The best dog-friendly hiking trails in North Carolina and three vital tips for taking your dog hiking – all combined into The Dog-Friendly Guide to Hiking in NC!
As always, if you have any questions about the information above, please leave a comment.
And if you’re looking for other dog-friendly hiking trails nearby or in other states, be sure to check out the AllTrails app. AllTrails holds over 50,000 hand-curated trail maps plus reviews and photos from millions of hikers, bikers and trail runners nationwide. It’s a great way to discover more dog-friendly hiking trails and also find the starting point for some of the more remote trails.