Hiking dogs
Dogs on a snowy hiking trail (Rachel Lynnae/Flickr)

What are the best dog-friendly hiking trails?

My Dad and I want to take the dogs and head out for a 3-4 day hike this summer. We're experienced, but my Pop's got a bad back and can’t do a lot of climbing. Any good spots in New England or the mid-Atlantic that allow dogs and aren't too steep?

Hiking dogs
Greg Melville

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Let me make sure I understand: the old man has a bad back, so you want to avoid climbs, but you’re not concerned about the 40-plus-pound pack he’ll be hauling? As long as you don’t hold me legally responsible, here are five fantastic dog-friendly hiking spots that hopefully won’t put your pops in traction.

Appalachian Trail, Virginia
Surprisingly enough, the 101-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail that traces the ridgetops of the Blue Ridge through Shenandoah National Park is largely free of dramatic climbs and descents. For much of the time, it parallels the gently sloping path of Skyline Drive, even offering access to the park’s two lodges and the Lewis Mountain Cabins

Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
This stark, scrub-filled preserve that lies on a high plateau in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest is so exposed to severe weather patterns sweeping down from the north that there are more Canadian than US species inhabiting its grassy balds and bogs. There are nearly 30 miles of cairn-marked trails within Dolly Sods, which connect to other paths in the surrounding areas of the Monongahela. Primitive camping is permitted, but campfires aren’t.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park, DC to Maryland
It’s not exactly backcountry, but if you’re looking for gentle terrain and a pleasant long-distance hike, one of your prime options on the East Coast is the on the towpath of the C&O Canal, which stretches 184 miles from Georgetown in Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland, near the Potomac River.  Along the way are 30 established campsites, all within less than a half-day’s walk from each other (nps.gov/choh).

Metacomet Trail, Connecticut
Hikers from southern New England often overlook the untouched scenery of inland Connecticut in favor of more rugged alternatives in the Berkshires, Green Mountains, and Adirondacks. As a result, the forgiving but remote Metacomet Trail remains relatively secret. It meanders roughly 60 miles along Connecticut’s Metacomet Ridge to the Massachusetts border , passing waterfalls, ponds, and dramatic cliffs. Much of the Metacomet runs through private lands, so you’ll need to get permission from landowners to set up your tent. Ctxguide.com’s forums have good information, as does the New England Trail site.

Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, Maine
The Cutler Coast, a 1,200-acre swath of bogs, blueberry-filled grasslands, pine forests and rocky cliffs on the edge of the Bay of Fundy, isn’t really a backpacking destination. Instead, you hike about four miles from the parking lot to a small camping area on the coast and use it as your base camp for day hiking the parklands’ 20 miles of impeccably maintained trails.

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