The park prohibits dogs (and other pets) on all backcountry trails for several reasons:
• Dogs can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.
• Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife.
• Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness.
• Pets may become prey for larger predators such as mountain lions, coyotes and bears. In fact, in August of 2016, a black bear killed a leashed dog in Shenandoah National Park. This isn't an isolated incident. According to a study conducted by Stephen Herrero and Hank Hristienko, both leading authorities on bear behavior, dogs were involved in more than half of all black bear attacks between 2010 and 2013. Bears aren't the only issue for dogs in the backcountry. Moose have also injured hikers while out on the trail with their dogs. Here and here are two relatively recent incidents in Colorado alone.
• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.
Although not allowed on trails, pets are still permitted in Rocky Mountain National Park. According to the park website, pets:
"are allowed only in areas accessed by vehicles, including roadsides, parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds. They must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet and attended at all times. Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up after your pet and disposing of waste in trash receptacles."If you still wish to hike with your dog while visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park area, you do have a few options outside the park. There are several multi-use trails around the Town of Estes Park, as well as open space areas within the counties surrounding the park. Some of these include:
East of the Continental Divide:
• Buchanan Pass Trail
• Crosier Mountain
• Hermit Park
• Lake Estes Trail/Dog Park
• Lily Mountain
• Lion Gulch / Homestead Meadows
• Mud Lake Open Space
• Rabbit Mountain
• Meadow Mountain / St. Vrain Mountain
• Pawnee Pass (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
• Lake Isabelle (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
• Long Lake Loop (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
West Side of the Continental Divide:
• Cascade Mountain
• Bowen Pass
• Bowen Lake Loop
• Roaring Fork Trail
• Cascade Creek Trail
For additional information on most of the trails listed above, please click here.
You should also note that the Grand Lake Metropolitan Recreation District has roughly 15 miles of dog-friendly trails. For more information on these trails, please click here.
All trails in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, which surrounds Rocky Mountain National Park on all sides, are open to pets; however, some require pets to be leashed. You should always check first for information concerning a particular trail in the national forest. Hiking guides are available at ranger district offices. They describe the trails and identify special regulations, such as restrictions on dogs or horses, permit requirements, or other special trail regulations. You can also call:
• USFS Boulder Ranger District, Boulder: 303-541-2500
• USFS Canyon Lakes Ranger District, Ft. Collins: 970-295-6700
• USFS Sulphur Ranger District, Granby: 970-887-4100
Just south of RMNP, in the popular Indian Peaks Wilderness, dogs must be kept on hand-held leashes at all times. Failure to leash your dog could result in a fine.
Best Hikes with Dogs: Colorado covers 80 hikes in Colorado where dogs are welcome. The author, Ania Savage, describes rarely explored trails, short day hikes, longer backpacking trips, as well as information on off-leash hiking areas. She also provides a hike selection chart that compares trails by leash regulations, suitability for senior dogs, stream access, mountains you can climb with your dog, and more.