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Dogs in the Wilderness

Wilderness Regulations for Dogs

Pick up dog waste

State and federal laws require dog owners to pick up their dog waste. Some people believe dog poop is "natural" and "just like any other animals poop", however this is not the case! Dog poop is full of excess nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous from their dog food that is not found in wild animal poop. Pet waste can take longer to break down and can spread diseases to wildlife and contaminate water. For more information see Wildlife Poop vs Dog Poop Explained. It is also just common courtesy to pick up your dog's waste!

Photo of trail with dog poop bags left behind

Do not leave a poop bag on the trail to pick up later - they are often missed or forgotten on the way back leaving litter on the trail. Do the right thing and pick up trash and poop bags you see on your hike (even if they were left by someone else). Many wilderness areas and trailheads do not have trash facilities, so make sure to take it with you to dispose of properly!

Leash rules

Photo of dog on a leash

Dogs must be on hand-held leashes (no more than 6 foot in length) at all times while in the Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas and within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (BLRA) where permitted. Failure to leash your dog may result in a fine.


Note: Certain trails in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area do not allow dogs in the winter season (for more information visit the U.S. Forest Service Brainard Lake Recreation Area Page).  

Dogs may be off leash on National Forest lands that are not located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area or within the wilderness areas, unless otherwise specified (such as during hunting season with a licensed hunter).


Visit the U.S. Forest Service pages for more information on current conditions and regulations:


U.S. Forest Service Indian Peaks Wilderness Area Page


U.S. Forest Service James Peaks Wilderness Area Page


U.S. Forest Service Brainard Lake Recreation Area Page

A few good reasons for leashing your dog are:

  • To protect your dog from becoming lost

  • To protect your dog from wilderness hazards such as moose, skunks, porcupines, mountain lions, bears and rabid animals

  • To keep your dog from drinking from mountain streams and ponds, which are often contaminated with Giardia

  • For the enjoyment and wilderness experience of other hikers and other hikers with dogs

  • To be sensitive to other trail users, who may be uncomfortable around dogs running up to them, especially large dogs

  • To protect the wildlife in the wilderness

  • To ensure the continued benefit of bringing your dog into the wilderness

  • Tips for hiking with your dog


  • Check to see if your dog is allowed on the trail.

  • Personal safety first.

  • Pets must be on a leash at all times.

  • Owners need to pick up pet droppings and carry out poop bags.

  • Ask before petting someone else’s dog.

  • ​Pets must be on a leash at all times in the wilderness because:
    • Leashes protect dogs from becoming lost and from wilderness hazards such as porcupines, mountain lions, moose, and sick, injured and rapid animal

    • Unleashed dogs intimidate other hikers and their dogs depriving them of the peace wilderness provides

    • Unleashed dogs harass, injure and sometimes kill wildlife

    • A leashed dog’s keen senses can enhance your awareness of nearby wildlife or other wilderness visitors

    • Unleashed dogs increase the probability of dogs being banned from your favorite public lands

    • It's the law and failure to leash your dog may result in a fine.



  • If the dog is aggressive –

    • Don’t approach

    • Don’t run

    • Don’t smile – bearing teeth is a sign of aggression to a dog

  • Should I bring my dog?

    Volunteers are prohibited from bringing dogs or other pets on patrol hikes, however you may hike with your pet during your own time. 

    Many hikers enjoy taking their dogs hiking, however if you plan to bring your dog with you on the trail, make sure your dog can handle the challenge of the trail. Dogs, like people, need to build up endurance and fitness before tackling strenuous trails. It is a good idea to take your dog on several short hikes before going on a longer one.


    The high altitude, changing weather conditions, wildlife and remote location in the wilderness can pose additional threats to dogs that they do not encounter on a walk around their neighborhood. You may need to carry your dog over rough terrain and stream crossings or if they become injured. If your dog is not up to it, do yourself and your dog a favor and leave them at home!


    Some common trail hazards include:

  • Dehydration and Giardia: dogs can become easily dehydrated so pack enough water for you and your dog, keeping in mind that mountain streams may be contaminated with Giardia and should be treated before drinking. If your dog drinks water from streams or ponds, watch for symptoms and talk to your vet. A leash comes in handy for keeping dogs from drinking from streams. 

  • Moose, Ticks and Animal Bites: The wilderness is home to many wild creatures, including snakes, ticks and other dangerous animals such as moose, porcupines, mountain lions, and bears and rabid animals. Moose have been known to chase and maul dogs (whom they see as wolves that could harm them or their young). Keeping your dog on a leash to prevent encounters with dangerous animals is a must! It is also helpful to check your dog for tick and other insect bites and carry a first aid kit with pet supplies. 

  • Paw damage: It is easy to assume dogs are naturally adapted to the wild, however dogs that are used to walking on rugs and grass at home may soon be limping on the rocky terrain. Mud, snow and ice are common on high altitude trails even in the summer and may damage your pups paws, so make sure you and your dog are prepared and have proper footwear (dog booties are a good idea). 

  • Other helpful tips:


  • Make sure your dog has all updated vaccinations and flea and tick protection.

  • Make sure your dog has identification tags or is microchipped in case they get lost. Bring a recent photo of your dog with you to show others or a ranger if your dog goes missing.

  • Be very cautious is areas with sleep slopes, cliffs, big rocks, canyons or other challenging conditions. It is safest to attach the leash to a sturdy harness instead of a neck collar.

  • Make sure you pack plenty of water.

  • Pack plenty of plastic bags so you can clean up after your dog.

  • Never leave your dog outside alone or in a car. 

  • Don’t leave your dog’s food out when he’s not eating. It could attract unwanted insects or wildlife.

  • Keep your dog quiet. Frequent and continued barking disturbs the wildlife and other campers.

  • Find spots to rest (or camp) with some shade for your dog.

  • For more tips visit REI's Hiking or Backpacking with your Dog article.

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