Hiking With Dogs: Beginner Hikes in the White Mountains

krista-rodriguesI’m Krista and I have been hiking the Whites with my two dogs, Ty and Tango, for a few years in addition to a handful of foster dogs who have accompanied us along the way. Ty is a scrambler and a peakbagger. She loves to hit the trail and earn that view. Tango, on the other hand, is happy to soak in said view for hours and enjoy trail magic from other hikers. Between the two of them and frequently introducing foster dogs to the hiker lifestyle, I’ve come up with a handful of go-to hikes that are perfect for easing a dog into trail life!

Zealand Falls Hut

Location: end of Zealand Road, Jefferson, NH
Route: Zealand Trail – Twinway
Total Miles: 5.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 650 feet
Terrain: mostly packed dirt, some roots and rocks, steep rock pitch just below the hut

Zealand

Much of the Zealand Trail is similar to this. Very enjoyable!

This is a lovely 5.6 mile round trip hike that barely gains any elevation til the end with excellent footing for the majority of the route. Despite the trailhead being at the end of a dirt road, this is a very popular trail for everyone from peakbaggers to families. While it earns a low difficulty rating, if your pup becomes overexcited at the passing of each and every person s/he sees, this may be a good one to hold off on until you work on her trail manners with her. 

If she is ready to handle the crowds, be sure to find a quiet, out of the way spot beside the hut and enjoy a glass of lemonade and soup (provided you’ve hiked with a buddy so you can swap dog-watching duties while somebody is inside)! Caution: beaver ponds along Zealand Trail elevates the risk of giardia!  

Mt. Willard

Location: Crawford Notch (landmark: Crawford Depot)
Route: Mt Willard Trail
Total Miles: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Terrain: packed dirt, low, maneuverable rocks

Willard

The view from the Mt. Willard summit. It ends somewhat abruptly but offers plenty of room to enjoy while giving other hikers a respectful distance from your pup(s).

This short hike with reasonable elevation gain for a first summit offers good footing and somewhat wide paths that are helpful for training a dog for trail walking. It begins with two water crossings that are rock/fallen tree hoppable for humans and dogs may choose to pick their way through the water. Water-wary dogs may have a little bit of a hard time but it is a great place to gently help them learn, as the water is shallow and doesn’t lead to stronger currents or cascades as many other crossings do. For the humans, there is a great view of southern Crawford Notch at the top.

Mt. Major

Location: Route 11, Alton Bay, NH
Route: There are three routes.  We typically choose to create a loop by heading up the Boulder Loop Trail and descending the Brook Trail.
Total Miles: 4.0 mi for the abovementioned route
Elevation Gain: 1,150 feet
Terrain: packed dirt, rocky, loose gravel, smooth rock, ledges

Major-Brook-Trail

Departing the summit of Mt. Major via the Brook Trail.

Although this peak seems to be gaining popularity at an exponential rate (I prefer the less crowded trails), and while it’s not in the White Mountains, I still have to give it credit for preparing my two for tackling the NH 4,000 Footers. Mt. Major has three main trails. I love to make a loop depending on the trail conditions and how the dogs are feeling. When you set off from your vehicle, the Boulder Loop Trail (red blazes) is the path to the left. It begins moderately and has a steep pitch to ascend before easing up considerably when within range of the broad, eternally windy and often busy summit. I choose it for that difficult pitch or if conditions are a little damp for the ledgy Mt. Major Trail.

The other two options begin together as the Mt. Major Trail (blue blazes) to the right and also begin fairly easily on an eroded path. The Mt. Major Trail will diverge and send you and your pup over rocky sections and ledges before you pop out at the summit. This is NOT a good trail for wet or icy conditions but an otherwise fun way to ascend and enjoy a greater variety of views. Finally, the Brook Trail wraps around the backside of the mountain at the most leisurely pace. It will also bring you past the junction to continue on to Straightback Mountain (an easy but sometimes muddy addition if Mt. Major was a success).

Mt. Hedgehog

Location: Kancamagus/Rt 112, Albany, NH (Downes Brook Trail parking lot)
Route: UNH Trail
Total Miles: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,350 feet
Terrain: packed dirt, small rocks, smooth rock, roots, open ledges

Hedgehog-East-Ledges

The East Ledges of Hedgehog.

Quietude, woods, ledges, views, and so much more. This small hike along the Kancamagus (Rt 112) and wedged in between bigger peaks (Whiteface towers beside it from the East Ledges) is a favorite for when we are short on time, it is too warm for Tango to do much more, or to avoid funky conditions further north. Everything about Mt. Hedgehog that makes it ideal for any of those days also make it a great first peak for dogs.  

We like to go clockwise and come down the steeper way but that is personal choice. Up to the trail’s split begins as an easy and short meander through thick evergreens then a hard right into more open forests at an easy incline. Heading clockwise brings a gradual increase in difficulty and elevation gain with more challenging footing than the hikes listed above.  

You will eventually climb over a smooth, exposed slab and pass a sign regarding the fragile plant life in the area, indicating you’ve reached the East Ledges where you’ll enjoy beautiful views and flat granite to traverse with only a few strides in the trees between vistas. The drop off is steep; use caution but use the opportunity to gauge your pup’s natural instincts. You’ll head back into the trees and climb some more before reaching the summit and heading down. Much of the trail is eroded with exposed roots that make for a good challenge and natural oddities to observe between footsteps.

Mt. Pierce

Location: Crawford Notch, across from from the AMC Highlands Center (best parking at the parking lot on Mt. Clinton Rd, take the Crawford Connector to join the main trail)
Route: Crawford Connector – Crawford Path – Webster Cliff Trail
Total Miles: 6.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet
Terrain: packed dirt, rocky, often pockets of mud, brief foray above treeline

Pierce-Crawford-Path

Admittedly, there is some bias here, as Pierce is a favorite for my two dogs, myself, and many of our foster dogs. The Crawford Path maintains a fairly moderate grade with some mildly steep sections up until the junction with the Mizpah Cutoff, after which point, the incline mellows out. While never strenuous, the terrain is often rocky. Pierce is an excellent first four thousand footer; it offers a taste of the rugged terrain bigger hikes will present hikers with but avoids being too overwhelming by maintaining a moderate grade overall.

While I will start most dogs on a smaller peak, if I have a foster dog who has shown nothing but drive on local trails picking around small rocks, roots, and through mud, we skip right to Pierce. The summit offers ample opportunity for breaks (and views for the humans!). Pierce is a popular hike year-round but getting an early start (8:00 AM) keeps us ahead of most others.

Hiking-With-Dogs-1

Making friends on the trail!

I’ve gotten great feedback from Ty, Tango, and our foster dogs on these hikes. There are few times I feel as happy and accomplished as when I have happy trail dogs by my side and the treks above never disappoint! That being said, several others such as Crawford, Kearsarge North, and the Frankenstein Cliffs/Arethusa Falls loop narrowly missed making this list and we’re always searching for more! You can find our trip reports for each of these hikes (except Mt. Major) on my blog, PawsonPeaks

For more information on hiking with your dog, including helpful tips, safety, and rules in the White Mountains, check out this page from the AMC. Thanks for reading and happy trails!

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New Hampshire, New Hampshire Trail Reviews
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5 responses to Hiking With Dogs: Beginner Hikes in the White Mountains
  1. greenpete58 says:

    Great essay. I guess I’m an intermediate hiker (two sections of the AT under my belt, one section in the Cascades). I’m doing the Whites in a few weeks for the first time. Just a few questions: how much weight does each of your dogs carry? Is it all food, or do they also carry their own water? (how much water total do you take?). Do they need training to do, say, a 15-mile daily hike?

    Hey, Sheba and I thank you!

  2. Hey GreenPete58 and Sheba! Kudos on the section hiking – definitely something we may get into in the future! For health reasons, a dog should carry a maximum of 25% of her body weight and should be introduced to her pack and the weight gradually. Some dogs may be most comfortable at much less than 25% so I recommend knowing your pup’s body language well and watch for signs of discomfort, soreness, or just a sense of “blah.” 🙂 One thing I find helpful is to stuff Tango’s pack with bulky items so that I can carry a smaller pack but I am not asking a lot of him in terms of load weight (he gets tired quicker than me and Ty.)

    For two dogs (50 and 63 pounds) who drink from natural sources (watch out for giardia!), I carry about 1-1.5L for a 9 mile hike this time of year but increase that in the summer and/or choose hikes that pass multiple water sources. Ty carries water but never food. I get a little paranoid about her carrying items with scent to them.

    A 15 miler should be built up to but the amount of training depends on the dog, what level and type of exercise she is accustomed to doing regularly, and the terrain of the planned hike. A big reminder I always give, and sorry if it is old news, is not to forget about her pads. For example, a dog who does most of her exercise on dirt or grass may have a tough time trekking over rocks for hours!

    Happy Trails to you and Sheba!

    • greenpete58 says:

      Thanks Krista… yep, pads are a concern. Sheba and I do 2-mile runs on the sidewalk. She’s had a couple sores break out, but normally she’s ok. On rocky trails, though, it might be a problem. Anyway, I’ll store away your advice for a possible future hike with her. Thanks again!

    • Mark Fugel says:

      I just picked up a jar of Mushers Secret…essentially wax and oils for your dog’s paws. Just applied it last night after a couple of recent hikes. We will see…

  3. Krista Rodrigues says:

    My pleasure! Sounds like she’ll have the interest and stamina for a shorter hike to start but will love the double digits once she builds up to them. Have fun!

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