There are so many great reasons to take your dog on the trail. When you hike with your four-legged friend, it not only provides the dog great exercise, but also stimulates the animal’s senses, which prevents boredom and bad behavior.
As you and your dog explore parks and forests together, you’ll also have time to bond, which can improve your ability to train your pet and enjoy a less stressful relationship. At the same time, you’ll benefit by having a devoted protector who will make you feel more safe and secure on the trail.
In Alabama, you can take advantage of many pet-friendly trails, but you should consider a few things before you take your dog on a hike. We talked with trainers and pet experts to compile the following tips:
Plan a hike that matches your dog’s health and physical abilities. If your dog isn’t used to long walks, don’t plan an extensive hike. Instead, start with short walks and progress to longer treks gradually.
Before you hike, check out the rules and regulations for any particular hiking area and ensure you pick a trail that allows dogs. At most trailheads, you’ll see signs with rules concerning pets, and most places require a dog to be on a leash. If no rules are posted, use a leash anyway, and always stay in control of your dog. Even if your dog is super friendly and relaxed around other animals, someone else on the trail could have a dog that’s highly reactive to other animals.
Be familiar with the hiking terrain for the trail you choose. If you pick a path with lots of elevation gain or exposure to sun, your dog could get hot and tired quickly, and you might have to cut the time and distance of your walk.
For a day hike, pack food and water for your dog, plus a collapsible water bowl. In hot weather, a dog might need to stop often to drink and rest in the shade.
Due to the heat and humidity in Alabama, you should monitor your dog carefully to make sure he or she isn’t getting overheated. Before you hike, become familiar with the symptoms of dehydration and overheating in dogs.
Pack bags to carry out dog poop.
In recent years, ticks have become more prevalent in the South. After a hike—especially in spring—check your dog for ticks.
Dog-Friendly Trails in Alabama
Throughout Alabama, you’ll find great parks and forests with trail systems that are pet friendly. As you plan an outing, consider the following seven areas, which offer a variety of terrain, scenery, and hiking distances.
Moss Rock Preserve
With 12 miles of trails covering 349 acres, Moss Rock Preserve provides you and your four-legged friend plenty of room to roam. If your dog isn’t used to long walks, try the popular Red Trail, which measures less than 1 mile and gains little elevation. Even though it’s short, the trail is impressive, with scenic views and a picture-perfect crossing over Hurricane Creek, which flows through the preserve.
Elsewhere, Moss Rock Preserve hosts an unusual sandstone glade, where a variety of trees, grasses, and flowers grow between rocks to form a landscape that appears less like a forest and more like a Martian landscape. In this glade, some of the pine trees are more than 200 years old.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
With more than 1,000 acres to explore and 14 miles of interconnected trails, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve provides many options for you and your dog. Interested in history? Native flora and fauna? Instagram-worthy city views? Ruffner Mountain has it all. Plus, no bikes or cars are allowed, providing dog owners some extra peace of mind.
As you hike, you’ll catch glimpses of Ruffner Mountain’s mining past. Between the late 1800s and the 1950s, the area was the site of mining operations, and numerous trails pass old mining sites. The 1.2-mile Quarry Trial, for instance, visits a limestone quarry where fossils remain embedded in the rock. Elsewhere, check out the Overlook Trail for unmatched views of downtown Birmingham.
Gulf State Park
While dogs aren’t allowed on the three miles of beaches at Gulf State Park, they are allowed on the park’s extensive Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system.
Offering more than 15 miles of hiking paths, the trail system includes six different ecosystems, including a maritime forest, sand dunes, wetlands, and lakes. In addition, leashed dogs are allowed in the park’s campground and picnic area. Plus, the park has dog-friendly cabins and cottages.
Itching to let Fido roam free? Unleashed dogs can run around and take a dip in the Dog Pond at Lake Shelby. Just be aware that Lake Shelby is home to alligators, so be on alert while playing fetch around the water.
Red Mountain Park
Following the ridge of Red Mountain, the Vulcan Trail in Red Mountain Park allows you to do a 2-mile out-and-back trip that delivers natural beauty, impressive views, and a glimpse at the region’s history.
As you traverse the wide Vulcan Trail, occasional breaks in the trees lining the trail reveal impressive views of downtown Birmingham and other nearby mountain ridges.
The Vulcan Trail also follows the path of an old railroad corridor. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Red Mountain was the site of iron ore mining operations, and hikers today wind among relics and ruins of the mountain’s hardworking past.
Talladega National Forest
Established in the 1930s as part of the United States’ New Deal, Talladega National Forest was rescued from heavy logging and now includes some 380,000 acres. On its vast network of trails, you can explore high peaks with lofty views and trek to several gorgeous waterfalls. If your dog is up for a longer, more challenging hike, this is a great destination.
From the 6-mile Chinnabee Silent Trail, you can access Cheaha Mountain, the tallest point in the state at just over 2,400 feet. For a great hike, head to Cheaha Falls, which drops an impressive 30 feet. While the hike to the falls is pretty easy, covering mostly flat terrain, you should keep your dog on a leash near the falls, where slippery rocks and a steep drop-off are dangerous. For a more heart-pounding hike, take the steep trail to High Falls, which is sometimes 300 feet wide at peak water flow. While the hike to the falls isn’t easy, there are stairs to help out tired hikers and tuckered pooches.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
Named for the river that flows along the top of Lookout Mountain, Little River Canyon National Preserve holds immense forests, cascading waterfalls, one of the deepest canyons in the region, impressive boulders, and sandstone cliffs.
Hiking options are numerous, and given the short lengths of some of the preserve’s trails, hikers can pick and choose their favorites for a fun day of exploration with their pup.
The Canyon Mouth Picnic Area promises an easy, flat 1-mile hike, with views of the Little River Canyon. Another easy option is the 1.24-mile Beaver Pond Trail, which crosses fairly level terrain and leads to a pond dammed by beavers. Hikers can also take a boardwalk to the base of Little River Falls, with an offshoot trail that leads to nearby Martha’s Falls.
Be aware that the preserve’s Eberhart Point Trail is not recommended for pets, owing to the rugged nature of the hike and steep boulders that hikers must navigate along the way.
Huntsville Monte Sano Nature Preserve
While most Huntsville trails see plenty of traffic, the Monte Sano Nature Preserve (managed by the Land Trust of North Alabama) generally attracts fewer hikers with dogs than the state park atop the mountain. If you have a dog that’s more reactive to other animals, and you hope to avoid other hikers, you’re best bet is to visit the nature preserve trails in the early morning or late afternoon.
Covering more than 1,100 acres, the Monte Sano Nature Preserve has at least 20 miles of trails that include long and short loops, as well as entertaining out-and-back trips on easy and moderate terrain.
From the parking area, you can hop on the Buff Line Trail, which runs pretty level, with only short, modest climbs, for the first 1.4 miles. A great option for hiking with dogs, this stretch of trail is very shaded and includes chances to play in small, shallow streams. To add some difficulty and distance, continue on the Bluff Line Trail and make the moderate ascent up the flank of the mountain. If you connect the Bluff Line with the High Trail and Tollgate Trail, you can complete a nice 2-hour loop.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.