Estes Park: Dog-Friendly Hiking

One of the main draws to Estes Park is Rocky Mountain National Park. The 415-square miles are an outdoorist’s paradise with peaks, valleys, rivers and loads of animals. But you know what? It’s a national park, and that means one thing:

No Dogs Allowed!

{To be fair, that’s slightly inaccurate, which I’ll explain down below!}

Knowing that, many dog owners {like me!} tend to avoid Estes Park since they assume they won’t have anywhere to play with their pup. Fortunately, the folks at Visit Estes Park set me straight on the topic and I’m here to share what I learned. Read below for some of the best dog-friendly hiking in the area.

Buchanan Pass Trail

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Located within Indian Peaks Wilderness, I’ve hiked a portion of this trail with Tally before. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you likely remember our backpacking trip to Red Deer Lake. Not only does the Buchanan Pass Trail offer access to Red Deer Lake, but it also hooks up to Gibraltar Lakes and Gourd Lakes.

And dogs are allowed!

Buchanan Pass Trail begins at Camp Dick and runs 9.1 miles to the summit of Buchanan Pass. It’s literally breathtaking in its beauty as it sidles along the north of the middle St. Vrain Creek.

Trailhead Location & Dog Rules:

The parking lot is located at the west end of Camp Dick Campground, 24 miles south of Estes Park. You can access Camp Dick from the Peak to Peak Highway. Dogs must be on leashes no longer than six feet long.

Hermit Park Open Space

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Let me immediately tell you the bad: hiking in Hermit Park is not free {As of right now, the day use fee is $6-7 per vehicle.} That said, $7 isn’t crippling and all of the proceeds go directly back to the park in the form of trash collection, restroom supplies, picnic areas and ranger/maintenance staff.

The juice is definitely worth the squeeze! There are two hiking options allowed within the park:

  1. Homestead Meadows Connector Trail: an easy one-mile trail that connects to the USFS boundary where hikers and bikers can then hook up with 12 additional miles of trails
  2. Kruger Rock Trail: a two-mile {one way} hiking-only trail with stunning views of Longs Peak, Estes Park and the Continental Divide

The benefit of Hermit Park is that it is a great family-friendly environment. You can go hiking and then return back to the park for an evening picnic. Or, you can pay to camp there and spend the entire weekend. Bottom line: it’s worth checking out.

Trailhead Location & Dog Rules:

The entrance is located six miles east of Estes Park on Highway 36. Dogs are allowed on leashes no longer than six feet long.

Lily Mountain

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Will and I chose to hike Lily Mountain during our time in Estes Park and it was the perfect choice. We were battling afternoon thunderstorms and this 4 mile out-and-back fit into our morning schedule. The two miles to the summit begins gradually as it crosses over various runoff areas. It then becomes steeper with a final scrambling push to the top. Total elevation gain is just over 1,000 feet.

A word of note: if your dog isn’t used to scrambling, keep your hands free to assist near the top. Tals had no problems hopping from boulder to boulder but a smaller dog may struggle.

Trailhead Location & Dog Rules:

The trailhead is six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. Don’t be surprised when you can’t find a formal parking lot: the trailhead is an enlarged pull-out on the side of the road. Dogs can be off-leash as long as they are under voice command.

Lion Gulch/Homestead Meadows

Trail conditions consistently change here so please check with USFS before heading out. That said, this can be a cool historical site!

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This 3.4 mile trail {one way} drops abruptly from the trailhead as it follows along with the stream in Lion Gulch. Eventually, you’ll hit Homestead Meadows which was an area where eight homesteads were once established between 1889 and 1923. Markers currently stand to provide information on each area. I love historical stuff like this!

Trailhead Location & Dog Rules:

The trailhead is eight miles east of Estes Park on Highway 36. Dogs are allowed off leash as long as they are under voice command.

Lake Estes Trail & Dog Park

To be fair, this isn’t a hiking trail. That said, we enjoyed walking Tals along the lake before we headed home on Sunday afternoon!

The Lake Estes Trail is a 3.75 mile paved trail that wraps around Lake Estes in the middle of town. When we were there, it was littered with joggers, walkers and families in general. It’s definitely the place to be on a sunny day! A dog park is on Community Drive by the lake and –surprisingly– can be a lot of fun. We took Tals to the park pre-run. While she didn’t care two sniffs about the agility obstacle feature, she sure liked the tall grass to play in!

Trailhead Location & Dog Rules:

The trail has many starting points around the lake. Near as I can tell, you can park in any parking lot and hop on! Dogs must be on leash on the trail, but can obviously run freely at the dog park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Surprise! Bet you didn’t think you’d see RMNP in here, right?!

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While dogs are not allowed on the trails in national parks, they are allowed to go anywhere that cars can go. We took Tals into the park with us and did a mini driving tour to some of the beautiful sites. We all got to see cool stuff, although she had a much better view while her head hung out of the back window!

Dogs are also allowed to get out in parking lots and road-side picnic areas, so we took a small break and had a snack at one such spot. Sure, it isn’t hiking with your pup but it’s a nice compromise for those who really want to see the interior of the park.

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14 Comments

  • Reply Heather @ FITaspire June 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I’m so glad to see you found some great dog-friendly trails to enjoy & great to see about RMNP having some options for doggies! I am pretty enamored with the area after our Visit Estes Park trip and we enjoyed the Memorial weekend there, as well. 🙂

    • Reply heather June 5, 2015 at 6:18 am

      Fun! Will and I really want to go back and stay at The Stanley for Halloween 🙂

  • Reply Paulina June 3, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Backpack twinsies 🙂 I love my Scrambler 30!

    • Reply heather June 5, 2015 at 6:18 am

      It’s a great pack!

  • Reply Danielle G. June 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for sharing! We love hiking with our dog but we also love visiting and camping at the National Parks…it’s always a tough decision on finding somewhere we can bring Charlie or visiting a NP.

    • Reply heather June 5, 2015 at 6:19 am

      It’s rough. I love exploring NPs too but sometimes the look on Tally’s face is too unbearable to consider leaving her behind 🙂 I love having alternative options!

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life June 4, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Nice that, while dogs are not allowed everywhere, there are at least a few quality places to take them.

    • Reply heather June 5, 2015 at 6:19 am

      Agreed. And there are quite a few more too!

  • Reply Jessica June 5, 2015 at 8:36 am

    I love going NEAR National Parks and seeing if I can find some trails on Forest Service land that go up to boundaries with views. While I am bummed (but understand why) I can’t visit National Parks with Chester and Gretel, sometimes the surrounding trail experiences are better. They are usually less crowded and sometimes have as good of views as as the ones in the park. If you ever make it out to Seattle, you MUST hike to Marmot Pass. That is a dog-friendly trail that has awesome views of the interior of the Olympic National Park mountains. It’s one of my favorites.

  • Reply Cameron Jarman June 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Love the post! We have been trying to plan an awesome trip to Southern Utah with our dog Ruby but had to cancel because everywhere we wanted to visit was not dog friendly.

    • Reply heather June 9, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Yeah– unfortunately most of the cool areas on southern Utah are not dog-friendly. We spent Memorial Weekend in Canyonlands but Tals stayed behind 🙁

  • Reply Mary Davis July 1, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Next time you visit Estes, try the Homer Rouse Trail (dogs allowed!). I think dogs are also allowed on the Meadow Mountain trail just outside of Allenspark.

  • Reply michele Van Hare June 17, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you for the information – I hope it is OK to share with dog owners in Loveland – we get questions all the time. Nice job on the pictures too!

  • Reply Betsy February 6, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Unfortunately the Lion Gulch trail has been closed since the flood in Sept. 2013…I don’t know if it will ever be reopened! Scratch that one off…:(

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