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5 Tips for Hiking with your Dog in the Desert

Hiking with your dog in the desert

I know what you’re thinking about right now because I’m thinking the same thing. Where am I going to hike when Spring rolls around? The mountains? Nah, go there all the time…the beach? Nah, too far plus it’ll be too cold. Oh! The Desert. Yes, I’ll go to the desert and bring my dog of course!

Hiking in the desert is one of my absolute favorite activities with my dog, Charlie. We love hiking in slot canyons, to arches, in deep canyons where the walls tower over us by hundreds of feet. We love finding petroglyphs and ancient ruins. The only thing that can ruin a desert hike is not being prepared. Here are 5 Tips for hiking with your dog in the desert!

1. The obvious tip – carry lots of water

Everyone knows dogs need to hydrate while hiking, but in the desert, it’s a different story. Dogs need almost 25% more water than normal because the air is so dry, and the heat makes them sweat more. Normally, a 50 lb dog needs between 1-2.5 liters of water per day. While hiking in the desert you can expect that your dog will drink more towards the higher end. When my dog and I hike in Southern Utah, he carries 2 liters of water in his own backpack, then I carry 3 liters for myself, leaving extra for him just in case. We also carry a Sawyer Mini Water Filter as a backup in case we run out. It stays in my pack year-round, so I don’t forget to bring it along. If we are running short on water and see a decent, clear pond of water we will stop to filter. It only takes a few minutes, and you can be worry-free the rest of your hike.

2. Hike early in the morning & off-season

The desert can get really hot, especially in the summer. The nights are cool, but the days can be unbearable. If we see temperatures are going to be above 80°F that day, we start hiking by 6 am at the latest. Yes, it’s “ruff” to get up really early, but it’s so worth the effort. Not only will you get out of the heat, but the mornings are very peaceful, not many other dog owners will be up, so you’ll have the trails to yourself, and the sunrises are hard to beat in the desert. Also, try to hike in the off-season. My favorite times of year to hit the desert are April and October. Temperatures are cooler, not as many people are able to get out, and the Spring Bloom and Fall Leaves are so pretty and fun to enjoy with a dog by your side. Winter can be a good time to hike in the desert as well, but sometimes harsh winds often take away the fun of hiking.

3. Carry dog booties and a first aid kit

The only times my dog has burned his paws are in the desert on slick rock and sand. Thankfully it’s never been so bad he’s worn down his pads, but he will sit there and pick up one paw then the other – he’s letting me know it’s too hot. On these rare occasions that his paws get too hot, we carry dog booties as a backup. This is another item I keep in my pack year-round for him – you never know when you’ll need them. Bog boots are just for hot sand, it’s also an item to keep in case of a paw injury like bleeding or a ripped nail. Keeping the paw clean is a priority when hiking back to the car.

Always keep these 9 items in your dog’s first aid kit as well.

4. Pick a dog-friendly trail, away from ATVs/Bikes

The desert is an ATV, dirt bike, and mountain biking mecca. However, some dogs don’t do well around these and it can lead to frustration on both the owners and riders’ part. Choose a trail that there are known to be less bikes and motorized machines on. Another good way to avoid issues with bikes is to once again, hike a trail offseason when tourists aren’t around. Make sure to check trail regulations before heading out, so you know what the rules are for dogs on that trail.

5. Take frequent shade breaks

Even though you will be hiking in the desert with few trees, be creative with where to find shade. It can be on the side or under a boulder, away from the sun, under a ledge, or even just sitting down with a long sleeve shirt over your head, providing shade for your dog. Just like people need a break in the shade, so do dogs. Know your dog’s limits, and when they start to slow dog take a break. There’s no hurry to complete a hike – it allows you to take in the scenery, have a snack, and provide some treats or a hug for your dog to let them know what a good job they are doing.

About Alicia Baker – Girl on a Hike

Alicia Baker is the owner of “Girl on a Hike”, a blog that follows Alicia and her hiking companion, Charlie, a Golden Lab, on their outdoor adventures. She has lived in Utah for five years and loves exploring everything from the High Uinta’s to the San Rafael Swell and desert. Each year, she and Charlie hike and backpack an average of 700 miles. “Girl on a Hike” has been awarded as one of the Top 100 Outdoor & Hiking Blogs from 2016 through 2018. You can reach her on Instagram & Facebook @GirlonaHike.


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