Hiking with dogs in Summit County: trail and leash etiquette for dogs and hikers

Learn about leash regulations for local hiking trails and other areas around Summit County

As the sunny summer weather continues, the more people will want to be out and about, taking advantage of Summit County’s miles and miles of trails, especially during the long Labor Day weekend. For many, spending time outdoors involves spending time with pets, taking them out of the backyard and out on those same trails. But what are the restrictions regarding hiking with dogs in Summit County?

Dogs are great hiking companions and inarguably part of any Summit County outdoor occasion. Visitors, too, love to bring their pups along and give them a taste of mountain living. While it’s perfectly acceptable to bring a four-legged companion along on an outdoor occasion, it’s also important to remember that there are rules in place to ensure the safety everyone involved — people, pets and wildlife.

Leashing your pet

A leash is a hiking essential since it is the easiest and most effective way to control a dog. Dogs are welcome in all Summit County downtowns, as long as they are on a leash which is being controlled by their owner. Dragging leashes won’t do it, said Frisco service officer Seth Blackmer, the leash must be under the owner’s control.

In addition to downtown streets, leashes on dogs are a must in any alleyways, town parks, cemeteries, marinas, etc. This includes the Frisco Adventure Day Park, Frisbee golf course and the peninsula.

Dogs found at large will be brought to the Summit County Animal Shelter in Frisco. Pick-up requires proof of license, proof of vaccinations including rabies shots, as well as payment of a fine.

Designated wilderness areas also require dogs to be leashed at all times. There are two such areas in Summit County — the Eagle’s Nest wilderness area and the Ptarmigan Peak wilderness area, both north of Interstate 70.

“The one thing we try to emphasize in the wilderness is the safety of the dog and the safety of other people,” said Ken Waugh, staff officer at the Dillon Ranger District.

Dogs caught off leash in the wilderness areas will incur a $125 fine for their owners.

Other wilderness dangers

The law is also in place to protect the wildlife in the area, added Cindy Ebbert, wilderness, trails, dispersed recreation manager for the Dillon Ranger District.

“Within our wilderness area, that’s our highest level of protection for Forest Service lands, so we’re also trying to protect the wildlife in there,” she said. “We really don’t want dogs chasing other animals within a wilderness area.”

Owners won’t want their dogs chasing wild animals either. Clashes with wildlife such as porcupines, moose, skunks and bears can leave dogs in bad shape, possibly even requiring medical attention.

Waugh also emphasized the importance of caution when hiking with dogs in wilderness areas due to the hunting season opening Sept. 1. The first group of hunters are archers, but caution is still of utmost importance, from now until the season ends in November. He recommends that owners tie a brightly colored kerchief on their dog’s collar, or take other actions to distinguish them as a domesticated pet and not a wild animal.

Within sight and voice control

Outside of town limits and the two designated wilderness areas, when you go hiking with dogs, leashes on trails are not required. What is required is that dogs remain within voice command distance of owners. It’s best that dogs also remain in sight.

“You have to be able to see your dog in order to control it,” Waugh said.

While dogs may wander up and down the trail in these areas, common courtesy dictates that dogs should be by their owners’ sides when passing other people.

“The ideal situation is you’re out for a walk with your dog, … and (when) you see the people coming up the trail, you call the dog and you have the dog heel next to you,” Waugh said. “The dog is under control at that point until you pass those people and let the dog go out again. The main issue is safety, because a lot of people are fearful of dogs and people are out with their kids and don’t want them encountering (strange dogs).”

Dog owners should take particular care when encountering equestrians on the trail, as dogs may cause the horses to be skittish, which can endanger not only the rider but people on foot nearby as well.

“It’s just common sense. If you see horses, absolutely get your dog to your side and hold onto them,” Ebbert said. “Step off the trail and let the horses pass. That can create a safety issue for the people on the hose if a dog comes up and nips at a horse on a narrow trail.”

Just because leashes aren’t required doesn’t mean the idea shouldn’t be considered in other hiking places. A younger or newly trained dog that may not quickly or dependably respond to voice commands should be leashed no matter where they are. Visitors should also understand that a dog that is well-behaved in the city may not be as obedient on the trail.

“We love our pets and we like to think that they’re different and they’re going to obey us, but on the trails there are all kinds of random things that can happen that are different from a dog’s habit or their comfort (zone),” said Bob Cook, executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. “Things jump out, there are other dogs that they have some kind of a reaction to, that’s different because it’s not the same kind of relationships or patterns that they’re used to on their home walk. All those things, I think, are just (part of) being a good neighbor as well as being a good caretaker of your pet.”

Pick it up

Another important aspect of hiking with dogs trail etiquette is cleaning up after the animals. With such a high volume of people using the trail system, animal droppings can quickly become a problem if not dealt with. Many Breckenridge hiking trails have bag dispensers at the trail heads, although hikers are encouraged to bring their own in case a dispenser is empty. Once it’s bagged, it also has to be thrown away, which may necessitate taking the bag back into the car, not leaving it at the trailhead.

“It’s your responsibility to take it to a trash can somewhere,” Waugh said.

Originally published in the August 20, 2013 issue of the Summit Daily and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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