Cascade Hikes for Pint-Sized Pups

June 28, 2016

By Jessica Rhea Williams

Photo at right: Gretel poses in front of the North Cascade mountains on the Heather-Maple Pass Loop Trail. Photo by Jessica Rhea Williams and courtesy


Are you ready to take your small dog hiking with you? I’ve been hiking with my dachshunds for over a decade and they love it.

There are advantages to hiking with small dogs. Little dogs are easy to carry out if they become injured. If you’re camping overnight, they can snuggle inside your sleeping bag to keep warm and their light weight makes them less likely to cut up their foot pads when hiking on rocky terrain.

There are, however, some differences you should be aware of when hiking with small dogs.

Small dogs may have a tendency to push themselves more than they can physically handle.

Help them properly build up their endurance and watch them closely for fatigue. A good way to condition your little pup is to commit to hiking 3 – 4 days a month and tackle progressively harder hikes.

Be sure to match the trail difficulty with your dog’s capabilities, age and experience.

Another disadvantage with small dogs is that they are closer to the ground. On sunny days, the ground reflects the heat, creating a zone of warmer air 1 – 2 feet above the ground. While typically only the legs of bigger dogs are in this “heat zone,” smaller dogs have their whole body in it. This means smaller dogs can overheat faster than a larger dog on a warm day and are prone to heat stroke and dehydration. Be sure to carry plenty of water and take breaks.

Smaller dogs may resemble a predator’s preferred meal in size, so keep a watchful eye on them when you’re out in the woods. It’s best to keep them on a leash, even if the laws in the area don’t require it, so they stay close to you. A potential predator is likely to be fearful of humans and may not come close enough to be a threat.

Hikes for Small Dogs

Are you ready to take your small dog hiking with you? These three North Cascades trails are suitable for small dogs starting with an easy stroll along rolling terrain to a more difficult and steep climb. See the resources list below for Washington Trails Association information for each hike.

Please note that leashes and poop bags are required on these trails.

Easy: Boulder River Trail

Distance: Approximately 3 miles

Elevation Gain: Under 700 feet

Terrain: Dirt trail, out-and-back, mostly rolling terrain

Best time to go: Spring through fall

Highlights: A 130-foot waterfall, sometimes referred to as Boulder Falls, splits into two separate streams and cascades over the mossy rock into the Boulder River below. There is a bench nearby for those who want to sit and enjoy the beauty.

Things to know: The road can be bumpy, especially early in the season, so a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.

You’ll pass a vault toilet on the way to the trailhead but there are no facilities in the parking area. No fee or pass is required to park at the trailhead and there is room for approximately 15 cars.

Moderate: Heather-Maple Pass Loop

Distance: 7.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet

Terrain: Dirt trail, rocky trail, loop, out-and-back, mostly climbing or descending

Best time to go: Summer through fall

Highlights: Heather-Maple Pass features ridgelines blanketed in wildflowers in summer and lakes ringed with golden larches in fall. The views into the interior of the North Cascades National Park from the ridge are jaw-dropping.

Things to know: Be prepared as Maple Pass can retain snow until late in the season. There is a privy at the trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required and there is parking for about 40 cars. Dogs are not allowed past park boundary signs

More Difficult: Gem Lake

Distance: 10 miles

Elevation Gain: Approximately 2,257 feet

Terrain: Dirt trail, rocky trail, steep with rock steps in sections, out-and-back

Best time to go: Summer through fall

Highlights: You will pass the amazing Snow Lake on the way to your destination. Gem Lake, nestled at the foot of Wright Mountain, also offers spectacular views and is often less crowded.

Things to know: The first part of this hike utilizes the trail to Snow Lake, which can be extremely crowded on weekends. Check trail conditions and the avalanche forecast before going in early or late season as there is avalanche danger when snow is present. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead and there is a privy.

Directions to trailheads

Boulder River Trail:
Heather-Maple Pass Loop:
Gem Lake:

Jessica Williams is the author of a Seattle-based blog about hiking and traveling with small dogs and a pet-focused social media consultant. Visit