Banning Pets on Hiking Trails: Agree or Disagree?

How do you feel about public lands banning pets on hiking trails?

The banning of pets from hiking trails isn’t uncommon. It’s a big practice in National Parks, Nature Preserves, State Parks, and other natural areas across the county.

There are many reasons why public land managers would ban pets from the trail. Some reasons have to do with ecology, and others have to do with safety.

However, this issue isn’t always favored in the public eye. Many pet owners feel that banning pets on hiking trails is wrong and singles out pet use in nature.

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of banning pets from hiking trails with the conclusion of an alternate approach to the issues at hand.

Advantages of Banning Pets on Hiking Trails

There are many advantages of banning pets on hiking trails. Many of these advantages are the official reasoning behind why land management agencies enact such bans.


To Protect Wildlife and Flora

Many pets might endanger wildlife and flora when they’re allowed to use the trail with humans.

Pets, dogs, in particular, tend to trample down vegetation along the sides of trails, whether on a leash or off the leash. Keeping a dog directly on the trail and not trampling on vegetation would be difficult; many plants, wildlife ecosystems, and flora populations are threatened to be destroyed.

Pets may also have negative reactions to wildlife. Dogs have been known to maim or even kill wildlife such as birds, snakes, squirrels, rats, and other smaller animals.

Some wildlife, plants, and flora that is destroyed may be rare and precious to the natural area.


Safety for Other Trail Users

Sometimes, pets may become aggressive or defensive of other trail users who approach their owners.

Imagine a horseback rider or mountain biker getting too close to a hiker with a dog. The dog becomes defensive of its owner and feels the horse or bike rider is a threat. The dog jumps and barks at the horse causing the animal to buck its rider off. The same could be said for the mountain, causing the mountain bike to wreck.

Even though most animals can be trained to not be aggressive, not all pets get that sort of training and may get defensive at the right moment.

By banning pets on hiking trails, all trail users can safely use the trail without worrying about an aggressive dog encounter.


Animal Waste Litter Reduction

While many pet owners will pick up their pets’ waste and discard it properly, many people will still not practice such an activity.

Many land managers will ban pets from using the hiking trail to prevent pet waste from being left behind. Dog waste isn’t exactly harmless. Pets eat different types of foods which aren’t natural to the ecosystem.

Pet waste could create a concern for the natural ecosystem. Horse and mule waste typically comprises grassy products commonly found in nature.

Many pet owners will not pick up the waste of their pets. This also becomes a problem for other users who step into the waste.

Banning Pets on Hiking Trails

Disadvantages of Banning Pets on Hiking Trails

A few disadvantages of banning pets on hiking trails are also important to note. Many of these issues derail an agency’s effort to ban pet use on the trails.


Discrimination Against Responsible Pet Owners

Many pet owners are aware of the issues their pets can cause and take measures to prevent them.

For example, pet owners may bring bags with them to pick up waste. They might also use a muzzle on their dogs to prevent them from biting and barking loudly at other trail users. Responsible pet owners can use shorter leashes to keep dogs on the trail and not harm the precious flora on the sides of the trail.

By banning pets on hiking trails, responsible pet owners are singled out.


Challenges in Enforcing Bans

There are many challenges in the enforcement of banning pets from hiking trails.

Most National Parks can enforce such a rule because park rangers and law enforcement personnel are on site. However, other natural areas such as remote nature preserves, underfunded state parks, and many National Forest trails will likely not have the personnel present to enforce these rules.

Ensuring pet owners abide by a no-pets policy isn’t always easy on public land unless personnel helps enforce the rules.


Public Backlash

Banning a pet from hiking will likely create a public backlash among the pet owner community.

Forbes suggests that over 66% of Americans are pet owners. This means that there are more pet owners than non-pet owners in America. Because of that, more people will likely disagree with banning pets on hiking trails than those who support the effort.

Banning pets will likely cause a public outcry and backlash that could cause the ban to be an expensive rule due to lawsuits and public issues that form.



Banning pets on hiking trails may not always be the right answer.

If the trail has precious flora or wildlife that will likely be destroyed by pet use, enacting a ban would likely be the best option.

But land managers should consider adopting trails or creating new ones that are pet friendly. These trails could have rules and enforcement guidelines against pet owners who don’t follow the rules. Rules like these are common on many trails. You’ll see “Pets must be on a leash” on many hiking trails.

Ultimately, responsible pet ownership is how many of the abovementioned issues can be prevented. Irresponsible pet owners should be accountable for their pet’s actions if rules are violated.


How do you feel about banning pets on hiking trails? Are you for this? Or are you against something like this? Please comment below with your opinion on this issue.


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Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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