10 Dog-Friendly Hikes in San Diego

Our furry friends are as much a part of the family as our beloved humans. And good thing, too – pet ownership gives us some wonderful physical and emotional benefits.

That special human-animal bond provides unconditional love and companionship, which can translate into health advantages like lower blood pressure, decreased anxiety and stress and improved social interaction with others.

Dog owners in particular enjoy a very active lifestyle here in San Diego. Going to the dog park, on neighborhood walks or playing fetch on the beach burns calories while making us feel great.

If you want to get some exercise and fresh air with your darling canine, take them on an awesome adventure: a hike! Whether you’re craving a shady canyon or a sunny mountain, check out all the best dog-friendly hikes San Diego has to offer.

Batiquitos Lagoon – Carlsbad

Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Looking for dog-friendly nature trails? Leashed pups are welcome on this lovely stretch of coastal wetlands in Carlsbad. Although the hike is short, it’s loaded with the natural beauty of flora, plants, animals and, of course, precious tidal pools.

Cowles Mountain – East San Diego

Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
One of the most popular dog-friendly hiking trails in San Diego County is Cowles Mountain. There’s a good reason why – it leads to the highest point in San Diego, at around 1,600 feet. Try going at dawn or dusk to avoid the crowds. Once you get to the top, you’ll see why Cowles’ panoramic view of San Diego’s inland, ocean and mountains cannot be beat. Be sure to take plenty of water for your pup!

Elfin Forest – Escondido

Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
The Elfin Forest reserve boasts nearly 800 acres of preserved beauty for generations to come. This long hike is absolutely perfect for nature lovers and their eager canine friends. Although this long trail climbs to 2,000 feet, the incline is gentle, making it is very dog-friendly. Enjoy the winding path around a peaceful lake and the quiet throughout.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve – North San Diego

Distance: 7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Don’t be fooled – even though this trail is mostly flat, you and your pup will still get a great workout. In cooler months, follow the bubbling stream through the dense grove of trees to a fabulous waterfall. While this trail can be heavily trafficked, it’s spread out enough in parts to feel like you and your fluffy buddy have it all to yourselves!

Mount Woodson – Poway

Distance: 8.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Home of the wildly popular Potato Chip Rock, the Mount Woodson hike is a great place to set off on a half-day journey with your furry friend. You can begin your trek in either Ramona or Poway. Enjoy a serene view of Lake Poway before winding your way to the top of Mount Woodson, where you’ll be treated to a sweeping view of North County.

P Mountain – San Marcos

Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Not many people know about P Mountain, which lies across from Palomar College in San Marcos. It is a fairly steep climb to the incredible view at the top, but the series of gentle switchbacks make the incline manageable for most active dogs (and their humans!).

Piedras Pintadas – Lake Hodges

Distance: 3.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Hikers and their leashed dogs love Lake Hodges due to its many trails and magnificent scenery. But Piedras Pintadas Trail is a true historical gem as well. The path, bursting with wildlife and natural beauty, is peppered with fascinating exhibits and descriptions of the Kumeyaay people who once lived in the area.

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve – Encinitas

Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
The peaceful San Elijo Lagoon offers you and your four-legged pal several different trails lined with flowers that run next to the lagoon or marsh. Steep switchbacks, such as the ones inside the popular Annie’s Canyon Trail, may not be appropriate for all dogs. But there are plenty of other winding paths within the reserve and up to the overlook, where you’ll take in fantastic views of the glimmering Pacific Ocean.

Sunset Trail, Laguna Mountains – Cleveland National Forest

Distance: 3.25 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Right off Sunrise Highway at mile-marker 19.1 is the trailhead for Sunset Trail – a tranquil expanse of dense forest, meadows and a pond known as Water in the Woods. It is also one of the few trails in the Lagunas that allows for leashed dogs. You’ll love the stretches of cool shade, while your canine will go nuts for all the varied scents the forest has to offer!

Tecolote Canyon Natural Park – Central San Diego

Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
If you want a stunning hike with your canine right here in San Diego, look no further than Tecolote Canyon Natural Park. The trail is mostly easy, though it can be moderate in parts due to inclines that lead to the 200-foot peak elevation. Your hike through the canyon is filled with wildflowers, birds, and small animals and includes a good amount of wooded area that provides shade on warmer days.

Tips For A Safe & Enjoyable Hike With Your Dog

  • Keep your pup’s nails trimmed, as long nails can hurt while going on long walks.
  • Check your dog’s foot pads for any sores or cuts before going on your hike. You want to be sure that their feet are in good enough condition for your trek.
  • Dogs can pick up ticks during any outdoor activity, but a hike with lots of flora and trees presents an even greater danger. Since ticks carry a variety of diseases, be sure to check your dog thoroughly before and after your hike – especially around the belly, ears and neck.
  • Your dog should be vaccinated for rabies before heading out on a hike. You don’t want to put her, or other animals, at risk.
  • Avoid contact with poison oak by keeping your dog on the trails at all times. Remember that it is possible for dogs to transmit poison oak to humans. So, if you know your dog came into contact with poison oak, it’s important to bathe them as soon as you get home.
  • Always hike within your dog’s physical limits, and supply them regularly with water. Dogs do not eliminate heat as efficiently as humans, so it is critical they stay hydrated.
  • Keep alert for rattlesnakes, which are prevalent on many San Diego County hiking trails. If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, pain and swelling will begin immediately, and they will need emergency care. Make sure to research the nearest emergency veterinary facility before you go on your hike.


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