Epic hikes with dogs in Utah

Best Friends volunteer, who is a national parks guide, takes the most active, agile dogs from the Sanctuary on epic hikes around Southern Utah.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Heather Harding has lost count of how many years that she’s come with family and friends to Best Friends to volunteer at the Sanctuary, but it’s been at least 10. Most volunteers stroll with dogs along the scenic trails or take them on longer outings on dog-friendly trails in and around state and national parks. But Heather takes adventure to the next level. She and her family and friends have taken some of Dogtown’s most active, agile dogs on epic adventures all over southern Utah.

Volunteer Heather Harding takes hiking to a new level with Sun the dog

Avid hikers and animal lovers

“We are all huge animal lovers, and we are all big fans of Best Friends,” says Heather. “We are also a big hiking family that has mostly chosen to volunteer with dogs, so that we can do outings.”

Volunteer Heather Harding with Peter the dog hiking in a cave area

Besides being an experienced hiker, Heather also works during the summer as a professional guide in Washington’s Olympic National Park, and during the spring and fall in Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, and in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park. To say she knows her way around the Sanctuary (and the backcountry surrounding it) is an understatement.

Plan your trip to the Sanctuary

Since Heather knows the area so well, she plans all the hikes for her family and the dogs. “I am always looking for new locations to explore around Best Friends,” she says.

Volunteer Heather Harding with Sun the dog hiking on beautiful rock formations by some water

As for choosing which dogs to take along, Heather leaves that to the people who know the dogs the best — their caregivers. “The Best Friends staff is always really great at matching us with appropriately fit and agile dogs for our adventures,” she says. We also are used to hiking with our own dogs, and we know how to take care of them on a hike with plenty of water, breaks in the shade, etc. We have never had a Best Friends dog balk at our adventures. The dogs are usually eager and happy to go rambling with us, and fun is had by all.”

Volunteer Heather Harding with Sun the dog hiking on top of a rock formation with the sky and clouds behind them

Exploring the backcountry around Best Friends

Volunteer Heather Harding hiking with Pilsner the dog in a slot canyonOn her last visit, Heather and her sister, Tory Finn, took dogs on some ambitious hikes to enjoy the petroglyphs, hoodoos and canyons in the area. Peter, a big loveable white dog with adorable black spots, hiked with them right on the Sanctuary grounds, following Angel Canyon down from an underground lake to explore the ancestral Puebloan ruins and pictographs that lie beyond the beaten path.

With exuberant and energetic Pilsner, they hiked up and down the Vermilion Cliffs area, just east of Kanab to see petroglyphs. Later in their trip, Pilsner rejoined them on a hike to a slot canyon — a six-mile round trip from his home in Dogtown.

Fun-loving Mulan has an adorably squishy face, but she’s an active dog in tip-top shape who took a 10-mile hike out to the Wahweap Hoodoos with Heather and Tory. Saint, a dog who loves to learn new things from the Sanctuary trainers and is always on the go, went with them to explore Red Canyon (near Bryce Canyon National Park), taking in some beautiful, snow-capped crimson hoodoos. Jarvis, known around Dogtown as the perfect adventure dog, hiked with them on a nine-mile loop, delving into nearby canyons and trekking up Canaan Mountain. Finally, sweet, athletic Sun enjoyed a guided hike to a majestic area known as White Pocket.

Places to take an adventure-loving dog

For savvy hikers and adventure-loving dogs, the places to visit in Utah are nearly endless. “I think a lot of volunteers have no idea what kind of dog-friendly hikes are possible from the Sanctuary,” Heather says. “Some of the best pictographs and petroglyphs in the region are accessible on day trips from the Sanctuary. There are dog-friendly trails along the Grand Canyon, just outside the national park. There is a myriad of slot canyons, all within a day trip. Dinosaur tracks are all over the place and within hiking distance. And for those who don’t want to drive very far, many hikes are accessible from the Sanctuary itself. Kanab also has a whole network of trails.”

Sun the dog giving volunteer Heather Harding a kiss on her face during a hike

With so many exciting places to explore with a dog, Heather and Tory didn’t have much downtime during their visit. But they made every second count, even after the sun set and it was too dark for hiking. On six of their seven nights, they took canine hiking companions on sleepovers, giving them some well-deserved rest, lots of love and one-on-one attention, before getting up the next morning to do it all over again.

Volunteer Heather Harding walking Sun the dog the dog on a leash on a rock formation

“We had such a blast exploring the gorgeous red-rock wonderland surrounding Best Friends,” says Heather. “And so did the wonderful dogs accompanying us.”

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Volunteer Heather Harding hiking with Sun the dog on top of a beautiful rock formation with blue sky and clouds behind them

Photos courtesy of Heather Harding