Doggin’ America’s Highpoints

Highpointers are folks who seek to stand atop the highest point in each of the 50 states. The first person known to have tagged the summits of the 48 contiguous states was a fellow named Arthur Marshall back in 1936. After Hawaii and Alaska were added to the union in the 1950s, Vin Hoeman became the person to reach the top of all 50 states. To date fewer than 200 people have been documented to have climbed - as the case may be - all 50 highpoints.

Your dog can be a Highpointer too. She can't complete all the peaks - there are places she can't go legally (the spectacular Mount Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, for instance), mountains she can't climb physically (the vertical rock climbs at the top of Gannett Peak in Montana), or both (Mount McKinley, the highest of American peaks at over 20,000 feet). But that leaves plenty of state summits for your dog to experience.

The highest mountain in America's Lower 48 is California's Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet. But the hike to the top is not arduous and so popular permits are rationed out to get on the trail. You can hike with your dog to the shadow of the summit but the final steps will be yours alone as you leave the dog-friendly Inyo National Forest and travel into Sequoia National Park, where dogs are banned from the trails.

Mount Elbert - Colorado.
The highest spot in America where your dog is allowed to go is Mount Elbert in Colorado, only 65 feet lower than Whitney. Located in the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies, Mt. Elbert was named for Samuel Elbert who was a controversial territorial governor of Colorado in 1873. The first recorded summit of the peak was by H.W. Stuckle of the Haydon Survey in 1874. Before that, the more famous Pikes Peak was assumed to be the highest point in Colorado.

Mount Elbert is still not well known, despite its lofty position as the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains. Some members of the 14ers, the group of outdoor enthusiasts who tackle all 53 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains, look at Mount Elbert with a degree of scorn because it is so “easy” to summit. There were even people who piled rocks on neighboring Mount Massive to give it the extra twenty feet it would need to surpass Mount Elbert. The summit has been reached by jeep and there have been proposals over the years to build a road to the top of Mount Elbert. 

Of course, “easy” is relative and all prudent precautions for being on a 14,440-foot mountain must be taken. But any trail dog accustomed to a ten-mile hike can scale Mount Elbert. There are five routes to the top, the most popular being the North Mount Elbert Trail. From the trailhead to the summit is 4.5 miles, the first two climbing through alpine forests. After the trail bursts above the treeline the route switches back twice before pulling straight to the summit. There is no rock scrambling or “mountain climbing” necessary. Views along the way are outstanding and unforgettable when you reach the top roof of the Rocky Mountains.

Pikes Peak.
It’s not the highest peak in Colorado - there are actually 29 higher - but Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in the United States. A half-million people make their way to the summit every year, most in their cars. When it opened in the Fall of 1888, the 14-foot wide Pikes Peak Carriage Road was billed as the highest road in the world. The first automobile chugged to the summit in 1901 - today the climb is 6,710 feet over 19 miles on the toll road.

Pikes Peak, with its height and position in the Front Range, was the first landmark seen by settlers heading west. Explorer Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, on assignment by Thomas Jefferson, first saw the mountain in 1806. He was thwarted by a blizzard in his attempt to scale the "Great Peak." The first recorded successful ascent was made by a scientist named Edwin James in 1820. In 1858 Julia Archibald Holmes - sporting bloomers - became the first woman to tag the summit and spent two days on top. The footpath up the eastern face was re-worked and built by Fred Barr between 1914 and 1918. It was pick-and-shovel duty, with an occasional dash of black powder for moving rocks and trees.

Dogs are welcome to tackle the Barr National Recreation Trail all the way to the summit. Near the top there are rock steps that most dogs can negotiate. The 13-mile pull to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak begins in Manitou Springs at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It is the biggest elevation gain of any trail in Colorado, with an average grade of 11%. Serious canine hiking indeed. Barr Camp, where Fred ran a burro concession, is at the halfway point and makes a handy turn-around point for those not prepared to make the assault on the summit. There are three miles of hiking above the treeline and the peak gets afternoon storms nearly daily so come prepared. The Barr Trail is well-trod and well-marked. It gets extremely hot in the mid-summer and there is no natural water for your dog on Pikes Peak.

Mount Marcy - New York.
Mount Marcy is the highest peak in the Adirondack Mountains and in New York, soaring 5,344 feet above sea level. It is the monarch of the 46 mountains that comprise the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

Working for the New York State Geological Survey, Professor Ebenezer Emmonsorganized and led the first recorded ascent of Mount Marcy on August 5, 1837, naming the peak for New York Governor William Learned Marcy. The mountain was also known as Tahawus, an Indian name meaning “Cloud Splitter.”

Today the Mount Marcy summit can be reached on well-marked trails from four directions around the mountain. All are long hikes for your dog but none are technically difficult. The shortest, and most popular, route comes in from the north on the Van Hoevenberg Trail. It is still seven miles one way, with an elevation gain of 3,224 feet. About two miles in the trail crosses Marcy Lake - a perfect refresher for your dog on the way up and on the way back.

The views are scant along the way as you work moderately through a dense spruce forest. Nearing the summit, Mount Marcy is covered in dense stands of scrubby balsam fir and the trail narrows considerably and a bit of rock climbing is introduced. A few hundred feet below the summit the treeline fades away and your dog is left with a scramble to the top. Views in every direction of the High Peaks await. 

Mount Harney - South Dakota.
General George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874, then considered one of the last unexplored regions of the United States. Custer and his men discovered gold and the region was a secret no more. Precious metals are just part of the cornucopia of riches found in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Custer State Park, the largest state park in the Continental United States, is able to support its 73,000 acres without government money. Entrance fees are supplemented by harvesting timber, selling special hunting licenses for unique game like big horn sheep and buffalo, and renting park attractions to private concessionaires. The park’s annual buffalo sale can yield $250,000 alone.

The bounty at Custer State Park extends to canine hikers as well. One of the best places to begin are the trails in the small arm of the park around Sylvan Lake, a calendar worthy pool of water flanked by giant granite boulders that formed when Theodore Reder dammed Sunday Gulch in 1921. A pleasant one-mile loop circumnavigates the lake and offers plenty of dog-paddling along the way. Hardy canine hikers will want to make a detour to the demanding Sunday Gulch Trail that passes over massive boulders and along splendid light walls of granite.

Sylvan Lake is also a popular jumping off point to climb Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet the highest point in America east of the Rocky Mountains. The peak was named in the late 1850s by Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren in honor of General William S. Harney, who was commander of the military in the Black Hills area in the late 1850s.

The most traveled route to the summit is on Trail 9, a 6-mile round trip. There is some rock scrambling near the top but your dog can make it all the way and even go up the steps into the observation tower.

Mount Washington - New Hampshire.
Mount Washington, at 6,288 feet, is the highest and most famous mountain in the Northeast. Darby Field, a British colonist from Exeter, made the first recorded ascent of what would later be called Mount Washington in 1642. In 1819 Ethan Allen Crawford and father Abel built the first trail to the summit and it is the oldest continuously used mountain trail in the United States. Not long afterwards a bridle path was carved up the mountain and a hotel opened on the summit in 1852 (built by workers who had to hike 2 miles up Mount Washington each day to meet material hauled nine miles by horses over rough trails). In 1861 the 8-mile long Mt. Washington Auto Road opened for carriages. Mt. Washington Cog Railway, using the first rack-and-pinion mountain climbing system, later would haul passengers up one of the steepest railway tracks in the world.

The weather on Mount Washington is considered the worst in the world. The highest wind velocity ever measured - 231 miles per hour - was clocked on the summit on April 12, 1934. Winds average 35 mph every day with a hurricane force wind (75 mph) registered one day in three. Dense fog and clouds envelop the summit 315 days a year which makes your chances of enjoying the 130-mile views to New York, Quebec and even the Atlantic Ocean about 1 in 10.

At least 15 long, rugged hiking trails wind to the top of popular Mount Washington. The most traveled, and one of the most scenic, climbs the eastern slope on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch. On the western face the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and Jewell Trail combine for an invigorating loop. Go up the Ravine and down the Jewell as the latter affords long exposed views as it works along cliffs; the Ravine Trail is thickly wooded and follows the plunging river all the way up. From the Appalachian Mountain Club Hut the original Crawford Trail climbs 1.4 open miles and nearly 2000 feet to the busy top. Much of the way is boulder hopping but your dog can make it without too much difficulty.
Be careful of some crevasses along the ridge, however.

Mount Mansfield - Vermont.
Mount Mansfield (the name seems to have drifted up from Connecticut landowners) is Vermont’s highest peak, noted primarily for its skiing and the resemblance of the ridgeline to an elongated human face. The geographic features of the mountain have subsequently been given corresponding human facial feature names. 

Underhill State Park is a gateway with several trails, including a paved road, to ascend busy Mount Mansfield, site of the Stowe Mountain ResortLaura Cowles Trail (2.7 miles), Sunset Ridge (3.0 miles), and Halfway House (2.5 miles) are all moderate length climbs to the summit. From the end of the Mount Mansfield Toll Road the relatively easy scramble to the summit is totally across bare rocks (the surrounding vegetation area, one of only two places in Vermont you can find true alpine tundra is, in fact, off limits). Once on the “Chin” of Mount Mansfield your dog can soak in extensive 360-degree views. You’ll know if it is a clear day if you can see Mount Royal and the skyscrapers of Montreal.

Mount Greylock - Massachusetts.
Long before Mt. Greylock became the first Massachusetts state park in 1898, it had attracted New Englanders with its panoramic five-state views. Great American writers and artists such as Edith WhartonNathaniel HawthorneHerman Melville and Henry David Thoreau regularly trekked up the trails to Mt. Greylock’s 3,491-foot summit.

Threatened by logging and industrial development in the late 1800s, a group of Berkshire County businessmen formed a private land conservation association and purchased 400 acres at the summit to preserve Mt. Greylock. The Massachusetts Legislature purchased Greylock as a State Reservation in 1898 and over the next century the park grew to encompass some 12,500 acres.

More than 45 miles of trails meander across Mt. Greylock State Reservation, including the Appalachian Trail that runs north-south over the summit. Many of the trails connect and it is easy to create looping circle hikes of any desired duration. One of the best ways to explore the park is with a circle hike around the Hopper, a U-shaped glacial ravine studded with old-growth spruce. The 7-mile loop combines several trails to the peaks of Mt. Prospect, Mt. Greylock and Mt. Williams with several outstanding vistas. Although most of the hiking is moderate, with elevation changes less than 1000 feet, the trail into and out of the Hopper, a designated Unique Natural Area, is the steepest in the park.

The Thunderbolt Trail leaves the Appalachian Trail opposite Robinson’s point just north of the Mt. Greylock summit and follows the route of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, an historic championship ski run down the eastern flank of the mountain. The Thunderbolt leads into Greylock Glen at the foot of the mountain where easy walking trails explore wetlands, forests and farmlands.

Dogs are permitted on all the trails and in the 35-site campground in the Reservation. A 100-foot tall stone War Memorial Tower commands the views at the summit of Mt. Greylock. Although your dog can’t scale the tower the same sweeping views of the Hoosic River Valley are available from the stone wall and benches on the edge of the ridge. 

Mount Frissell - Connecticut.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Connecticut squabbled over their common border for more than 150 years. When the matter was finally resolved in 1806. When the dust settled and the agreed-upon border was drawn, the summit of Mount Frissell wound up jussssssssssssst that little bit into Massachusetts. But the side of the mountain residing in Connecticut happened to be higher than any other place in the Nutmeg State. And so Connecticut is the only one of the 50 states whose highpoint is not a summit.

There are several options for your dog to stand at the roof of Connecticut. The most direct is from the trailhead on East Street that takes you up and over Round Mountain and onto Mount Frissell in a little over a mile. The climbs are steady but won't overwhelm a healthy trail dog. A little ways past the highpoint marker and 80 feet higher is the open, grassy summit that has been heretofore obscured by the thick trees.

If your goal is simply to tag the highest point in the state, turn around and head back. But as long as you're up here... The marquee canine hike in Mount Washington State Forest (where you are) is the trek to 2239-foot Alander Mountain and its expansive 270-degree views that may be the best in western Massachusetts. After passing the Tri-State Marker you can head north on the lightly traveled Ashley Hill Trail through lush forests and head back up to Alander Mountain.

Until the campground about halfway back to the summit the going is on a wide jeep road and there will be plenty of unbridged stream crossings that your dog will happily bound through. When your dog gets his fill of mountaintop views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills continue across to the South Taconic Trailto close your loop. If you plan to make the big loop you can also start your day in the forest headquarters and just take a jog down the Mount Frissell Trail, rather than cross Round Mountain. The loop over Alander Mountain will cover about eleven miles.

For your dog to actually stand on the highest SUMMIT in the Nutmeg State go over a few mountaintops and scale Bear Mountain. Long thought to be the Connecticut highpoint, the most popular route up Bear Mountain is via the blue-blazed Undermountain Trail to the Appalachian Trail, tagging the peak in just under three miles. Bear Mountain is an honest mountain - there is scarcely a downhill pawfall on the ascent to the top - no depressing drops into saddles and ravines that set tails to drooping when you know you should be headed up. You are gaining over 1,500 feet in elevation on this canine hike but the serious panting does not begin until the final half-mile.

You can continue across the summit and return on the 2.1-mile Paradise Lane Trail that crosses upland forests with small ups and downs. The drop down the north slope is steep, quick and rocky and will challenge the most cautious dogs so take your time here. The full loop with a backtrack on the Undermountain Trail will cover about 6.6 miles.

Mount Davis - Pennsylvania.
As tagging state highpoints goes, Mt. Davis is unique. Scaling mountain peaks does not spring to mind. Assuming you don't drive to the summit and take the short, flat walk to the highpoint, your dog's approach to the top of Pennsylvania will be a hike of nearly a mile from the Mt. Davis Picnic Area on the High Point Trail. This sliver of path is essentially a straight shot through an area recovering from a destructive 1951 fire. After a gentle ascent your dog will reach the highest natural point in Pennsylvania - a rock.

How long has Mt. Davis been the highest point in Pennsylvania? Well, always, of course. But it wasn't recognized as such until 1921 when the U. S. Geological Survey established the fact that the crest of Negro Mountain is 3,213 feet above sea level. This survey officially snatched the honor of "Pennsylvania's Roof" away from Bedford County's Blue Knob.

The slight rise in the 30-mile plateau of Negro Mountain was named for the long-time 19th century owner of the land, John Nelson Davis, rather than recognizing the heroic expoits of the unidentified black man who fought heroically during the French and Indian War and was buried on the mountain. Davis, himself a Civil War veteran, was a naturalist said to be able to identify all the shrubs, wildflowers and plants growing in the area.

Spruce Knob - West Virginia.
Spruce Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Alleghenies, although even at 4,863 feet it doesn’t stand out in the Monongahela National Forest. There are over 75 miles of hiking trails around the mountain but the route to the Spruce Knob summit comes on a half-mile Whispering Spruce Trail that starts after a drive to the top of the mountain.

This is a supremely easy trot for your dog on a lightly graveled path. The knob gets its name honestly, loaded with dense spruce forests that drape the summit in an alpine feel. After enjoying several panoramic views along the way you reach a stone and steel observation tower that is easily climbed by your dog for 360-degree views. 

Backbone Mountain - Maryland .
At 3,360 feet above sea level Backbone Mountain, a long slab of rock in the Allegheny range, is the highest point in Maryland, the 32nd highest “highpoint” in the United States. When you reach the summit you and your dog will actually be standing on the point of Hoye-Crest, named for Captain Charles Hoye, a prominent chronicler of Maryland lore and founder of the Garrett County Historical Society.

Backbone Mountain is the Eastern Continental Divide - rain that falls on the eastern slope drains into the Atlantic Ocean via the Potomac River and water on the western side eventually finds it way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The highest point in Maryland is less than two football fields from West Virginia and the easiest way to get to Hoye-Crest is to start across the state line in the Monongahela National Forest. You will use an old logging road to reach the ridge of Backbone Mountain; it is steep enough to get your dog panting but not so arduous you will need to pull over and rest. Once you reach the ridge it is a short ways to the high point. It less a summit than a lookout from the woods. 

Once your dog is through soaking in the experience of being on the roof of Maryland the way down is the same as the way up - a two-mile round trip. There are plenty more trails to explore across Backbone Mountain but there won’t be any wayfinding aids at the trailhead. Your dog can go off leash in Potomac State Forest.

Brasstown Bald - Georgia.
With a summit elevation of 4,784 feet, Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia. The name derives not from a thriving metal industry in the area but from a bungled translation of a Cherokee Indian word. The Cherokees embraced a legend that explained treeless mountaintops like this one - the forests were cleared to expose the presence of a great, winged monster harassing their villages which allowed their Great Spirit to slay the menacing beast.

There is only one way for your dog to tag the summit of Brasstown Bald - straight up a steep, paved path for a half-mile that gains 100 feet of elevation for every 500 feet hiked. At the summit your dog will join the throngs who instead took the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the stone interpretive center on the mountaintop. Your dog’s reward for this exhortation is a 360-degree view that takes in four states and even the Atlanta skyline on a crisp day. Brasstown Bald is not a grassy peak but instead shrouded with a mix of Rosebay and Catawba rhododendron peppering a gnarly dwarf forest of twisted red oak and white oak. As such there are no real views until your dog clambers up the final steps of the observation deck. For canine hikers who don’t feel a half-mile hike, regardless of how vigorous, is sufficient to claim to have tagged a mountain, there are longer approaches from deep in the Brasstown Bald Wilderness. Parking is limited at these trailheads and all of the hikes are of the out-and-back variety. The Wagon Train Trail was intended as GA 66 and is the least severe as it approaches from seven miles away at Young Harris. Jack’s Knob Trail rises from the Appalachian Trail 4.5 miles to the south and the Arkaquah Trail crosses the ridgetop from the west. All gain at least 1,800 feet in elevation and all end at the Brasstown Bald parking lot - from which you still need to hike up that paved access trail to reach the roof of Georgia.

Mount Mitchell - North Carolina.
Until Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 this was the tallest mountain in America, although no one knew it. Everyone assumed Grandfather Mountain was the regional highpoint but after an excursion to the Black Mountains in 1835 a science professor at the University of North Carolina began making claims to the contrary. Using barometric pressure readings and mathematical formulas, Elisha Mitchell pegged the elevation at 6,672 - only 12 feet short of today's accepted height. But a controversy in the 1850s sparked by Congressman Thomas Clingman who claimed Mitchell had never measured the highest peak in the Black Mountain Range led the 64-year old scientist back to the mountain in 1857 where he fell from a cliff above a 40-foot waterfall and died. The next year the highest peak east of the Mississippi River was named in his honor. In 1915, with its burly flanks mostly stripped of forest by aggressive logging, Mount Mitchell was established as North Carolina's first state park.

There are several ways for your dog to tag the Mount Mitchell summit, including the five minute, 280-yard walk to the observation deck from the parking lot atop the mountain. The stoutest approach originates from 5.7 miles and 3,200 feet below away in the Black Mountain Campground. Most canine hikers will opt for a middling option along the Old Mitchell Trail two miles from the Park Office or from the restaurant a .7-mile closer. Even at these reduced distances your dog's four-wheel drive will come in handy as you are ascending straight uphill through a lush sppruce-fir forest that is fed by an average snowpack of 104 inches per year. Expect the trail to be wet under paw most times of the year.

For experienced canine hikers Mount Mitchell is not the prize but the jumping off point for grander adventures. Although it has 16 peaks over 6,000 feet in height and six of the ten highest in the eastern United States the hook-shaped Black Mountain range is only 15 miles long. Setting off on the Deep Gap Trail from the summit parking lot your dog can tag four of them before reaching Deep Gap 4.3 miles away. If that is too ambitious a day hike Mt. Craig, named for Governor Locke Craig who spearheaded the creation on the park, is only a two-mile round trip out and back. At 6,647 feet it is the eastern United States' second-highest peak with loads of exposed rock that make it more view-friendly than its slightly loftier neighbor. 

Mount Mitchell supports the most extensive stand of Fraser Fir remaining in the United States. Named for the 18th century Scottish botanical explorer who first collected specimens in the Black Mountains, John Fraser, the fir is now the official North Carolina State Christmas Tree. On the summit of Mount Mitchell your dog can trot on the Balsam Nature Trail through a dark jungle of Fraser Fir and its close relative, the Red Spruce. Studded with fanciful rock outcroppings, this scented wonderland is the highest hiking trail east of the Rocky Mountains.

Sassafras Mountain - South Carolina.
Sassafras Mountain reigns as the highest peak in a state more famed for its Lowcountry than its highlands, at either 3560 or 3533 feet. After a drive up a windy mountain road off US 178 it is a short, uninspiring hike on an old, partially paved and rocky access road your dog will reach the highest point in South Carolina in the middle of the woods with no views. Sassafras Mountain, however, is in the scenic Jocassee Gorge with plenty of nearby landmark destinations.

More inspiring access can be made from further away along the long-distance Foothills Trail. From Chimneytown Gap the assault on the summit covers about 4.7 miles with a vertical gain of 1900 feet. Even more ambitious is the approach from the beautiful Table Rock State Park on the Pinnacle Mountain/Foothills Trail. 

Cheaha Mountain - Alabama.
Located in the central-eastern Alabama, Cheaha Mountain is part of the Talladega Mountains that are the southern foot of the Blue Ridge in the Appalachian Mountains. The 2,413-foot state highpoint is the highest point on a ridge in the middle of Cheaha State Park that opened in 1939 and is Alabama's oldest continuously operating state park. Views come courtesy of the splendid stone Bunker Tower that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Some of the guest chalets constructed in the park are dog-friendly.

Views can be purchased in the park on short trails at the edge of the ridge including Pulpit Rock Trail and Rock Garden Trail. Dogs aren't allowed on the boardwalk at Bald Rock Trail but you can hike on an adjacent trail through the boulder-studded ridge-top woods.