Your four-legged friend deserves to get out in nature just as much as you do. These are some of the best dog-friendly hikes around Victoria where you and Fido can hit the trail together.
Dogs are the best. They’re loyal, excitable and always down to make a fool of themselves in search of some good old joie de vivre. This big-joy energy is the perfect antidote to those low grade companions who expect us to be chill at all times. And after months of being cooped up in hard lockdown, we’re ready to bound out the door with unapologetic enthusiasm.
Why Dogs Can’t Hike in National Parks
With over 40 sweeping national parks, from which dogs are strictly prohibited from hanging out in, Victoria can be a tricky place to explore with a four-legged friend in tow. But, it’s a dang important rule for protecting our beautiful wilderness areas.
National parks are created to protect the native and natural environment. They’re often used as breeding grounds for birds, forest restoration projects, and are home to all of Australia’s unique flora and fauna. And for the most part, native animals and doggos just don’t mix.
Lucky for you, I’ve done some digging (not on the lawn dw) and tracked down the best dog-friendly hikes in the state. Pair it up with a dog friendly campsite and you’ve got yourself an adventure!
A lot of these spots are in the bush so I recommend keeping your eyes on the tracks, particularly in summer. Things can get a bit snakey so it’s worth refreshing your first-aid and keeping your dog on leash if you’re not sure how they’ll react in the company of a red-bellied black.
Sniff you out there!
1. Gorge Walk
Closest town: Mount Beauty
Starting at the Big Hill Mountain Bike Park just off Bogong Highplains Road, take an easy walk along the Aqueduct Track towards the signposted Gorge Walk track (about 1km). You’ll cross over the West Keiwa River at the swinging bridge and start a gentle climb on the other side, before the track dips down into the gorge and disappears.
Scramble your way upstream until you reach the deep canyon pool at the end and, if you’re feeling brave, strip off and dive in! It’s best to do this in the afternoon when the sun hits the water through the high walls and warms the place up a little.
2. Snake Ridge to Clear Spot Lookout
Closest town: Bright
There’s a tonne of off-leash adventure spots in the pine forests around Bright, but this one is a favourite for the views. Starting at the Tower Hill lookout, make your way along the aptly-named Snake Ridge, with its panoramic views of the alpine valleys.
You really can choose your own adventure with this one as multiple tracks shoot off the main ridgeline and they’re all dog-friendly. I opted for the steepest climb up to Clear Spot, and although it was gruelling (srsly), I was rewarded with a spectacular sunset and a cheeky frothy up top.
3. The Goat (Alpine Park to Mystics)
Closest town: Wandiligong
Starting at Alpine Park in Wandiligong, you’ll need to hunt around the perimeter trees until you find one with a white goat painted on it. This marks the start of what’s locally known as ‘The Goat’, an aggressive trail running track that climbs through the pine forest and requires you to pull yourself up using a rope at one point.
If you’re anything like me (directionally challenged) this hike will involve a fair bit of scrambling through thick scrub and following your nose until you pop out up-top. From here, you can watch paragliders take off from Mystic Mountain Bike Park and float over the stunning valley below. This trail is not for the faint of heart, with sections so vert you’ll be tackling it just like your furry friend – on all fours.
4. Historic Gorge Track
Closest town: Beechworth
If you like your hikes with a bit of history, this is the one for you. Meandering through one of Victoria’s richest goldfields, this track is a moderate walk that’ll have you exploring the best bits of the Beechworth Historic Park. We highly recommend stopping to cool off at one of the cascading pools along Spring Creek and, if you’re up for it, asking a local where the jump rock hides.
5. Toorongo and Amphitheatre Falls
Closest town: Noojee
I wouldn’t exactly call this a hike, but it’s worth a mention for the scenery alone. Starting at the Toorongo Visitors Centre, this circular track eases you through dense fern forest and towering gums to pop out at the Toorongo Falls viewing platform.
Add the amphitheatre loop for a bit of an extra leg stretch and make sure you keep your doggo on-leash, the place is teeming with wildlife.
6. Chute Road and Mount Macedon Circuit
Closest town: Woodend
Popular with trail runners, this 8.4km loop track offers some rugged and challenging terrain. This isn’t a flat trail, so be prepared to spend most of your time either climbing or descending and watch out for the weather, it can be a slippery ride in the wet.
Once you’ve made it up Chute Road you’ll join onto the Mount Macedon Circuit, where you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views from the top. If you’re not confident on your feet I’d recommend grabbing a stick to help you on the walk – you can play fetch with it when you get back to flat ground.
Great Ocean Road
7. Lake Elizabeth Circuit
Closest town: Forrest
Nestled deep in the Otways, Lake Elizabeth Circuit is perfect for those days when you just need to throw your phone in the glovebox and unwind. I was genuinely surprised to learn this place is dog-friendly; it’s just so dang pristine and lush!
A lot of people turn back after making the 1km walk to the lake but I recommend continuing onto the circuit, where you can marvel at the majesty of this drowned valley and keep your eyes peeled for platypus.
8. Mount Martha Community Forest
Distance: Up to you!
Closest town: Mount Martha
It’s a big call, but I reckon this is one of the best off-leash spots in the state. Surrounded by towering trees and alive with the sound of kookaburras laughing, the community forest is made of a series of meandering bush trails that are easy on human knees.
With a creek running the length of the park, it’s the perfect choice for dogs that love to swim and sniff and shake mud all over the back of your car at hometime.
9. Tassels Cove Track
Closest town: Safety Beach
Starting at the popular Tassels Beach, you’ll wander along the sand hugging the bottom of the cliffs (make sure you check the tides!). It’s scrambly in parts so come prepared to roll up your pants as you make your way across slippery rocks and tidal pools. Head up the steep staircase and follow the dirt tracks along the headland for some spectacular views of the sprawling, rugged coastline. Did someone say swims?
10. Red Hill Rail Trail
Closest town: Merricks
Stack up a cruisy 6.5km (one way) of gentle, hilly terrain and reward yourself with a coffee at the end. Starting in Merricks, the Red Hill Rail Trail offers picturesque views over Western Point to Phillip Island. You’ll share the trail with bikes and horses so be prepared to leash your dog if needed. Once you’ve had your caffeine fix, it’s time to put your mug down, flip it and reverse it.