Your best friend is all in when it comes to any adventure, so imagine the tail wagging in store if you exchanged your usual jaunts for a journey to one of the United State’s best national parks for dogs.
Pets are allowed in all of the national parks to some degree or another, but there are usually strict regulations on where you can go with your four-legged friend. The rules are intended to ensure the safety of the parks’ wildlife, natural resources, other visitors, park employees, and your pet. These vast parks are home to regional predators, hazardous plant life, and rough, uneven terrain — all of which can prove dangerous to dogs.
There are, however, national parks where you and your dog can savor nature’s grandeur safely and fully. If the thought of hiking with your dog past stunning vistas or through primeval forests captures your imagination, read on to discover the best national parks to visit with your best pal and how to prepare for these walks of a lifetime.
HIKING WITH DOGS: TRAINING & SAFETY
There is no point in heading to one of these breathtaking destinations with an overexcited dog who exhibits minimal self-control. Before you go, be sure to read up on hiking safely with a dog so you and your best pal are prepared for this excursion and you have all the dog safety gear you’ll need before setting off from the trailhead.
The exception to the rules: The access restrictions at the national parks do not apply to service animals. It’s a good idea to let the park’s rangers know you are bringing a service animal in advance, so they can be prepared. There are sometimes particular routes to scenic locations for service animals, such as below the rim of the Grand Canyon where pets are prohibited.
NATIONAL PARK DOG RULES:
- The majority of national parks prohibit pets from hiking trails and backcountry.
- Most of the parks, however, allow dogs and pets in campgrounds, picnic areas, at paved scenic viewpoints, and on the paved roads that lead to these developed park locations.
- In all parks, dogs must wear a collar or harness attached to a leash no more than six feet at all times.
- Dogs should wear a personalized collar or identification tags with contact and medical information.
- Dogs should never be left unattended.
- Dogs should never be left in parked cars.
- Owners are expected to maintain strict control of their dogs so they don’t threaten wildlife or other park visitors.
- Extensive, ongoing barking is prohibited, as this can threaten wildlife and disrupt the peaceful environment people visit national parks to enjoy.
- Pet owners are expected to pick up after their dogs diligently.
- Pets are not allowed on ranger-led programs.
- Pet and human food should be stored in food lockers to avoid attracting predators.
- Pets are not allowed in public buildings.
- Pet owners not adhering to regulations may receive a citation.
Fast Fact: In the entire national park system, only Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California allows canines to romp off leash, at the park’s dog friendly beach beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once you understand the unique preparations and considerations involved in taking your dog to a national park, it’s time to choose your destination. Below are the national parks with the most open policies for dog visitors. In the parks on this list, dogs are a common sight and you’ll be at ease knowing you and your best friend are in welcoming territory.
THE MOST DOG-FRIENDLY NATIONAL PARKS:
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK – MAINE
Located in Maine near Bar Harbor, Acadia is one of the most dog-friendly parks in the National Park System. At 49,000 acres, it is one of the smallest national parks. Acadia is treasured for its rugged, rocky coastline skirting the Atlantic Ocean, as well as its rounded mountains, lakes, and valleys sculpted by massive glaciers, some as much as two miles thick, that flowed over the region 20,000 years ago.
- Dogs on a leash have full access to 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads throughout the park.
- Dogs are allowed at the top of Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest point in the park at 1,530 feet and offers gorgeous views of Somes Sound off Bar Harbor.
- There are several “ladder” trails that people with dogs cannot access because they require vertical climbs up rungs set in the rock face.
- There are also multiple trails that are not recommended for pets by the park service. Though they are not prohibited, they should be tackled only by experienced four-legged hikers and their owners.
- Dogs and people are not allowed to swim in the many lakes of Acadia as most of them are public water supplies.
- Some, not all, campgrounds are open to pets.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK – VIRGINIA
Only 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is a peaceful oasis that includes 300 square miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a destination park for avid hikers and offers miles of dog-friendly trails. In Shenandoah, you and your best friend can hike past cascading waterfalls, through quiet woodlands, and along trails that offer gorgeous views of the Appalachians.
- Leashed dogs have access to 480 of the 500 miles of hiking trails in the park.
- Be prepared for the possibility of an encounter with a bear or a snake.
- Pets are allowed in all campgrounds and pet-friendly accommodations are available.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – CALIFORNIA
The almost 1,200 square miles of this expansive park in the High Sierras include beautiful waterfalls, a deep, mile-wide valley cut by the Merced River, giant sequoias, and the iconic granite monolith El Capitan. While trails are completely off-limits to dogs in Yosemite, pets are allowed in developed areas from which you’ll be able to enjoy the park’s legendary views.
- Leashed dogs are allowed on paved roads, sidewalks and most bicycle paths.
- They are allowed in campgrounds, except walk-in and group campsites.
- Be prepared for the possibility of an encounter with a bear.
- Dogs are also allowed in Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow, which are lovely, lesser-known locales in the park.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK – ARIZONA
The Grand Canyon is an immense geological wonder that draws five million visitors each year. The canyon is one mile deep, 277 miles long as the Colorado River flows, and 18 miles wide at its broadest point.
- Leashed dogs are allowed on trails above the South Rim of the park.
- Pets are allowed in several of the park’s campgrounds.
- Pets are allowed in all developed sections of the park.
- Except for service animals, pets are not allowed below the rim of the canyon.
- A kennel is available in the park for people with pets who wish to hike the inner canyon.
CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK – OHIO
Not far from Cleveland, this park was founded in 2000 and includes land that was formerly used as dumping grounds. The park wends along the Cuyahoga River, through dense forest, and over rolling hills and farmland. The Towpath Trail follows the route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The park also features several historic sites, including the Canal Exploration Center and the Everett Covered Bridge.
- Dogs are allowed on 110 miles of the park’s hiking trails.
- Dogs are allowed on 20 miles of the historic Towpath Trail.
- Pets are allowed in the park’s campground.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK – COLORADO
Alpine lakes shimmer amid the hundred peaks that rise within the boundaries of the park, including Longs Peak, which is 14,259 feet high. Wildlife, such as elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lions, bobcats, and bears roam the region. In the warm months, the park blooms with sub-alpine wildflowers and tundra flowers.
- Dogs are allowed on paved roads, in picnic areas, and in developed areas, many of which command breathtaking views.
- Dogs are allowed in the park’s campgrounds.
ZION NATIONAL PARK – UTAH
Over millions of years, the Virgin River has cut the deep and narrow canyon at the heart of Zion. The colorful, sculpted cliff walls create a dramatic backdrop for varied plant life. The mesas of the park are home to 68 species of mammals, including foxes, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, deer, and the kangaroo rat.
- Dogs on a leash are allowed on the Pa’rus Trail, which is a lovely 3.5-mile long paved path.
- The path is popular with bikers, so be alert if your dog gets overexcited when bicyclists pass by.
- Dogs are allowed in all the developed areas of the park.
- Zion gets extremely hot; be sure you are prepared to keep your dog hydrated and cool on the trail.
Understanding and respecting the regulations put in place to protect the wildlife and wilderness will help you get the most out of visiting a breathtaking national park with your dog. While you may not be able to enjoy every trail or take in every view, you and your dog are sure to take magnificent walks you’ll remember for a lifetime.