The Best Dog-Friendly National Parks, Part 1

Orvis associate Cindy Dunican and her Black Lab, Addy, enjoy adventure travel.
Photo by Cindy Dunican

On August 25, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary, so over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting the best parks for you to explore with your dog. 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 also 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. In our first installment, we cover the basics. Come back for the next few weeks as we highlight individual parks.

The National Park System
There are 411 sites within the National Park System, including the 59 national parks, 18 national recreation areas, and scores of national monuments, historic sites, rivers, scenic trails and preserves. Yellowstone was the first national park, established in 1872, and the National Park Service was created in 1916 to manage the 84-million-acre park system.

Is Your Dog Trail Ready?
This is truly the most important question you can ask and answer honestly before venturing to a national park with your best buddy. There is no point in heading to one of these breathtaking destinations with an overexcited dog who exhibits minimal self-control.

The national parks are wild places meant to be enjoyed with respect for the plants and animals who live there. If your dog tends to bark or yank on his lead every time he spots a squirrel or a neighbor on your walks at home, it’s best to make arrangements to leave him there so you and other park visitors can enjoy the jaw-dropping sights without unwanted distractions.

To fully enjoy the national parks in peace with your dog, it’s crucial that he be well trained with a history of remaining calm in the face of unknown environments and new situations.

Yellowstone was the nation’s first park set aside for a great reason. . . .
Photo via Wikipedia

Before you go, be sure to read up on hiking safely with your dog so you are prepared for this excursion and you have all the dog safety gear you’ll need before setting off from the trailhead with your best pal.

National Park Pet 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, paved scenic viewpoints, and 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.

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.

In the entire national park system, only Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California provides sections where dogs are allowed to romp off leash.

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