By: Tracie Hotchner
Planning your first family camping adventure at one of the United States’ national parks? Maybe you’re a seasoned pro but this will be your first time bringing along a pet. In any event, to ensure a fun, safe visit for the whole family, follow these tips for taking your dog camping in national parks.
Know the Rules
Did you know there are 59 national parks that welcome hundreds of millions of guests each year? These parks also span the furthest reaches of our nation and include sites along snowy mountain ranges, tropical forests, volcanic islands, complex cave systems, and a variety of other natural environments. With such diverse conditions and unique, site-specific amenities, each park will have its own guidelines regarding canine companions. Prior to your trip, it’s best to research dog friendly national parks to steer you towards a location the whole family can really enjoy. I also recommend contacting park officials to clarify any guidelines specific to that park, but the following rules apply to most parks:
- The majority of national parks prohibit pets from hiking trails and backcountry. Pets are not allowed on ranger-led programs or in public buildings, but most parks do allow dogs in campgrounds, picnic areas, paved scenic viewpoints and along paved roads.
- All parks require that dogs wear a collar or harness attached to a leash no more than six feet, at all times.
- Dogs should never be left unattended or in parked cars.
- Owners must maintain strict control of their dogs so they don’t threaten wildlife or other park visitors.
- Excessive barking is prohibited, as this can threaten wildlife and disrupt the peaceful environment that attracts visitors to national parks.
- Pet owners not adhering to regulations may receive a citation.
Before setting off, make sure you have everything you need to keep your pooch happy, healthy and comfortable at every leg of your trip. Pack the following items:
- Dog food; while this may seem obvious, be prepared with several extra days’ worth
- Airtight storage containers; these will keep your dog’s food fresh and protected from contamination
- An abundant amount of fresh water and a portable water dish
- Canine first aid kit
- Bedding and/or extra blankets specifically for your dog
- Tick remover
- A leash as required by the park, but consider bringing an extra just in case
- Collar and/or harness with identification tags showing current contact and medical info
- A copy of your dog’s vaccination records and/or health certificate
- A towel, travel shower, wipes, or any other health and grooming supplies you need to keep your dog clean
- Dog jacket or coat
- Dog waste bags; owners are expected to pick up after their dogs at all times
- Dog backpack or trail pack if you are visiting a park with dog-friendly hiking trails
There are many aspects of safety to consider when bringing your dog along on a camping trip. Not only is it important to protect your dog, but in many circumstances, doing so protects your entire family as well. Keep the following safety measures in mind throughout your trip:
- Tick safety is increasingly necessary across the country. Be sure to regularly check your dog and his bedding for ticks. And while you’re at it, check yourself, too.
- Plan accordingly for any possible weather conditions ahead. Many parks see a variety of extreme temperatures throughout the year, including intense heat during the days and severe temperature drops at night. Know the signs of dehydration and how to keep your dog cool, but also how to keep him warm when it’s cold outside.
- Store all pet and human food safely away in food lockers to avoid attracting predators to your campsite.
- As you build your perfect campfire, be watchful of escaping embers and limit your dog’s proximity to the fire pit.
- Throughout your camping trip, be alert for signs of bears, or other predators or wildlife. Protect your pet by keeping him leashed and close by as you explore the grounds.
- Perhaps every owner’s worst nightmare is that their dog slips his leash and makes a run for the vast wilderness ahead. Keep your dog properly identified and microchipped before you arrive at your campsite. Know how to find a lost dog and immediately alert campsite authorities if your dog goes missing. Keep him leashed, and if he has a long history as an escape artist, consider leaving him home.
Don’t let the many rules and safety precautions get you down; there’s still a lot of room to have fun with your dog while camping.
- Bring plenty of dog toys and chews to keep your pet entertained, and take several breaks each day to actively play with your dog.
- Whether or not your dog is allowed in your bed at home, this is vacation—cut loose and snuggle up when it’s time to head to the tent and call it a night.
- When planning your campfire dinners, include dog-friendly foods like lean beef, turkey, chicken, salmon, sweet potato and green beans so you can share a healthy treat with your best friend. Just make sure the food is cool and be careful of leftover bones or foil scraps.
- Though some areas may be off limits for your pooch, take advantage of those that welcome him. Brush up on your hiking trail etiquette and approach even the more developed areas of our national parks with safety in mind; many of the scenic vistas and paved walkways open to pets offer just as much to explore as areas reserved for two-legged campers.
Bringing your dog along for a real camping excursion at one of our spectacular national parks requires careful planning and a little more work than your weekly romp through local spots, but is worth the effort. Know the rules, be prepared, think safety first and don’t forget to have fun—even your furriest family member will have the adventure of a lifetime.