United States National Parks are some of the most heavily visited and traversed areas for visitors and vacationers. Each year, virtually millions of us crisscross the United States National Parks and Forests, from Mount Rainier to Mesa Verde, from Grand Teton to the Great Sand Dunes. But do you bring Fido along? Have you tried? Most U.S. National Parks, unfortunately, are not exactly hospitable when it comes to pets, usually because of the natural wildlife in the area and quite logical and sensible rules about disturbing it and other natural flora and fauna. Fortunately there are some exceptions, and some dog-friendly National Parks and Forests. So what’s the best park for dogs? Where are the dog-friendly National Parks around the U.S.?
Arizona. This national park is a fantastic place to take your dog as it features one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the thrilling, soaring and incomparable Grand Canyon. Pets must be physically restrained at all times here. Leashed pets are allowed on the rim trails throughout the developed areas in the park but not below the rim. The only exception is certified service dogs. Persons wishing to take a service dog below the rim must check in first at the Backcountry Information Center. There is a dog kennel on the South Rim but not on the North Rim.
Maine. This National Park reserves much of Mount Desert Island, and associated smaller islands, off the Atlantic coast; the park includes mountains, an ocean shoreline, woodlands, and lakes. Ranked as “high on the tail wagging meter” by DogFriendly.com, dogs are allowed in the majority of the park at Acadia. So it seems in this case, national parks and dogs’ have their stars aligned… Dogs are allowed on most of the hiking trails and carriage roads. Pets are also allowed at the campgrounds, but must be attended to at all times. They are not allowed on sand beaches or on the steeper hiking trails. Pets must be on a six-foot or less leash at all times. There is one exception to the leash rule; there is an area in the park that is privately owned where dogs are allowed to run around off-leash. It’s called Little Long Pond and is located near Seal Harbor.
California. The park covers an area of 761,268 acres and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. Most visitors spend their time in the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. This national park offers a fair amount of dog-friendly walking areas and sights to see with your dog. Leashed dogs are allowed on the approximately two miles of paved trails located on the floor of the Yosemite Valley. Dogs are not allowed on any other trails in Yosemite. However, there are many sights to see from the dog-friendly paved trails in the valley. Yosemite Valley is world-renowned for its impressive waterfalls, cliffs and unusual rock formations. From the paved trails, you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Dogs are not allowed on other trails, in wilderness areas, or on the shuttle buses.
Utah. A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, a 15-mile long and up to half-mile deep canyon that juts through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone via the North Fork of the Virgin River. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park's unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Zion National Park is one of the best parks for dogs. Dogs are allowed on one walking trail at this national park. Dogs on a 6-foot or less leash are allowed on the Pa'rus Trail which is a 1.5-mile long trail that runs from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. You and your pooch can also enjoy a 10-12 mile scenic drive on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which goes through the park. If you are there from November through March, you can also take your car on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If you arrive during the summer months, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed and only allows park shuttle buses. Other pet rules include no pets on shuttle buses, in the backcountry, or in public buildings. Pets are allowed in the campgrounds and along roadways.
Kentucky. Encompassing portions of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world, the park is nearly 53,000 acres. Mammoth Cave was developed in thick limestone long ago capped by a layer of sandstone, making the system abnormally stable. It’s known to include more than 390 miles of passageway and new discoveries and connections add several miles to this figure each year. Leashed dogs are permitted on hiking trails and on campgrounds. There are over 70 miles of hiking trails which go through valleys, up hills, and around rivers, lakes and waterfalls. However, dogs are unfortunately not allowed in the cave, which is the main attraction at this park.
Virginia. Encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. The scenic Skyline Drive is likely the most prominent feature of the Park. Almost 40% of the land area (79,579 acres) has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Shenandoah National Park is one of only a few national parks that allow pets on trails. Shenandoah is pretty much one of the few dog-friendly national parks… Pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times; and pets are allowed in campgrounds. Pet-friendly lodging is even available. Also, pets are allowed, if leashed, on most trails – actually less than 20 miles of the 500 in total are prohibited to them.
Washington. The park is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland adjoin the National Park. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range. Dogs are allowed on a leash within the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, as well as on most surrounding US Forest Service lands. Dogs must be leashed and in control at all times, including while on campgrounds of National Park grounds and National Recreation Areas.
Ohio. It doesn't have the feel of the grand American National Parks but instead conjures up a warm, cozy, homely feel on the trails – which are squeezed between highways, farmlands and neighborhoods. Permits dogs on its trails. Some of the best outings with your dog in the park are in the north end of the Cuyahoga Valley, in the Bradford Reservation. A five-mile all-purpose trail traverses the Tinkers Creek Gorge area, exploring Ohio's most spectacular canyon. The gorge is a National Natural Landmark, noted for its virgin hemlock forests. Short detours off the main trail include an easy walk to Bridal Veil Falls and the “Hemlock Creek Loop Trail.” Be sure to hit up Cuyahoga Valley National Park on your vacation with dogs!
South Dakota. In the southwestern part of the state, this park preserves 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the country. For 11,000 years, Native Americans have used this area for their hunting grounds The Badlands Wilderness protects 64,144 acres of the park as a designated wilderness area. Pets are allowed only on paved or gravel roads and in developed areas such as campgrounds. Pets must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and they are not allowed on trails or in public buildings.
Colorado. This park features majestic mountain views, a variety of wildlife, wide-ranging climates and environments—from wooded forests to mountain tundra—and easy access to back-country trails and campsites. The park is located northwest of Boulder in the Rockies, and includes the Continental Divide and the headwaters of the Colorado River. Forget about dog travel biases here as pets are pretty much permitted in Rocky Mountain National Park; they’re just not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. They are allowed only in areas accessed by vehicles, including roadsides, parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds. They must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet and attended to at all times.
A Few More Tips
Generally speaking, the rules and regulations on national parks and dogs are fairly restrictive. If you’re planning anything bigger than a short day-long visit, you really might be better off leaving your dogs at home or placing them in kennels in the towns near the National Parks you’re planning to visit (some parks even maintain a list of kennels in the area). Also remember if you’re big into back-country, in most cases, bringing pets severely limits your options for exploring those areas of backcountry if that’s what you want to do.