National Parks and Your Pet

National Parks and Your Pet

“Our national parks system is a national museum. Its purpose is to preserve forever … certain areas of extraordinary scenic magnificence in a condition of primitive nature. Its recreational value is also very great, but recreation is not distinctive of the system. The function which alone distinguishes the national parks … is the museum function made possible only by the parks’ complete conservation.” – Robert Sterling Yard, 1923

The national parks system in the United States, encompasses a total of 59 protected areas operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to take a road trip to Tennessee to visit Smokey Mountains National Park. It was a wonderful experience, backpacking through mountain streams, sleeping among the trees, and catching glimpses of the wildlife (we even saw some black bear cubs!). This is the 4th national park that I have visited so far (added to my list of Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountains), and so far, none of these parks have disappointed. All of these parks have offered scenic vistas and wonderful hiking. The only thing that has been missing, is my intrepid pup. I have yet to venture into a national park with Glia (or any other dog or cat). While my Minnesota and Wisconsin state parks are very accommodating to four-legged companions, National Parks have many rules surrounding where pets are allowed.

Glacier National Park – Photo taken just outside of a campground.

There are many very good reasons for these rules, from safety to bad behavior. Dogs generally don’t mix well with wildlife. They often startle it away or on the opposite side can instigate contact with the local wildlife. During my trip to Smokey Mountain National Park, I was able to see several black bears on my hikes that I may not have been able to see if Glia was at my side. We even saw two cubs on our hike to the waterfall pictured below. More importantly than just not seeing the wildlife, dogs can carry diseases and disturb normal nesting behavior patterns. For example: Isle Royale National Park no longer allows dogs after a parvovirus outbreak occurred in the wolf population on the island. As another example, although not a true national park, Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore is “seeing an increase in piping plover nest disturbances from dogs whose owners are not fully aware of the negative impact dogs can have on nesting plovers”.

Beyond wildlife, poorly behaved/restrained pets can cause other disturbances in the park. Many trails in these parks are narrow and some visitors are not comfortable around dogs. Not all owners pick up after their pets religiously and no one wants to step in a pile of dog excrement. And finally, there are many hazards in the back country of a national park – steep cliffs, rushing rivers, narrow ravines. A poorly restrained dog can get into significant trouble in these environments. Due to the remote nature of these trails, it can be very difficult to rescue anyone (human or animal) from the back country. As a result, many national parks deem it safer to leave your pet at home. 

Waterfall at the end of a day hike in Smokey Mountains National Park. Unfortunately this is a hike that does not allow dogs.

Okay, that is a lot of negative, but it shouldn’t stop you from taking your well-behaved pooch on an adventure of a lifetime if they are well suited to the activities you are pursuing. In fact, well behaved, leashed dogs whose owners pick up after them can be great ambassadors of shared use of trails and outdoor space. If you are like me and your dog is part of your family, adjusting your trip and skipping a few sights may be worth the opportunity to share the adventure. So here is my list of which National Parks your intrepid pup is welcome at, which have limited areas your pup can enjoy, and which parks you need to avoid altogether. 

For the purposes of this post, I will only focus on the 47 National parks located in the 48 States in the mainland of the United States (as most of us will not be flying or driving to Alaska with our four-legged companions). I have grouped these 47 National Parks into 3 categories – the good, the bad, and the ugly. While the large majority of the national parks ended up in the bad category, I will start off with the good.

The Good

Based on posted pet policies, these parks are the best parks to visit with your furry companion. They allow pets on most trails and in campgrounds (always review individual park pet policies prior to visiting). If you are planning a national parks trip with your dog (or cat), these are my top recommendations for a chance to more fully explore the natural beauty of a national park. 

  1. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
  2. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  3. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
  4. Acadia National Park, Maine
  5. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  6. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

The Bad

This section encompasses the large majority of the national parks in the US. The general pet policy at these national parks is that pets are permitted where cars are allowed, with some exceptions. I have tried to briefly outline the exceptions, but reviewing the complete pet policy for each park is recommended prior to visiting.

Smokey Mountains National Park Overlook – Your intrepid pup could share this view with you.
  1. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (The website notes that there are a few specific trails that are okay for hiking with pets.)
  2. Olympic National Park, Washington (This park also has a handful of trails that pets on which pets are allowed.)
  3. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado (Pets also have access to some of the commonly used areas.)
  4. Big Bend National Park, Texas
  5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico (This park does have an onsite kennel if you want to visit the cave.)
  6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas (A couple short walks are available to pets.)
  7. Saguaro National Park, Arizona (The website recommends a few nearby trails/national forest.)
  8. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Pets are only allowed on the South Rim and only on named trails above this rim.)
  9. Death Valley National Park, California (A few good back country roads are recommended for exploring with your pet.)
  10. Joshua Tree National Park, California (Back country roads are also recommended for hiking with your dog at this park.)
  11. Pinnacles National Park, California
  12. Sequoia National Park, California (Nearby national forests are recommended for hiking with a pet.)
  13. Kings Canyon National Park, California (Again, check out the nearby national forests.).
  14. Yosemite National Park, California
  15. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (A common theme, use the surrounding national forest.)
  16. Redwood National and State Parks, California (In a slight change, recommendation is to use a nearby community forest.)
  17. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (Pets are allowed on the pacific crest trail.)
  18. North Cascades National Park, Washington (The pacific crest trail also runs through this national park and there is a surrounding national forest.)
  19. Glacier National Park, Montana
  20. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  21. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  22. Great Basin National Park, Nevada (There are two select trails available to pets at this park.)
  23. Zion National Park, Utah (There is one trail available to pets here.)
  24. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  26. Arches National Park, Utah (Pets aren’t even allowed at overlooks, but can still go where cars go otherwise.)
  27. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  28. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (Only allowed on Wetherhill trail.)
  29. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado (There are minimal trails available to pets.)
  30. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  31. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota (Just a couple short nature trails beyond where cars go.)
  32. Badlands National Park, South Dakota (Recommendation is to hike with the pooch at the US Forest next door.)
  33. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  34. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota (There is one 1.7 mile trail available to dogs.)
  35. Biscayne National Park, Florida (Pets are only allowed in Elliot Key.)
  36. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida (Pets are only allowed in Garden Key)
  37. Everglades National Park, Florida (Pets might be permitted on some trails…)
  38. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (Pets are only permitted on two short trails.)
  39. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky (No pets allowed in caves, which is the main attraction. But pets are allowed on above ground trails.)

The Ugly

No pets are allowed in these national parks. Technically, pets are allowed at Isle Royale headquarters, but they are not allowed on the island. Channel Islands has a “no pets period” policy.

  1. Channel Islands National Park, California
  2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

If you are planning on visiting any of the national parks that allow pets, I highly recommend visiting http://nps.gov and reading the pet policy for the specific park that you will be exploring. Additionally, I would love to hear in the comments if any of my readers have visited national parks with their four-legged companions and what the experience has been like. Are there any parks that you highly recommend everyone else should bring his/her intrepid pup to visit?

P.S. Another good article regarding which parks to visit with your pet is this one from NationalParks.org.  Some of the parks that I have listed as bad, are recommended in this article. It really depends on what your goal is for your visit and if you are okay with the restrictions at the individual park.

And if you are going to be traveling with your pet, you might want to check out this article on when your pet needs a health certificate for travel.

24 thoughts on “National Parks and Your Pet

  1. Love this post! We too are avid hikers (the humans AND pups in our household) and while it’s SUPER frustrating that we can’t take our dogs with us to so many of these amazing places, I do get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. We’ve been to 3 of the “Good” parks on your list and are currently planning a trip out west in November to hit a few on the “bad.” We are taking two of our dogs with us on our cross-country road trip, so we have decided to make the most of it. We want to visit Arches, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands, so we are going to do what we can with the dogs (mostly drive through) and then I found nearby state parks with similar terrain for us to really hike and enjoy with them afterwards. 🙂 Gotta make the most of it right? thanks for sharing this

    1. I have heard really good things about Arches, Zion and Canyonland. You will love that trip! And I like the suggestion of finding nearby state parks. That way you can still get a feel of hiking the terrain. I might have to look up Utah’s state parks so I can consider a similar visit next year. Have fun traveling with your pups!

  2. I’m surprised to see how short “the good” list is! But as you said, sometimes the safety of wildlife comes first and I am a big supporter of following rules when it comes to hiking trails and parks. They may be our pets and family members, but wild animals and other hikers surely wouldn’t see them as such. 😉

    1. I agree. I was originally surprised by how short that list is. Especially when I am used to visiting state parks with more lenient rules. At least most national parks have nearby areas (national forests, etc) that allow hiking with pets. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Excellent article! I have been with my dog Andy in Shenandoah National Park and a number of state parks. Thanks for explaining this more. I would image the Channell Islands restrictions is because it is a pretty delicate ecosystem?

    1. Yes, the nps.gov website for Channell Island specifically lists concerns about disease transferring from pets to the island foxes who are not typically exposed to the same disease as found off the island. Shenandoah National Park looks beautiful.

  4. Ahhh I want to go to ALL of these national parks! My Lyla could not handle most of the terrain plus I know she is not well socialized anymore. Often it is the pet parents that are more of the problem than the pets I find.

    1. Yes, I completely understand. In a perfect world, all pet parents would fully understand their pet’s behaviors and limitations, and then do solid training to make sure that their pet is ready for the activities planned. Personally, I know that there are more activities I could enjoy with my dog if I spent more time training her. We are working towards that goal of increasing her obedience training when outdoors. Also, I visited your blog and just thought I shoudl add, your Lyla is quite a cute little dog 🙂

      1. Thank you so much she is my little sweetie for sure. I for one know my Lyla is by no means well trained or socialized enough for many of these outings. I fear it may be too late for her with her age and health. I want her to just be loved and happy – training her at this stage would give her too much worry. She also can not manage travel or the terrain of many cool places. We do however LOVE our car rides, lawn mower rides, short walks, and laying at the window together barking at everything, mom even joins in.

  5. I was very happy to see Congaree State Park in SC listed as a good place to go with your dogs. This park isn’t too far from me. Would you believe I’ve lived in Sc for over 60 years and I’ve never visited this park? Must do something about this.

    1. Yes, I know the feeling. I grew up in Minnesota, but still haven’t made it to Voyageurs National Park. Sometimes I feel like it is easy to overlook the greats place close-by in favor of the adventure of a long road trip to a different state.

  6. I went to Yosemite last fall, and the lack of dogs surprised me. I am glad to see that there are a few parks that dogs can go to, but it seems to met that they should all be dog friendly. (And also really strict fines if people let their dogs off leash!)

    1. I would love it if more national parks were dog friendly! Maybe someday with more education for pet owners and good canine ambassadors, some of the national parks will be able to expand the dog-friendly areas in their parks.

  7. Wow the good list is pretty short, but I’m sure this will be quite helpful for those that love to take their dogs on adventures! Definitely handy information to know!

  8. Lots of great information and I will save for future reference. We just returned from Custer State park in SD – a state park, but one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. We brought Ruby with us. She is well-behaved and content to stay at our sides or in our laps at all times. We did see lots of wildlife but she doesn’t bark or cause much harm – plus, we always kept our distance.

    1. I have found many state parks to be absolutely wonderful places to visit. I had to google Custer State Park and it does look like a wonderful park to visit. And Ruby sounds like a perfect dog to travel with. Glad she was able to enjoy the adventure with you!

  9. I’m a huge National Park fan but I also know these places can get super crowded. State parks can be less crowded and still very well maintained. For example, Arches National Park may not allow hiking on trails, but there is a nearby state park with the unfortunate name Dead Horse State Park with amazing views and trails. I like that you posted how different National Parks have different rules: people often assume it’s a one rule for all system.

    1. I love getting suggestions for nearby alternatives. I have heard wonderful things about Arches National Park. Now I will have to look into Dead Horse State Park as an alternative for when I plan a trip in that area. Thank you!

  10. I’ve always been curious to visit Joshua Tree and also Yellowstone National Park. That’s one of my bucket list items. I should really consider making that move sooner than later since I’m without furry friends at the moment. It is a little easier when traveling. Nice suggestions.

  11. Thank you SO much for listing the few National Parks that allow dogs! This is really helpful to me, as I’ve wanted to visit some Nat’l parks w/ my dogs but I know they’re not pet friendly. We are hoping to visit Acadia up in Maine but I hadn’t researched it yet, so I’m delighted to see that it’s on the dog friendly list! I’ll have to keep this list handy, thanks!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Acadia is definitely at the top of my list after researching dog-friendly national parks. If you make it there soon, let me know what you and your pups think of it.

  12. This is a lot of good research and information I really learned a lot. I want to visit so many of the parks someday and hopefully will have a dog to take then. But at least I know now to sure and check out each one’s policy. Dolly and Sandra

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