“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.
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.
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.
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.
- Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Congaree National Park, South Carolina
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.
- Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (The website notes that there are a few specific trails that are okay for hiking with pets.)
- Olympic National Park, Washington (This park also has a handful of trails that pets on which pets are allowed.)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado (Pets also have access to some of the commonly used areas.)
- Big Bend National Park, Texas
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico (This park does have an onsite kennel if you want to visit the cave.)
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas (A couple short walks are available to pets.)
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona (The website recommends a few nearby trails/national forest.)
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Pets are only allowed on the South Rim and only on named trails above this rim.)
- Death Valley National Park, California (A few good back country roads are recommended for exploring with your pet.)
- Joshua Tree National Park, California (Back country roads are also recommended for hiking with your dog at this park.)
- Pinnacles National Park, California
- Sequoia National Park, California (Nearby national forests are recommended for hiking with a pet.)
- Kings Canyon National Park, California (Again, check out the nearby national forests.).
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (A common theme, use the surrounding national forest.)
- Redwood National and State Parks, California (In a slight change, recommendation is to use a nearby community forest.)
- Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (Pets are allowed on the pacific crest trail.)
- North Cascades National Park, Washington (The pacific crest trail also runs through this national park and there is a surrounding national forest.)
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Great Basin National Park, Nevada (There are two select trails available to pets at this park.)
- Zion National Park, Utah (There is one trail available to pets here.)
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- Arches National Park, Utah (Pets aren’t even allowed at overlooks, but can still go where cars go otherwise.)
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (Only allowed on Wetherhill trail.)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado (There are minimal trails available to pets.)
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota (Just a couple short nature trails beyond where cars go.)
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota (Recommendation is to hike with the pooch at the US Forest next door.)
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
- Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota (There is one 1.7 mile trail available to dogs.)
- Biscayne National Park, Florida (Pets are only allowed in Elliot Key.)
- Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida (Pets are only allowed in Garden Key)
- Everglades National Park, Florida (Pets might be permitted on some trails…)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (Pets are only permitted on two short trails.)
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky (No pets allowed in caves, which is the main attraction. But pets are allowed on above ground trails.)
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.
- Channel Islands National Park, California
- 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.