The United States has some amazing national parks. From the geysers of Yellowstone to the waterfalls of Yosemite to the red cliff walls of the Grand Canyon, these national parks protect some of the most amazing natural places that our country has to offer.
For some road-trippers, it comes as a surprise that most of the United State’s national parks do not allow dogs on hiking trails or backcountry areas. Instead, dogs are limited to roads, parking lots, and campgrounds. This forces many visitors to leave their dogs behind in order to truly explore the parks.
Happily, there are a few exceptions among these national parks. Most of the national parks that allow dogs on trails are in the eastern half of the United States, but there are still some national parks in the western half of the United States that can still be happily visited with dogs. We visited all of the national parks west of the Mississippi River and found the following national parks that allow your dog to explore right along with you.
Of the 36 national parks west of the Mississippi, these 6 are the most dog-friendly.
Grand Cayon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps one of the most famous national parks in the United States. Located in northern Arizona, Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon the “one great sight which every American should see.”
The canyon itself stretches for over 270 miles and is up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep. Grand Canyon National Park protects land on both sides of the canyon and consists of 3 well-defined regions: the Colorado River/Canyon Floor, the South Rim, and the North Rim.
Most visitors only visit one rim, as it takes a 210 mile, 4.5 hour drive to get from one side to the other. Visitors without dogs can hike between the rims, but that will take longer than 4.5 hours. When choosing which rim to visiting, if you are visiting with dogs, visit the South Rim.
The South Rim allows dogs on all of the named trails above the rim. This translates to several miles of trails with amazing views of the Grand Canyon.
And if you want to take a day hike into the canyon, there is even a kennel service at the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The tallest sand dunes in North America are located between the San Juan and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. These dunes are up to 750 feet in height and cover more than 30 square miles.
Great Sand Dunes National Park protects these amazing sand dunes. The national park is paired with the Great Sand Dunes Preserve, which protects over 41,000 acres of the adjacent pinyon-juniper forests and mountain peaks that rise to over 13,000 feet.
On-leash dogs are allowed in the main use areas of the sand dunes and in all of the preserve. And to top it off, there are adjacent national forests that are also open for dogs to explore with their humans.
If you are up for a relatively strenuous hike in the sand, don’t skip the hike up to High Dune, an approximately 650 ft tall dune approximately 2.5 miles from the parking lot. This dune is located just on the border of how far dogs can hike into the dunes, in the first line of high dunes.
Once at the top, you will get spectacular views of the park. And running down the dunes is a fantastic experience in and of itself. It took us about 2 hours to hike the 2.5 miles to the top, but we returned to our car in about 30 minutes.
If you are more interested in the preserve, consider hiking the Mosca Pass Trail. This is the most accessible mountain hike and begins near the Montville Nature Trail. This trail is 3.5 miles on way, offering the chance to walk up and/or down a rocky path surrounded by tall mountain pines and a small stream.
Overall, Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of our favorite dog-friendly national parks. So hike the dunes! Hike in the preserve! And bring your dog!
Petrified Forest National Park
A second dog-friendly national park in Arizona is the lesser-known Petrified Forest National Park. This park is home to an ancient preserved forest filled with fossils of long ago trees. These petrified trees are surrounded by ruins and petroglyphs, animal and plant fossils, and colorful badland landscape. The blue mesas and red-painted desert landscapes are stunning.
One of the best features of Petrified Forest National park is that it is one of the few national parks that your dog can almost fully explore right along with you. The only main restriction is that dogs are not allowed in any of the buildings (unless they are a service dog, of course).
This means that your pup can enjoy a walk on the Giant Logs Trail to see “Old Faithful,” a petrified log 10 feet in diameter. Or a dog could follow the Blue Mesa Trail as it loops through petrified wood and blue badlands.
Petrified Forest is even one of the national parks that has a Bark Ranger program. Details can be found here, but the essence of this program is to remind dogs and their owners about the basics of visiting a national park. Pets in national parks need to follow the B.A.R.K. principles.
- B= Bag your poop.
- A = Always wear a leash
- R = Respect wildlife
- K = Know where you can go
After reading and agreeing to the rules and regulations regarding pets in this national park, your dog will receive a treat and be able to purchase a Bark Ranger pet tag at the visitor center.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is another less visited national park, receiving only a little over 200,000 visitors per year (for reference the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park receives over 4 million visitors per year). But this stunning national park is also one of the more dog-friendly national parks.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was forged over the course of roughly 2 million years by the raging Gunnison River. This deep and dark canyon contains the tallest cliff in Colorado – Black Canyon’s Painted wall stands at 2,250 ft. And much of the beauty of this canyon can be enjoyed with your dog by your side.
Dog’s are allowed in most areas above/at the rim including on roads, in campgrounds, at overlooks, on the Cedar Point and North Rim Chasm View Nature Trails and on the Rim Rock Trail. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails not listed, on inner canyon routes, or in the wilderness area.
But even without hiking the inner canyon or wilderness area, there is plenty to do and see to fill a day (or more). The views from the Rim Rock Trail are stunning and awe-inspiring and this short hiking trail offers a great opportunity to stretch your pup’s legs before driving to the overlooks. And at most overlooks, your dog can get out of the car with you to enjoy the views.
One special restriction to note is that the South Rim Campground roads and Rim Rock Trail are closed to dogs from June 1st to August 10. The local deer can become aggressive in protecting their fawns. Visitors have been injured after deer have perceived dogs as a threat. So plan your visit for a time of year when your dog can enjoy these areas with you.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is a unique national park with its mix of hiking trails and city streets. The park was created to help protect its main feature – hot springs. Log bathhouses were built in this area starting in 1830 and the region first gained federal protection as a reservation in 1832. It was classified as a national park in 1921.
At 5,500 acres, Hot Springs is the smallest national park. (Except for Gateway Arch National Park. And although Gateway Arch was granted national park status in 2018, it is really more of a monument. A fellow blog, Journey to All National Parks (opens in new tab), does a nice job of describing why Gateway Arch is really only a national park in name but doesn’t fit the description of a national park.)
But just because Hot Springs National Park is small, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do with your pup. The park has 26 miles of trails and all 26 miles of the Hot Springs’ trail system is open for use with your furry friends. The only regulation is that they are kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times. And just like other parks, dogs are not allowed in the visitor center or other park buildings.
The trails are overall very well maintained with a mix of easy and moderate trails. The longest trail is Sunset Trail. This trail is over 10 miles in length and takes you through varied terrain and past some scenic overlooks. If you are up for it, this trail is a must-do activity. Be aware that there is a small section that walks along highway 7 – which is a busy road. Watch closely for traffic.
Another highlight of this park is walking along the Grand Promenade trail near Bathhouse Row and meandering through the city streets past historic buildings. The town itself is relatively dog-friendly also, with some shops even setting out water bowls for visiting dogs.
White Sands National Park
And finally, the United State’s newest national park – White Sands National Park. When we visited in 2018, this park was still a national monument, so we only wrote a quick write up of this park as part of our Carlsbad Caverns National Park post. But we are so happy this area was upgraded, as it was one of our favorite stops on our road trip.
This area in the Tularosa Basin is home to wave-like dunes of gypsum sand that engulfs 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Park preserves a large portion of the dunefield, protecting many of the plants and animals that live here.
And the best part about the white sand that stretches nearly as far as the eye can see is that your dog can enjoy the sand with you. Dogs are allowed in the park and on the trails as long as they are non-disruptive, on a leash and under physical control at all times. Just remember, pets are not allowed in buildings (like the visitors center).
White Sands National Park can get hot, so make sure to bring plenty of water, never leave a dog unattended – especially in vehicles, and check the sand temperature before starting off on a hike. You have shoes to protect your feet, but unprotected paws can blister and hurt.
The park recommends that you not start a hike if it is above 85F and if you are hiking with your dog, you should likely choose an even lower temperature cut-off. It can really get hot on sandy hikes, and dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than humans.
There are multiple trails in the park ranging from 0.5 to 5 miles round trip. You are walking on sand, so trails are marked with colored posts. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the colors and symbols to help orient yourself during a hike. The Interdune Boardwalk is the only trail with no colored posts or symbol.
And don’t forget your camera, the white sand makes a spectacular backdrop.
As always, we love to hear from our readers. Let us know if you agree with our list or if there are other national parks west of the Mississippi river that you think deserve a spot on this list.