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Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Dogs

While this post is primarily about bringing your dog to Yellowstone National Park, we can’t help but start off with some general fun facts about this historic national park.

Yellowstone National Park has the impressive honor of being the first national park in the United States of America. The 2.2 million acres of land was declared an official national park on March 1, 1872.

Hot Springs was technically around from 1832 onward but was not designated a national park until 1921. Yosemite was also a park before Yellowstone but was still a state park at the time that Yellowstone was formed.

It is possible that Yellowstone would also have originally been formed as a state park if it had not been located in both Wyoming and Montana. Since neither state contained the entire park area, Yellowstone was designated as a national park.

Yellowstone was named after the major river running through the park, the Yellowstone River. Another interesting fact is that Yellowstone is among the top 5 most visited national parks in the United States. Over 4 million people entered Yellowstone National Park each year for the last 4 years. 

And there is plenty of space for these 4 million people to enjoy. As the 2nd largest national park in the contiguous United States, it is a little smaller than the 3 million-acre Death Valley National Park.

The major attraction of Yellowstone is the unique thermal features. The volcanic geology of this region provides the three components necessary for geysers and other hydrothermal features: heat water, and a “natural plumbing system.” 

Yellowstone has also become home for the largest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states. Visitors are treated to plenty of bison, elk, bears and more. 

The only downside to thermal features and wildlife is that neither are very dog-friendly. Keep reading to find out how to keep your dog safe while exploring Yellowstone National Park.

Dog-Friendly Activities at Yellowstone National Park

Like most national parks, Yellowstone limits dogs to only enjoying the areas of the national park that are reachable by car.  Dogs can accompany their humans in several developed areas, but they need to remain within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds. 

Also standard among national parks, dogs in Yellowstone need to be controlled at all times. This means that if your dog is not in a car or a crate, they must be on a leash. Leashes cannot be longer than six feet in length. 

Due to strict pet policies, the dogs spent a fair amount of time in the car driving through Yellowstone.

Unfortunately, even leashed dogs are not allowed on boardwalks, hiking trails, in the backcountry or in thermal areas. They also may not be left unattended or tied to an object. 

Although Yellowstone National Park does allow pets to remain in vehicles for short periods of time, they recommend that someone stay behind to ensure the pet’s wellbeing. And Yellowstone specifically states that pets may NOT be left in a situation where food, water, shade, ventilation or other basic needs are inadequate. So make sure the temperature is appropriate before you leave your dog behind in a vehicle. 

Why so many rules and regulations? Here is what Yellowstone National Park has to say about it: “These policies exist to protect pets from being killed by predators like bears and coyotes, to protect them from being burned or killed in hot springs, to prevent the exchange of diseases between domestic animals and park wildlife, and to allow others to enjoy the park without the disruption of pets.”

During our visit with the dogs, we did end up leaving them in the parked RV for up to 20 minutes at a time so that we could walk out onto some boardwalks and enjoy some of the thermal features of Yellowstone. Our favorite boardwalk was Norris Geyser Basin. 

We wish the dogs would have been able to enjoy this area with us, but they remained safely secured in the RV as we wandered the boardwalks that traverse this Geyser Basin.

View of part of Norris Geyser Basin

And of course, we had to take the time to watch Old Faithful erupt. The best part about visiting Old Faithful is that dogs are allowed on the sidewalks around the visitors center. So even though we weren’t able to get a front-row seat on the boardwalk, we were able to bring the dogs with to catch one of the most iconic sights of Yellowstone National Park. 

A little further away than those on the boardwalk, but still close enough to enjoy Old Faithful with the pups.

For more information about visiting Yellowstone National Park with dogs, check out the official pets page.

Camping at Yellowstone National Park

There are 12 different campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. Five of these take reservations, while the rest are first-come, first-served sites. 

Yellowstone offers a great website that allows prospective campers to see if the campgrounds are full and what time they filled by the previous day. This can be super helpful in planning how early you need to arrive in order to secure a campsite.

We arrived at Yellowstone in the evening (6:30pm) and, as we had expected, all of the campsites at the northern end of the park were full. So we drove back to a National Forest Campground just outside of Yellowstone. 

Eagle Creek Campground was located about 3 miles away from Yellowstone’s north entrance. But large vehicle drivers beware – the campground is located up a windy and steep dirt road. We made it in our 23 foot Class C RV, but we wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything much larger up to this campground. In 2018, the campsites were only $7/night. 

Our campsite at Eagle Creek Campground.

We also camped at a national forest campground the night after our exploration of Yellowstone (after driving out the eastern side of Grand Teton National Park). So if the national park campgrounds are full, be aware that there are many national forest campgrounds in the surrounding area. 

Most of these national forest campgrounds are dog-friendly. And many even have dog-friendly hiking trails that leave straight from the campground.

Dog-Friendly Activities in the Areas around Yellowstone National Park

As mentioned above, just like they are a good source of campgrounds, the surrounding national forests are also a good location for dog-friendly hiking. However, just because the trails allow dogs, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be cautious about hiking with pets in this area. There are still plenty of wildlife dangers outside of the national park boundaries that can pose a risk to you and your dog. 

We took a few short hikes/walks from our national forest campgrounds, but didn’t venture too far into the wilderness as both of our pups can be a bit reactive towards strange wildlife. 

For additional information about dog-friendly opportunities in and around Yellowstone National Park, consider reading the following blog articles:

Overall Experience Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Dogs

We definitely spent less time in Yellowstone National Park than we would have if the dogs were allowed to hike the boardwalks and trails. But this is one national park where we truly felt that the dogs could be at risk. The thermal geyser basins and high prevalence of wildlife sightings reinforced that the pups were safer in developed areas. 

That being said, we really enjoyed our drive through the park. We felt that we were able to see a decent amount from the roadsides. Additionally, being able to leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes allowed us to spend some time on the boardwalks enjoying the fantastic and unique views of Yellowstone. 

And best of all, we were able to enjoy the most iconic attraction of Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful, with the dogs. 

So if you are considering a visit to Yellowstone, but can’t or don’t want to leave your dog behind, you can still have a great experience.

The pups stretching their legs along the side of the road at Yellowstone National Park

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