As summer approaches, and travel slowly begins to open up again, National Parks offer beautiful sights and adventures for you and your four-legged friend.
Most National Parks allow pets in developed areas; this means you can travel to the park with your pet as long as you’re aware of - and respect - each park’s limitations and restrictions.
In all National Parks, there are certain rules that you and your pet must abide by. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times and this leash must not be longer than 6 feet (or 2 m). With that, pets cannot be left unattended at any point, nor can they be left in vehicles. It is the pet owner's responsibility to collect and properly dispose of animal waste into designated trash areas.
Planning on visiting a National Park with your dog?
Great! Here’s everything you need to know:
BARK Ranger Program - Details & Rules
The National Park Service has a “BARK Ranger program” which informs dog owners of the Rules of B.A.R.K. when visiting our National Parks.
What are the Rules of B.A.R.K.?
B = Bag Your Poop
A = Always Wear a Leash
R = Respect Wildlife
K = Know Where To Go
● Pets must always be on a leash no longer than 6 feet (2 m). This includes the prohibition of retractable leashes that extend beyond 6 feet. Leashes will assure your dog’s safety in the park. Leashes aid in assuring dogs don’t get lost, as well as protect them from dangers of the wilderness (i.e. porcupines). Having your dog on leash keeps you, your dog, other people, and animals safe.
● Keep your dog at a distance from wildlife at all times (this rule also applies to us humans). Dogs are capable of chasing and endangering wildlife. Have full control over your dog and do not allow them to chase or disturb birds or other wildlife.
● Pets should never be left unattended!
● Not all areas of a park allow pets, especially back-country hiking trails. For a full list of areas that do not permit pets, visit the NPS’s website.
● Hikers, many park trails will not be suitable for your pets because of how steep they ascend. The terrain becomes very challenging, and very much impossible, for pets to navigate themselves.
Why do I always have to keep my dog on leash?
Leashes protect dogs from getting lost and from wilderness hazards like porcupines, bears, mountain lions, and rabid animals. They also protect other dogs, children, and visitors of the park from getting hurt. There are many visitors who may be afraid, allergic, or who do not want a dog approaching them which is why a leash is vital.
Why are some National Parks more restrictive than others with allowing dogs?
Parks like the North Cascades and Great Smoky Mountains (both included on our list) have some pet-friendly areas, but don’t allow dogs on trails because of backcountry areas that must be protected.
Other reasons why some parks are more limited in allowing dogs include:
● Some dogs can intimidate other hikers, depriving them of the peace wilderness provides.
● Dogs not under proper control can disrupt native wildlife patterns and harass, injure or kill wildlife.
● Dogs can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.
● Dogs can become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears.
What do I need to be prepared for my National Park trip with Fido?
● Water and food: Bring extra water, along with a collapsible bowl.
● Paw protection for rough terrain and long hikes.
● Collar & leash, ID tags, & waste bags for Fido.
● First aid kit with supplies for you and Fido in case of an emergency.
● Portable charger in case your phone dies or you get lost while adventuring.
Our Top 11 picks of dog-friendly National Parks
This week, in honor of #NationalParkWeek and #BarkRangerDay, we are celebrating the most pet-friendly National Parks.
Below is our pick of 11 dog-friendly National Parks, along with each park’s rules and restrictions in regards to dogs and dog-friendly areas/attractions at each park.
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
Mount Desert Island is where lush forests meet the majestic blue ocean.
There are 100 miles (161 km) of hiking trails and 45 miles (72 km) of carriage roads in the park where pets are permitted.
Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods campgrounds permit pets.
On Isle au Haut, pets are permitted for day hiking only.
Restricted Areas include most lakes in the park which are public water supplies: no swimming is allowed in these areas.
Sand Beach (June 15-Sept 8) and Echo Lake (May 15-Sept 15) are prohibited to pets, but accessible outside of those dates.
Pet-friendly attractions in Acadia:
Cadillac Mountain (the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard), Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and the village of Bar Harbor.
Because the village of Bar Harbor is so dog-friendly, some even refer to Bar Harbor as “Bark” Harbor. You will find many dog water dishes and treats on store-fronts. Whether you seek shopping, a hotel or bed-and-breakfast, or a seafood restaurant, the villages of Mount Desert Island have plenty to offer you and Fido.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
To ensure the enjoyability and safety of you, your pet, and wildlife, pets must be leashed at all times, and are prohibited from entering the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Leashed pets are allowed on the South Rim of the park, along with on trails above the rim.
Pet-friendly campgrounds include Mather Campground and Desert View Campground.
Pets are allowed in Trailer Village and developed areas within the park.
Dogs are also allowed at Yavapai Lodge which is the only lodge in the park with pet-friendly rooms.
Pet-friendly destinations via trails in the Grand Canyon include:
Rim trail, Yavapai Point, Hop Point, Mohave Point, Mathers Point, and Shoshone Point.
Grand Canyon National Park Arizona
3. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park is one of few National Parks that allow pets on trails!
So, put on your hiking boots and get ready for lots of time on the trail.
Pets are allowed in most campgrounds and trails within the park.
Fewer than 20 miles of the 500+ miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park don’t permit pets - so there’s hundreds of pet-friendly tails for you and Fido!
Pet-friendly attractions in Shenandoah include:
- ● Skyline Drive National Scenic Byway, including 75+ scenic overlooks.
- ● Shenandoah’s four campgrounds:
- Mathews Arm Campground
- Big Meadows Campground
- Lewis Mountain Campground
- Loft Mountain Campground
- ● Big Meadows Lodge and Lewis Mountain Cabins.
- ● 4,051-foot Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest mountain peak in Shenandoah.
- ● Sparkling streams at Whiteoak Canyon, perfect for cooling down Fido on warm summer days.
- ● The Appalachian Trail (Shenandoah intersects with this famed trail which ventures from Maine to Georgia and is available for all hikers and dogs to explore - not just through-hikers).
- Pet-Friendly Hiking Trails:
- Hightop Trail, Hawksbill Mountain, Little Stony Man Trail, Millers Head Trail, Mary’s Rock Summit, Hawksbill Gap Trail, Little Devils Staircase, Rose River Loop, Lewis Spring Falls Trail, Traces Trail, South River Falls Trail, and Overall Run Falls Trail.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
A visit to Great Sand Dunes is one of a lifetime, plus you can bring Fido along!
Known for having the tallest dunes in North America, the park also boasts mountains and luscious streams that are a sight to behold.
Pet-Friendly Areas in Great Sand Dunes National Park:
● Day use areas
● National preserve
● Piñon Flats Campground
● Dunes Overlook Trail
● High Dune 2.5 mile hike perfect for sledding or sandboarding (offers a great video of San Luis Valley)
● Medano Creek
● Sand Sheet Loop Trail
● Montville Nature Trail
● Mosca Pass Trail
Where pets are not permitted:
Visitor center and bathrooms, backcountry of the dunefield, beyond the first high ridge of dunes, off of the Dunes Overlook Trail, north of Castle Creek Picnic Area, except along Medano Pass Primitive Road, north of Point of No Return, including Sand Ramp Trail, and in any backpacking campsites located inside the park
Be aware that the desert grasslands surrounding the dunes contain cactus. If you walk your pet in the grasslands, be careful to avoid cactus to prevent injury to your dog. You might want to consider carrying tweezers with you. Sand temperatures can get hot, as well, so bring dog booties when exploring the dunes!
5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
There are over 110 miles of hiking trails for you and Fido to explore at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.
Areas where pets are not allowed:
Park buildings, on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train, or on the East Rim mountain bike trails.
Some popular dog-friendly spots in the park include:
● Beaver Marsh (diverse natural community with beautiful scenery and wildlife)
● Brandywine Falls (60-foot waterfall accessed via boardwalk or the 1.4-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail)
● Blue Hen Falls (15-foot waterfall that you can cherish after a 1.5 mile hike from the Boston Mill Visitor Center)
● Towpath Trail (20 miles of hiking!)
Be especially aware of ticks during your visit to Cuyahoga Valley.
Ticks are active from the early spring until the late fall season.
Use the following precautions:
● Purchase tick prevention products for your pets, like tick collars, sprays, and gels.
● Avoid especially wooded or weedy areas on trails.
● Tuck pants into socks/boots.
● Check your pets for ticks after hiking or spending time outdoors.
6. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park is a lesser known, but extremely pet-friendly National Park located in South Carolina!
Pets are allowed on all trails, including the boardwalk, as well as in the campgrounds.
● Congaree Swamp Canoe Tour.
● Tent-only camping at Longleaf Campground and Bluff Campground.
● Boardwalk Loop (2.4 mile boardwalk).
● River Trail (10 miles of forested trails with a half-mile along Congaree River.
● Congaree kayak tour via Outfitter Carolina Outdoor Adventures.
7. Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
One might not associate the seashore with Texas, but Padre Island National Seashore in Texas offers beautiful beaches and is very pet-friendly!
● Leashed pets are welcome almost everywhere in the park.
● Camping areas, open year-round, first-come, first-served.
● Malaquite Campground: on the gulf side of the island just north of the visitor center, it is just a short walk from this campground to the beach.
● Bird Island Basin Campground: next to the calm waters of the laguna, this campground is a great place for tent or RV camping.
● South Beach Primitive Camping: 60 miles of primitive beach is available for camping with 4WD access.
● North Beach Primitive Camping: offers a mile of beach access available for camping.
● Yarborough Pass Primitive Camping.
● 60 miles of beach, including all areas where you can drive on the beach.
Areas where pets are not allowed:
Buildings, the stretch of beach right in front of the Pavilion.
If your dog is more aggressive around other dogs and people, avoid the deck of Malaquite Pavilion, the boardwalk that goes from the deck down to the beach, and the short stretch of beach directly in front of the Pavilion.
8. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
There are numerous locations in Cape Cod National Seashore where dogs can enjoy the tranquility of the Cape right along with us. It is best to visit with Fido in the off-season for accessibility purposes (especially for beach access), but can be visited year-round.
Where & when dogs are allowed:
Leashed dogs are permitted on Meadow Bicycle Trail year round and Province Lands and Nauset bike trails November 1 - April 30 and freshwater ponds within the National Seashore (beaches and water) from October 16 - May 14.
Other pet-friendly attractions include:
Nauset Lighthouse, Nantucket Historic District, Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown (especially for shopping), Pilgrim Monument, Pilgrim Bark Park, Cape Cod Lavender Farm, and Provincetown Whale Watching (yes, you can take your dog whale-watching!).
Some favorite pet-friendly trails include the Long Point Trail, Great Island Trail, and Kettle Pond Trail. As for the beach, check out Race Point Beach in Provincetown, but be aware of restrictions (it may be best to go in the off-season or in the morning/evening).
Areas where pets are not permitted:
Designated nature trails, Nauset and Province Lands bike trails May 1 - October 31.
At freshwater ponds (beaches and water) May 15 - October 15.
Lifeguard-protected beaches during the summer months.
Shorebird use areas when posted.
West and Sunset horse trails in the Province Lands, and trams.
Note that during the summer, pets are not permitted on lifeguard-protected beaches. However, leashed pets are permitted to pass through lifeguard protected areas to reach areas where they may otherwise be allowed. If there are shorebird closures on or beyond lifeguard-protected beaches, pets are not allowed to walk through.
9. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Pets are allowed year round on all beaches, except for the lifeguard swimming area at West Beach from Memorial Day-Labor Day weekend.
Even when swimming in lake areas, dogs must be on leash to protect your dog, wildlife, and other visitors in the park.
Pets are allowed on the Pinhook Upland Trail, but are not allowed on the Pinhook Bog Trail or the equestrian portion of the Glenwood Dunes Trail system.
Pet-friendly attractions include:
● Kemil, Dunbar, Lake View, and Central beaches.
● Indiana Dunes State Park.
● Any trail except Great Marsh Trail, Pinhook Bog, and the equestrian portion of Glenwood Dunes trail.
Pets are prohibited in the following areas:
● West Beach lifeguard swim area in the off-season
● Nature Play Areas
● Glenwood Dunes Trail System (equestrian use only) or Great Marsh Trail
● Pinhook Bog Trail (pets are permitted in the parking lot and on the Pinhook Upland Trail)
10. North Cascades National Park - Pacific Crest Trail, California
While not allowed within most areas of North Cascades National Park, leashed dogs are allowed on Pacific Crest Trail, and within 50 feet of roads. Leashed dogs are also allowed within the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas and most surrounding national forest lands.
We have included North Cascades on our list because the surrounding national forest areas and the Pacific Crest Trail offers hundreds of pet-friendly trails and sights for you and Fido to enjoy. In fact, the PCT is 2,650 miles long!
11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains are a little more restricted in terms of dogs because of the vast backcountry areas. However, they are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads.
Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail and not allowed on any other park trails.
Since you can’t hike with Fido in this National Park, the Southern Highlands region offers an amazing variety of federal public lands for recreation and enjoyment. Some public lands outside the Smokies offer a wider range of recreational opportunities than are available here, including hiking with your pet.
For hiking, look at nearby locations like Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Chattahoochee National Forest, Cherokee National Forest , Mount Rodgers National Recreation Area, Nantahala National Forest, and Pisgah National Forest.
Now get out there and explore our National Parks with Fido.
Enjoy life- together!
Been somewhere dog-friendly you'd like to share? Please do!
If you've enjoyed a dog-friendly campsite, hiking trail, walk, beach, glamping,..... please do let us know so that we can pass it on to other pet lovers like yourself!
Thank you to Honest Paws for the illustrations.