Dog-Friendly National Parks? Here's the Lowdown on What You Can Do With Your Pup at the 10 Most Popular Sites

·8 min read
Bark ranger at the Joshua Tree National Park
Bark ranger at the Joshua Tree National Park

Courtesy of joshuatreenps / Instagram

Millions of Americans visit the U.S. national park system every year. As they should. These spots are perfect for vacations! But, of course, no vacation can be perfect if our fur family members are back home. Enter dog-friendly national parks.

You are allowed to bring your dog with you to almost all of the 63 national parks. There are rules, however. Depending on the park, your dog may be able to accompany you only in certain areas, Kathy Kupper, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service, tells Daily Paws.

"Pets are like family, so it's great to share these experiences just like you want to share with other loved ones," Kupper, a former park ranger, says.

It's true: Camping and hiking with your dog at a national park can make for magical memories, but you want to make sure you do it right so you and your pet stay safe.

With that in mind, be sure to check your specific park's website and plan accordingly before you hit the road. You don't want to arrive at your destination and learn that you need to find a new plan for your furry travel partner. Below, we'll touch on dog-related requirements at the 10 parks that were most popular in 2020.

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Dogs in National Parks: BARK Rangers

If you arrive at one of the best national parks for dogs, there are some general rules you'll want to follow, as outlined in the NPS's BARK Ranger program, which follows four core principles:

  • Bag your pet's waste: Ideally this would go without saying, but here we are. Dog poop is gross, and it spreads disease and pollutes the parks' water, Kupper says. And it can attract wildlife.

  • Always leash your pet: And on a 6-foot leash, too. Nothing retractable. Your dog will want to smell all the smells and could get carried away or even become lost, Kupper says. Sometimes, a lack of leash can lead to a tragic incident, like when a dog was burned in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring earlier this month.

  • Respect wildlife: This goes along with the first two rules, but perhaps the best thing to remember is that you're a guest in other animals' homes. "Don't leave anything behind other than your footprints when you visit a park," Kupper says.

  • Know where you can go: If there is a sign telling you your dog isn't allowed, don't take your dog there. It could be fragile terrain, or the dogs could threaten the wildlife (or vice-versa). "We try to make parks as accessible as possible to pets with their people, but when you see that restriction on a trail or an area, there's a reason behind it," Kupper says.

Honestly, just follow those rules. Kupper has heard many stories of lost dogs never reuniting with their owners. Don't let that be you!

RELATED: Watch Gracie the 'Bark Ranger' Border Collie Keep Wildlife and Visitors Safe at Glacier National Park

Do All National Parks Allow Dogs?

Of the 63 national parks, there are only two where dogs are entirely prohibited, Kupper says. They're both islands: Channel Islands and Isle Royale. Several others, like Alaska's Lake Clark, advise against bringing dogs with you. (Again, plan ahead.)

Keep in mind: If the park you're visiting doesn't allow dogs, there might be a kennel or boarding facility near the park where you can relocate your dog for a day or two so you can explore. Qualified service dogs, however, are allowed in areas where pet dogs are banned.

This is where we'll mention that while there are 63 "national parks," there are more than 420 national park sites that the National Park Service oversees. They're in all 50 states—battlefields, monuments, historic places—so one is probably within driving distance for you. These local options are great short getaways for you and your pet if a national park is too far to travel with (or without) your BFF. If you live in the Bay Area, for instance, you can delight in walking your dog around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

If you're thinking about more of a national park, here's the dog-related skinny on the 10 most popular:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. & N.C.

This was the most popular park in 2020, recording 12.1 million visitors and, we're guessing, more than a few dogs. The park has the same rules you'll find at others: Dogs are allowed in developed areas—campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads—and select trails.

In this case, you can take your dogs on the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Make sure to bring your camera so you can take great photos of your pet with those gorgeous views as the backdrop!

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Mont., & Wyo.

It's a similar story at the world's first national park. Dogs are allowed in the developed areas and must be leashed or in cars at all times. They're not allowed in the backcountry, on boardwalks, or on hiking trails (for their own safety!)

Taking your pup to a boarding facility is one option to keep her safe while you visit the park. Or you could strap Fido in his car harness and opt for a fun driving tour together.

RELATED: 4 Tips for a Dog-Friendly Road Trip

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Oh heck yeah: Dogs here are allowed on more than 100 miles of hiking trails including the historical Towpath Trail. Just make sure you've got your dogs leashed and you're picking up any and all poop.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion also allows dogs in the developed areas and at the Zion Lodge. But you can only take your dog with you on one trail, the Pa'rus Trail that begins at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

All other trails, backcountry, buildings, and buses are off-limits to dogs. If you do hit the trail, you'll want to watch out for toxic bacteria in the streams and rivers.

If your heart is set on adventuring with your pup in Utah, maybe head northeast of Zion to the Corona Arch Trail near Arches National Park instead, or check out this list of other dog-friendly hikes and trails to choose another destination the doggos can enjoy, too.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.

It's a similar story here, we're afraid. Your dog is only allowed in road areas, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Otherwise, all pets are banned from the trails, meadows, and tundras. Thankfully, there are boarding facilities in the nearby towns like Estes Park.

After you've gotten your fill of hiking for the day, hit up dog park (if your dog enjoys them and is up-to-date on vaccines) or a few nearby dog-friendly patios at various breweries, bars, and restaurants in the area.

Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.

Woo! Visitors can walk and hike with their dogs along the trails above the canyon's rim, assuming they're leashed, of course. They're also allowed in the park's developed areas.

Dogs can also be boarded at the South Rim Kennel or even stay with their owners at the pet-friendly Yavapai Lodge.

Acadia National Park, Maine

More hiking! More than 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads are available for leashed dogs and their owners at Acadia. Be sure to check the park's website to see specifically where you can and cannot go. (You'll want to avoid the steep trails.)

And, as the park notes, you'll want to be on the lookout for the prevalent ticks.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.

On its website, the NPS says dogs at Grand Teton should follow a basic rule: They can go where cars can go. So that's camping areas, roads, and picnic spaces, but no hiking trails or other wilderness areas. Sorry, Fifi! Here's another opportunity to take a scenic drive together.

RELATED: Top Tips to Help Your Dog Feel Comfortable in the Car (and Avoid Motion Sickness)

Olympic National Park, Wash.

Here, dogs are allowed on six of the park's trails and in the developed areas. As always, you'll want to make sure your dog is on a leash no longer than 6 feet while at Olympic.

Joshua Tree National Park, Calif.

This might be another park where it's best to board your dog for a few days rather than take them with you. Joshua Tree is in a desert and your dog will only be allowed where cars can go. Plus, there's predatory wildlife in abundance.

If you do make the trip with your dog, don't forget the water and pack a cooling vest or fold-up cooling mat for your pup to rest on during breaks. It's hot out there. Just ask Ranger Teddy!