5 Fun, Dog-Friendly National Parks
Are you hitting the wide-open road with your pooch this summer? If you’re thinking of paying a visit to some of the most beautiful attractions in the United States — our national parks — there are a few things you should know about bringing your dog along.
It’s important to do your research before you arrive at the park, says Kathy Kupper with the National Park Service, which oversees all 401 national parks, historic sites, seashores and attractions. Never assume the same pet policy applies from park to park; individual park policies can be slightly — or vastly — different, depending on the location, indigenous wildlife, topography and more. In addition, park superintendents have the authority to make further adjustments to any pet policies at their location, Kupper adds. “That’s to protect pets as much as the resources,” she explains.
Before you hit the road, make sure to get as much information as possible about what "pet friendly" really means — you can find each park’s pet policies and the park phone number at the National Park Service website. While many parks do allow pets in limited designated areas, such as near roads and in “developed” sections, you may be disappointed by the dog-friendly hiking and exploring or even lodging you find when you arrive. It’s worthwhile to dig a little deeper to find out just what you and your pup will be able to do together while you’re visiting the park.
Service dogs are an exception and should be allowed access to all the places you want to go in each park.
Even with limited dog-friendly access, many of the national parks are worth a stop, but there are a few standouts that have a solid reputation for being a blast to experience with your dog, both on and off the trails. We’ve rounded up five of the most pet-friendly parks to help you plan your summer travels.
Grand Canyon National Park
It’s thrilling to any dog owner that this national treasure in Arizona also welcomes pets! Your dog can accompany you in the developed areas of the park and on breathtaking hikes in the popular South Rim area. Dogs are prohibited in the more secluded “inner canyon,” or North Rim. And as with all pet-friendly national parks, dogs must be on 6-foot or shorter leashes.
Amy Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com is a big fan of the dog-friendly hiking in the Grand Canyon, but she offers one serious caution: "Though the path is easy to navigate, the high elevation and dry climate can quickly lead to dehydration for you and your dog. Even if you’re only planning a short stroll, bring plenty of water and a collapsible bowl."
Also, while pets are allowed at park campgrounds, the lodges on the premises are not pet-friendly. The park operates a kennel, which can accommodate dogs and cats during the day if you’re headed out to hike South Rim trails and for overnight stays. Remember to bring proof of vaccinations if you plan to take advantage of that option.
Shenandoah National Park
According to the National Park Service, “Shenandoah National Park is one of only a few national parks that allow pets on trails.” In fact, all but 20 of the 500 miles of trails are pet-friendly, making for lots of room for fun and adventure. On the trails, pets must be on a 6-foot or shorter leash. Pets are also allowed in the park’s campgrounds, as well as at several of the lodging options in the park.
Shenandoah’s 200 acres of woods, hills, waterfalls and more are located in Virginia, 75 miles outside Washington, D.C.
Petrified Forest National Park
Full of fossils, beautiful "painted desert" landscapes and vistas, the Northeastern Arizona park welcomes pets almost everywhere, including on all trails and even in the wilderness. All pets must be on a 6-foot or shorter leash or in a carrier.
At this extremely pet-friendly park, the only place pets can’t accompany you is in park buildings. But, hey, who needs to be inside when you have a stunning desert to gaze upon and a petrified forest to explore?
Acadia National Park
Located on the beautiful Maine coastline, Acadia National Park boasts 100 miles of pet-friendly trails and 45 miles of carriage roads, letting you explore rocky cliffs, forests and even mountains with your pup. There are some restrictions, however. For example, certain trails are off-limits or not recommended for dogs, and the beaches are not dog-friendly. However, Carol Bryant of Fidose of Reality recently visited the park with her Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, who gives Acadia two paws up. Bryant tells others with canine traveling companions: “We opted for Park Loop Road, a 20-mile thoroughfare that culminates with Cadillac Mountain — at 1,530 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coastline north of Brazil.”
Two of the campgrounds at the park welcome furry companions.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
A surprisingly large and diverse tract of nature near Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place for dog owners and their pals. Full of woods, waterfalls and rolling hills and home to some interesting Ohio and Erie Canal history, the park has tons of dog-welcoming trails you and your pooch can explore together.
Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com recommends the Bradford Reservation trail for the best scenery. “This five-mile all-purpose trail crosses the Tinkers Creek Gorge area, Ohio’s most magnificent canyon, known for its hemlock forests.”
Awe-inspiring scenery, invigorating hikes and convening with nature in national parks are always more fun when your best bud is with you. Burkert, an expert in pet-friendly travel, offers some advice, no matter which park you visit: "Be good ambassadors. Keep pets on leash, follow the rules, and always pick up after your dog." She believes that well-behaved pets (and owners!) can help pave the way for even more pet-friendly national parks in the future.