Millions of visitors flock to national parks every year, some hoping to bring along their canine companions. But each national park’s pet guidelines vary, which can make it difficult for visitors to bring their dogs with them. Dogs can potentially disturb the wildlife, cause contamination or damage local ecosystems, which is why many national parks strictly regulate their entrance. But there are a number of national parks that are extremely dog friendly, making it easy to travel with your best friend! My partner, our two dogs and I hit the road early this year. Along our journey, we traveled to a handful of national parks that were both dog friendly and spectacular to see. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to national parks with your pets.
Are Dogs Allowed in National Parks?
While many of the country’s most popular national parks limit pet travel through the park, they usually allow dogs to travel through developed areas like roads and paved trails. Some national parks allow dogs to hike on specific trails while prohibiting their entrance into sensitive or dangerous areas. And some national parks give dogs free rein over the park.
Dog Etiquette & Training
When determining whether or not to take your dogs into a national park, it’s important to consider etiquette and training. Not everyone loves dogs, which means that you should be cognizant of potential human encounters in crowded areas. If your pet isn’t friendly, or they’re not quick to listen to your commands, you should stick to less popular places where they can learn the skills needed to be around others. Before entering national parks, pets should be friendly, well-behaved, and responsive to commands.
Hiking and backpacking with your dog present a series of unique challenges, but making preparations and training your dog will help. In order to follow Leave No Trace principles during our travels, my partner and I also made sure to research each park’s pet guidelines prior to our visit. Every national park is going to require that your pets remain leashed (with a 6-foot leash) and that you pick up your pet’s waste.
Dog Friendly Gear
Pets also require a different set of gear than humans. Our dogs carry their own doggy packs (with treats and food for longer days), and we carry extra water for the dogs. In desert areas where goat head (a weed that produces sharp seed pods) is present, we also bring dog booties for a little bit of extra paw protection. And don’t forget to bring your own wag bags! Some pet owners also carry items like a dog jacket, a first-aid kit, and bells and lights in order to help keep track of their dog.
Best Dog Friendly National Park Destinations
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park is a massive floodplain in South Carolina. It’s also one of the best spots in the country for bird watching since over 200 different species have been spotted in this region. The park is also home to creatures like alligators, snakes and invasive boars. But it is, perhaps, best known for its Cypress trees.
Our dogs were consistent visitors to this park for several years before we hit the road. We traveled along the winding boardwalk, and through the backcountry (when it was dry). The dogs were able to adequately socialize with both humans and other dogs, and they got a great deal of exercise at the same time. On more than one occasion, we were able to spot a cottonmouth snake from a safe distance. Plus, we got a good look at the invasive wild boars.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park is the world’s biggest gypsum sand dune field, covering 145,762 acres of land in the southeastern corner of New Mexico. If you visit the park in the daytime, you can sled down a dune in the looped portion of the Dunes Drive. Due to its remote location and a lack of light pollution, it’s one of the best spots in the nation for stargazing. The park is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, which is still considered active, and it occasionally sees missile testing and rocket launches lighting up the entire sky with an orange blast. Not only is White Sands National Park a fabulous place to stargaze, it’s also a great place to take your dog.
Leashed pets are allowed to explore most parts of White Sands National Park, with the exception of the park’s buildings. Pets can even travel to backcountry campsites, making them slightly more dog friendly than the nearby Colorado Sand Dunes. We love taking our dogs to sand dunes like those that are found in White Sands because of the soft sand and generous landscape. But we’re extra careful to evaluate the temperatures before we leave since hot sand can be harmful to doggy paws.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park is best known for its fossils. Some of the fossilized trees have been dated to be about 225 million years old. Visitors to the park can take in the colorful desert landscapes. And pets can, too! Leashed dogs are permitted on both established trails and in the backcountry. This national park even offers a Bark Ranger program where pets can get a treat. Petrified Forest not only tolerates dogs, it loves them! Just keep in mind that the park’s exposure and temperatures can be dangerous to dogs during the wrong season.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
When most people think of the Shenandoah, they imagine a valley that’s sprawled out for miles. This exact valley can easily be seen from Shenandoah National Park on both the parkway and on the park’s 500-miles of trails. This national park also includes over 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, more than 1,300 species of vascular plants, and it’s even home to the largest black bear refuge in the state.
Spanning 197,411 acres, pet owners can take their dogs on most of the park’s trails. Only 20 miles of trails are off-limits to pets (it’s for their own safety since some trails feature big cliffs and potentially dangerous terrain). Dogs are also permitted to stay in Shenandoah campgrounds and picnic areas. Our dogs loved Shenandoah National Park because of its rich smells and plentiful trails. On one particular trip, we ran into a rattlesnake on the trail. Having them on leashes made it much easier to monitor their behavior and steps past the rattlesnake.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system, featuring over 420 miles of passages. While a number of other caves outrank this one in terms of volume, few caves even come close to Mammoth’s reach (Mexico’s Sac Atun comes the closest and it’s about half as long, as far as we know). While pets are not allowed into the Mammoth Cave itself, they are permitted on the park’s 70 miles of hiking trails. The Mammoth Cave Kennels offers day boarding for pets, which allows their owner to go underground for a while. We tired the dogs out on the Sinkhole Trail before boarding them for a few hours. The Mammoth Cave Kennels charges $3.50 for the first hour and $1 for every additional hour. This affordable rate made it possible for my partner and me to visit the magnificent cave without worrying about the dogs.