Take Your Dog to These Pet-Friendly National Parks
America's national parks have always been popular vacation spots. In fact, visitation to the national parks in 2019 exceeded 300 million visits for the fifth year in a row. And while travel restrictions may have slowed things down for 2020, the wide-open spaces and fresh air of national parks are still drawing travelers eager to get back on the road.
But what if you have your four-legged best friend in tow? America's national parks are notorious for their strict pet policies to ensure all national park visitors are safe and that the local flora and fauna are well preserved. Most parks require pets to be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet, while many only allow pets in paved areas and developed campgrounds.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take Scout with you on the road, though. There are still many national parks that offer ample opportunities for you and your pup to enjoy together. Of the 422 units managed by the National Park Service, these 35 national parks, seashores, lakeshores, rivers and monuments tend to be a bit more lenient with where and how dogs can enjoy the Great Outdoors. Just see for yourself.
Acadia National Park
Located on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River and is a fan favorite among East Coasters all down the Eastern Seaboard — dogs included. It’s also one of the most dog-friendly national parks in the country, with more than 100 miles of pet-friendly hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads where leashed pets can play.
Visitors can also bring their pets to the Blackwoods and Seawall campgrounds. Plus, there’s an off-leash area next to the park at Little Long Pond as well. Tip: If your furry friend is a skilled hiker, the 7.1-mile roundtrip Cadillac Mountain hike is absolutely worth it, especially if you time it to be at the summit at sunrise.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of the most visited national parks in the world. According to the Department of the Interior, an estimated 5.9 million people visit the park each year, and many of them bring their dogs with them.
While dogs are not permitted below the rim of the Grand Canyon (for rigorous safety reasons), they are permitted to explore any of the hiking trails above the perimeter, including the stunning South Rim Trail. Keep in mind that safety is a top priority within the Grand Canyon National Park, so dogs must be leashed at all times.
Should you want to venture below the rim yourself, South Rim Kennels provides boarding services for your dog while you take your individual adventure. Several campgrounds in the area accept dogs, and there is also the pet-friendly Yavapai Lodge.
Shenandoah National Park
Just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., is the sprawling, spectacular Shenandoah National Park. The park offers more than 200,000 acres of protected lands, peppered with waterfalls, meadows and mountains carpeted with thick forest. It's basically heaven for your pal on four paws.
Of the more than 500 miles of marked hiking trails in the park, only 20 are off-limits to dogs. Many of the hiking trails are off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so you ought to make a drive down that scenic byway a priority. Plus, many campgrounds in the national park are pet-friendly, as are several hotels, like the Skyland and Big Meadows lodges.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Spanning more than 33,000 acres along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is close to the urban areas of Cleveland and Akron, but feels like another world away. It's an escape for people as well as for pets, as it's another dog-friendly national park.
The park's trails and picnic areas, including the 20 miles of the Towpath Trail along the Ohio and Erie Canal, are open to four-legged friends. Dogs must be leashed at all times to enjoy the more than 110 miles of hiking trails within the park. Keep in mind that dogs are not allowed on the East Rim mountain bike trails.
Yosemite National Park
Northern California’s Yosemite National Park is one of the greatest wilderness treasures in the United States. It has 1,200 square miles of protected area, from plunging waterfalls, deep valleys, towering sequoias and thousands of years of glacial activity. While it's true that much of the park is for bipeds only, there are still plenty of pockets for those on four legs to roam — on a leash, of course.
The Wawona Meadow Loop is a 5-mile flat path through one of the park's biggest meadows, powdered with wildflowers and perfect for strolls. Pups can also go on the Mirror Lake Trail, a paved path that runs for 1 mile and passes underneath the base of Half Dome. Dogs are welcome on all paved roads, sidewalks and bicycle paths as well, and they are welcome at any of the reservable campsites.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is not only the world's longest cave system, but it also tells thousands of years of human history. Add to that plunging river valleys, verdant hills and plenty of wildlife, and you have yourself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
While dogs aren't allowed in the caves themselves, they are allowed on all the above-ground hiking trails and in the woodland cottage, so you won't have to worry about skipping out on the park's main attractions.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is the first national park in the state of Utah, known for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, desert landscape and exotic wildlife. Dogs are welcome on the Par's Trail, which is a 3.5-mile round-trip paved path that hugs the Virgin River, extending from South Campground to Canyon Junction. Here you'll be able to drink in spectacular sunsets that reflect on The Watchman, the iconic peak of the national park.
Pups that love a good car ride will flip over the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which is one of the park’s most scenic drives. For overnights, dogs are welcome at the South Campground and Watchman Campground.
Glacier National Park
With more than 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park in Montana’s Rocky Mountains is a veritable playground for hikers and adventurers. Discover its alpine-style meadows, craggy mountains and stunning, crystal-clear glacial lakes.
Bringing your dog to Glacier National Park isn't impossible, but it isn't as simple as it is with other parks. Dogs aren't allowed on any of the park's trails, lakeshores or hiking paths. However, they are permitted on the 50-mile, Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic drive that is open from late June through October. The dog-friendly Avalanche Creek is a perfect place to pause for beautiful views and a packed lunch.
Dogs are permitted in the nearby Flathead National Forest, which has more than 2,000 miles of dog-friendly trails. The St. Mary East Glacier KOA has a Kamp K9 dog park and a pet-sitting service for owners who want to take their time in Glacier National Park.
Grand Teton National Park
Wyoming's majestic Grand Teton National Park spans the imposing and beautiful Teton Range. Explore more than 200 miles of trails, roam the Snake River and take in the grandeur of wildlife, alpine terrain and crystalline lakes.
It's somewhat easy to take a dog in and about Grand Teton National Park. Furry friends are welcome anywhere a car can go in the park. They are also permitted on a leash within 30 feet of any paved roads. Popular drives are the ones along the Snake River, which have views of the Tetons in the distance. There are several pet-friendly picnic areas as well as six dog-friendly campgrounds.
For dogs who need a little bit more exercise, Bridger-Teton National Forest has a 4.5-mile hike along the Shadow Mountain trail, which affords stunning views of the Tetons.
North Cascades National Park
Not far from Seattle, North Cascades National Park has some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. Alpine peaks are ringed in more than 300 glaciers. The forests play to the soundtrack of plunging waterfalls, and there are more than 1,000 square miles of wilderness to explore.
The only portion of the North Cascades that is open to dogs is the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,600-mile stroll runs from California all the way up to British Columbia in Canada. A portion of it runs through the park, and here dogs are welcome to roam — leashed, of course. Dogs can also be taken to the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas as well as in most surrounding national forest lands.
Olympic National Park
Washington's Olympic National Park spans nearly a million acres of mountains, glaciers, temperate rain forests and more than 70 miles of coastline. Dogs have a lot to look forward to as well, with five pet-friendly trails, beaches, campgrounds, picnic areas, and paved and dirt roads that are open to four-legged friends.
One of the trails that allows doggos is Peabody Creek Trail, a 4.7-mile hike, as well as Madison Falls Trail, a brief trail at less than half a mile that opens out to a stunning waterfall. The three other trails include the Spruce Railroad Trail, Quinault Loop Trail, and the Kalaloch Beach and Nature Trail.
Head over to the Olympic National Forest, where an additional 250 miles of trails are open for dogs to roam.
Yellowstone National Park
Spanning the intersections of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park was the very first national park founded not only in the U.S. but in the world. The park spans more than 3,400 square miles. Its highest point, Eagle Peak, exceeds 11,000 feet. The park is known for its geysers, hot springs and other geological features as well as its rich wildlife, from bison and moose to elk and bears.
While dogs are only permitted on the drive along Yellowstone Loop, there are many dog-friendly trails just west of the park at Henry's Lake State Park. There are also 12 dog-friendly campgrounds nearby as well as the pet-friendly Mammoth Hot Springs and Cabins.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado's alpine Rocky Mountain National Park spans a sweeping 415 square miles. Its features include the iconic Trail Ridge Road, which peaks at 12,000 feet and has views over much of the majestic world below. Rocky Mountain National Park is teeming with wildlife and is veined with more than 300 miles of hiking trails. Unfortunately, these trails are mostly for humans, but there are still options for dogs.
Dogs are allowed to stay on paved roads, including the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, which is truly one of the highlights of the park experience. The road connects Estes Park to Grand Lake. Pups are also welcome on ski, snowshoe and hiking trails at the nearby Grand Lake Touring Center. There are also miles of hiking trails at Lilly Mountain in Estes Park. Camp overnight at Winding River Resort Village, which is dog-friendly, Snow Mountain Ranch Yurts are pet-friendly as well.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is Washington state’s most iconic landmark, rising more than 14,000 feet to jagged, snow-capped glory. It also happens to be an active volcano and is the most glaciated peak in the country. Five rivers spring from its face as well.
Dogs are welcome in this vast, alpine landscape that spans more than 230,000 acres but only on the paved roads, parking lots and campgrounds. That said, the nearby Crystal Mountain Trail system is open to four-legged friends. Leashed pets are also welcome in the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation areas, which are right next to the North Cascades National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the mountains region between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sea of undulating, purple-hued peaks that stretch for more than 520,000 acres, much of which is open to dogs.
Pets are welcome on several dog-friendly trails, most notably the Gatlinburg Trail, which is relatively flat and follows the Little Pigeon River for nearly 2 miles in each direction. The Oconaluftee River Trail hugs the Oconaluftee River. Beyond the trails open to pups, the campgrounds and picnic areas are pet-friendly as well. Or you can opt for one of the scenic drives with your favorite co-pilot, like the Cades Cove Loop Road.
For more trails, check out the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, which are on the border of the national park and have more intense trails that permit dogs.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is one of Colorado's great masterpieces. It also happens to be one of the only parks that is open 24/7, year-round. It's made up of the tallest sand dunes in North America — yes, sand dunes — as well as aspen forest, alpine lakes and tundra.
Fortunately, it's a great place for your dog to run free. Pets are permitted in the Preserve, including the Mosca Pass Trail. They also have access to the main-use areas of the park, including Pinon Flats Campground, Dunes Overlook Trail and along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Keep in mind that leashes are mandatory.
The only places off limits to pets are the more high-risk areas, like the backcountry trails, Sand Ramp Trail and in any of the backpacking campsites within the national park.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is a gem of the American south. In fact, it was known as the "American Spa" of the 20th century and has nine historic bathhouses, which helped create a spa-like experience for travelers visiting the iconic Arkansas natural attractions. The park is home to thermal springs, forests, creeks and incredible mountain views.
This is one of the nation's most pet-friendly national parks. In fact, dogs are welcome on all 26 miles of the park's trails. The only place pets are not permitted are inside the federal buildings. Just remember that pets must be on leashes at all times and that the park is home to dozens of species of wildlife, like snakes, rabbits and deer. Keeping your pet closeby ensures the safety of your pet as well as that of the wildlife.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Perched on 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Indiana Dunes National Park offers 15,000 acres of outdoor discovery. Sandy beaches, wildlife and more than 50 miles of trails over dunes and through wetlands, Indiana Dunes is one of the best national parks for pets.
Dogs are welcome with a few exceptions. Pets are not allowed on the Pinhook Bog Trail; however, the Pinhook Upland Trail is wide open for pets. Pets are allowed year-round on all beaches, except for the lifeguarded swimming area at West Beach in the summertime. And remember: Dogs must be leashed at all times in the park.
Right in the heart of Washington, D.C., Constitution Gardens (also known as the National Mall and Memorial Parks), is one of the most visited sites in the nation. It also happens to be one of the most pet-friendly. The 50-acre park is bordered by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Constitution Avenue and the Reflecting Pool. Here visitors can see attractions like the Washington and Lincoln monuments.
The park is open year-round at any time of day, and pets are allowed on all the paths. They are not permitted in most of the memorials, however, and they must be leashed at all times. Meandering the many paved walkways and manicured lawns is not only a spectacular way to spend a day in the nation's capital, but it's a perfect afternoon outing for your dog, too.
Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is an other-worldly look back in time. Covering 346 square miles, it's named for its deposits of petrified wood, desert and rainbow-colored badlands.
Not only are dogs welcome in Petrified Forest National Park, the park has its own special program designed for them. The BARK Ranger program is a special program specifically designed for dogs to enjoy the national park. It's essentially an agreement you sign that ensures you will keep your dog leashed and respect the wildlife. But in exchange, dogs are given treats and special pet tags while they are in the park.
The best part about the Petrified Forest National Park is that all trails are dog-friendly. One of the best is the Big Logs Trail, which is a gravel nature walk that starts right behind the Rainbow Forest Museum. The Blue Forest Trail is one of the more adventure-driven, which has massive increases in elevation and is far less trafficked.
White Dunes National Park
White Sands National Park is a shimmering, stark, white sea of undulating dunes. Spanning 275 square miles of desert, the rolling fields of the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico sparkle with miles of gypsum sand. White Sands is a paradise for pets because they’re allowed to explore the entire park (on a leash). This means roaming the dunes, hiking the trails and chowing down in the picnic areas.
One caveat: Temperatures at White Sands National Park can get as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to keep yourself and your pet well hydrated. Because of the extreme temperatures, it is important to not leave your pet in your car.
Badlands National Park
Reminiscent of a lunar landscape, Badlands National Park in South Dakota is about as stark and beautiful as it gets. More than 244,000 acres of prehistoric hills contain the secrets of thousands of years of fossil history. Contrasted to this are endless miles of mixed grass prairie, home to bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs.
But Badlands National Park is more than just a mesmerizing, haunting stretch of landscape for human eyes. Dogs can make the most out of the experience as well. Leashed pets are allowed on park roads, including the back country dirt roads, which is rare for national parks. Consider the Old Northeast Road north of Cedar Pass. The fully functioning ranch road takes visitors deep into the prairie, away from the highway.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park showcases some of the most stunning natural beauty of America’s Southwest. The park is made up of a series of canyons that are carved into the edge of a plateau, filled with eroded spires of red rocks, known as hoodoos. A geologists' paradise, there are many ways to experience the park, from geology talks, rim walks, astronomy programs and full moon hikes.
Bryce Canyon National Park may not be the most pet-friendly, but it certainly isn't the least. Pets are permitted on all paved areas in the park, from campgrounds and parking lots to paved roads, paved viewpoints and the paved trail between Sunset and Sunrise Point. Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted on any unpaved surfaces.
For a bit more intrepid adventure, dogs and their owners will have the run of the land at nearby Red Canyon, which has trails that are pet-friendly. Red Canyon is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Crater Lake National Park
Formed 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is the result of a volcanic eruption, which caused a towering peak to fall inwards. Over the millennia, it was fed by rain and snow and today is the deepest lake in the U.S.
Dogs are certainly welcome at Crater Lake National Park, but with a few guidelines. Aside from the ubiquitous leash rule, pets are only allowed on paved roads, in parking lots and up to 50 feet away from paved areas. Dog owners prefer to walk their dogs along the promenade at Rim Village, which has stunning views of the lake.
Pets are allowed on a few other hiking trails, though these do not have lake views. These include The Godfrey Glen Trail, The Lady of the Woods Trail, The Grayback Drive and The Pacific Crest Trail.
San Juan Island National Historical Park
Washington's San Juan Island National Historical Park is a coastal park known for its forests, native parries and views of Puget Sound and the Northern Straits region. It also is home to orca whales. It is the westernmost island of the San Juan Islands, which are separated from Canada’s Vancouver Island by the Haro Strait.
The national park is a great spot for dog lovers, as pets are welcome on all park trails and ocean beaches in the park. Leashed dogs are permitted in parking lots, picnic areas, all roads and trails.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named for the former president, is made up of three badlands areas that span 110 square miles. It is known for its scenic drives, approximately 100 miles of trails, wildlife, and backcountry hiking and camping.
Pets are welcome in the majority of paved areas within the park, from the roads and road shoulders to parking areas, campgrounds and picnic areas. Dogs are not permitted on trails within the park, though there are nearby trails, which are more than dog-friendly. The Maah Daah Hey Trail is about a mile long and runs along the Missouri River.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park in Texas is known for its swirling limestone canyons that have been carved from centuries of river movement. A mountain range, eerie desert bloom, and inky night sky make it one of the most mesmerizing, remote natural environments in the Southwest.
Big Bend isn't the most dog-friendly national park, but there are still many ways to enjoy the park with your pet. Leashed dogs are welcome anywhere your car can go — i.e., more than 200 miles of dirt roads that run through the park. Pets are also welcomed in developed campgrounds and roadside campsites.
Joshua Tree National Park
California's Joshua Tree National Park is awe-inspiring. The Mojave and Colorado deserts converge bringing two desert ecosystems together for one cosmic, other-worldly experience, complete with epic sunsets and a fantasy-style landscape.
Like most other national parks, Joshua Tree requires your dog to be within 100 feet of a paved road, parking area or campground. When outside the vehicle, dogs must be leashed at all times. Most trails are closed to pets as well. But don't let this deter you from visiting Joshua Tree with your dog. Dogs are welcome to roam all the unpaved roads, of which the park has many miles.
These dirt roads open out to stunning vistas, which are great for photo ops and picnics. Pets are welcome anywhere you can drive, and most roads have nearby parking and pull outs or views.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Crossing coastal areas of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island National Seashore is a playground of sandy beaches, salt marshes and pristine, tranquil bays. The wind-swept beaches of the 37-mile-long island are also home to herds of majestic wild horses.
Dogs are permitted in the Maryland portion of the national seashore, which is the northern two-thirds of the island. This area includes the marina, most beaches and most campsites. The only places dogs are not permitted are in the backcountry campsites, nature trails and the lifeguarded beach. They are also not permitted in the Virginia portion.
Buffalo National River
Established in 1972, Arkansas' Buffalo National River is the country's first national river. There are only two others. It flows for 135 miles and is one of the last remaining undimmed rivers in the lower 48 states.
Dogs are more than welcome at Buffalo National River, but there are a few restrictions to keep in mind. First and foremost, all park trails are closed to pets, except the Tyler Bend Campground trails, which include Spring Hollow, Buck Ridge and Rock Wall in the Middle District. All three Buffalo Point Campground trails are open to dogs as well.
For overnighters, pets are allowed in campgrounds but must be leashed or under control at all times. If you want to enjoy the river with your pup, you're welcome to take yours in a boat with you.
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Wind Cave National Park
One of the more bizarrely beautiful national parks in the country is Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Wind Cave itself is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world, named for the barometric winds at its entrance. It's a web of passages underneath the grasslands.
With so much open space, it's a paradise for pups. That said, dogs must be leashed at all times on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length. Dogs are permitted on the grassy areas near the visitor center as well as the Elk Mountain campground. The Prairie Vista Nature Trail and Elk Mountain Nature Trail are also open to pets. Backcountry trails, however, remain off limits.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a rugged and wild national park in the Guadalupe Mountains near El Paso, Texas. The park spans more than 86,000 acres and contains the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef as well as the highest point in Texas.
Like most of the national parks in the country, there are a lot of restrictions for pets. That said, it's still possible to find ways to have fun with Scout. Leashed pets are permitted in areas accessed by vehicles, including established roadsides, parking areas, front country picnic areas and front country campgrounds.
Dogs are also permitted on the trail between the campground and the Pine Springs Visitor Center or along the Pinery Trail, which leads from the visitor center to the Butterfield Stage Station.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 35 miles of sandy beach along Lake Michigan. Peer from towering bluffs, roam forests and gape at the crystal clear bodies of water. The lakeshore also features North and South Manitou Islands.
The lakeside is one of the most welcoming for four-legged travelers. Only a small percentage of the park has been closed to pets for the protection of wildlife. Pets can roam most of the sweeping mileage of beaches as well as the Glen Lake Picnic Area. Many of the campgrounds are open to pets, too.
However, dogs may not go on either of the islands or on the backcountry campsites or trails. From Dec. 1 through March 31, pets are not permitted on the cross-country skiing trails either.
Fire Island National Seashore
Fire Island National Seashore is one of the hidden gems of New York’s Greater Metropolitan Area. Just off the coast of Long Island, less than two hours from Manhattan, is a barrier island peppered with small beach towns and ringed in flawless beaches. Fire Island is also one of the best places to bring pets.
Leashed pets can join their owners in many areas on Fire Island, which is great for pet owners who are vacationing in one of the many towns on the island. Through the summer months, pets are restricted from certain ocean beaches, but pups are always permitted on bayside beaches at the Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Talisman/Barrett Beach and Watch Hill. Pets are also permitted at the Watch Hill Campground.