Camping with your dog seems as natural as breathing with your lungs, but to our great dismay, dogs aren’t always allowed in all of the places. So, if you’re dead set on bringing your little buddy (and obviously you are) here’s how to find out where you can camp together with your dog.
First Things First
Campsites are classified as either designated, which means that they’re marked and usually mappable, or dispersed. Dispersed camping is when you can choose any old spot that looks good within a certain boundary, such as a national forest. Seems simple enough, right? However, the nuances are numerous within these broader categories, so let’s dig in.
1. National Parks
The U.S. National Park Service stewards what many consider to be the most extraordinary land in the country. National parks and preserves allow dogs to stay at many of their campgrounds, as long as you follow a handful of rules, e.g. keeping your dog on a 6-foot leash or shorter at all times, and picking up after them. You can find out which parks allow dogs at nps.gov, and when you’re ready to book your trip, just visit recreation.gov or your park of choice’s website to see if reservations are available. Some parks offer backcountry camping, which typically requires permits and, sadly, excludes pets. Do note, that many National Parks that allow dogs, only do so at campsites and on paved roads, and many trails are off limits to dogs. Be sure to do your research before heading to a National Park with your pup!
2. National Forests
National forests are distinctly different from national parks and are even managed by a completely different government agency: While the National Park Service is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service actually falls under the Department of Agriculture. Within national forests, you’ll likely find a mixture of designated and dispersed camping with a variety of fee structures. Some are completely fee-free, while others can be booked online at recreation.gov. National forests allow dogs and only require them to be leashed in developed areas and on certain trails, including interpretive trails, though the use of a 6-foot leash is recommended for a variety of reasons. Your dog may camp with you, too, but be sure to research the area where you’ll be exploring to learn about any required fees or permits, as well as potential hazards.
3. BLM-Managed Areas
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees and maintains 245 million acres of public lands — and countless places to nest for the night. Developed BLM campgrounds usually charge a fee, which varies in amount, and are often first come, first served. You can make reservations for some at recreation.gov. As with National Forests, pets are allowed in most places and required to be leashed in non-backcountry areas, but check your site’s regulations to be sure. Dispersed camping (with dogs) is allowed nearly anywhere else on public lands unless it’s explicitly stated to be off-limits, and certain locations may require fees or permits.
4. State and Local Parks & Forests
As you may imagine, the rules regarding our furry friends in state parks and forests vary from state to state, city to city, and park to park. Generally, dogs are allowed in state park campgrounds as long as they’re leashed — and not troublemakers. Some state parks even allow pups in yurts (hello, Oregon!). You can scope out the rules and make reservations for many state parks online, and if you have any questions, just give the park you’re interested in a ring. It’s usually the same deal with local parks and campgrounds.
5. Privately Owned Campgrounds
Sometimes, you’re too far from any government-operated campgrounds or public lands — or you and your dog are just looking for a place with a hot tub — and in that case, private campgrounds are going to be your best bet. There are a number of websites out there that let you filter private sites with dog-friendly options.
When You’re On the Go
Google Maps is pretty handy if you find yourself without a place to hang your harness for the night (and you happen to have access to cellular data). A basic “camping” search should return results in your area, so choose one that looks good to you and then tap on “More about this place.” If the business has marked itself as dog- or pet-friendly, you’ll see it here. And if you can’t tell with a quick glance, you can always call to double-check.
The US Public Lands app is great for finding land that technically belongs to all U.S. citizens, but pay close attention to the overlays because not all lands that belong to the public are actually available to us whenever we want, for free. For example, land occupied by the Department of Defense will appear on this app, but it often can’t (and shouldn’t) be accessed, let alone camped on.
Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, go ahead and get some primo camping provisions for Fido and get out there!