Here in the U.S., we enjoy access to over sixty wilderness areas protected as National Parks. That’s 84 million acres of jaw-dropping vistas filled with mountains, canyons, streams, forests, and meadows, all over the country. That’s enough to get anyone’s exploration blood pumping!
And if you’re like us, exploring these areas just wouldn’t be the same without your (wilder)dog. But not every park allows dogs, and of the ones that do, not every trail or campsite welcomes your four-legged friends. So, how do you know where to go? And what do you bring? How do you make sure that you and your dog have the best experience possible? Here are our top tips for exploring these outdoor treasures with your best friend -
Bryce National Park allows dogs on some trails and paved areas.
Choose your park well
Most national parks are dog-friendly, with pets welcome in public spaces, paved roads, and camping areas. There are a few exceptions to that rule, so check out the National Park Service’s website before you head out. There you’ll be able to see which parks allow pets and which don’t. Some of the most beautiful parks like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Denali National Park in Alaska, Redwood National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah all make allowances for dogs.
After you choose your National Park, take a close look at the park’s pet regulations. If you know you’re going to want to do some serious trail hiking, make sure that the park allows dogs on some or all of its trails. While some parks are very restrictive about where dogs can and cannot go, other parks allow you to explore a large area with your pup. In Acadia National Park in Maine, for example, dogs are allowed on all 120 miles of hiking trails within the park! Grand Canyon National Park, however, allows dogs on specific trails above the rim, but not below. Each park is different, so double check before you head out.
Moab has Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, where dogs have limited access to the arches, so we often opt to hit our favorite arch hike outside of the parks where dogs are welcome.
If you've got your eye on a specific park, but there aren't too many places within the park that are dog-friendly, definitely research what's around the park for a similar experience! Oftentimes campsites right outside the park's boundaries will allow dogs.
Practice good trail etiquette
Good trail etiquette is about protecting your national park experience just as much as it is protecting others’ experiences. There are many different types of people recreating in the same area, so we all need to be mindful of each other. It's hard to believe... but not everyone wants to hike with your dog! Keeping your dog on a leash makes sure they greet other dogs and hikers in a controlled manner. There are plenty of people and dogs that love other dogs, but there are also plenty that can be somewhat fearful. Give them a chance to see how great your dog is on a leash to build a comfortable trail environment for everyone.
Keep your dogs close with a 'harness' made with our 5' big carabiner leash. It's key to be able to keep your pups close on walkways that can be very crowded with other people and dogs.
If your dog isn’t quite up to par in the calm greeting department, take the time to train at home. Having a calm, focused “sit-stay” can be invaluable while waiting for others to pass on a narrow trail. “Heel” and loose-leashing walking are also great skills to have your in back pocket for trail walking.
Part of good trail etiquette is also cleaning up after your dog. The more pristine an environment we leave behind after our visit, the more likely dogs will be welcome at National Parks far into the future. So be sure to pack lots of poop bags!
At Crater Lake National Park, the pulloffs are permitted for on-leash dogs (and great photos!)
Protect native wildlife
One of the best parts of visiting National Parks is the chance to see wildlife you wouldn’t get to see anywhere else. Wildlife like elk, bison, beavers, migratory birds, and more. We know dogs love to roam, but keeping your dog on a lead increases your chance of seeing this wildlife from a safe distance, and reduces stress on the wildlife. It also reduces stress on your dog! Have you ever had your dog surprise a porcupine? Trust us, it’s not an experience you want to have….
At Yosemite NP, dogs are permitted on bike paths and developed walkways.
The presence of wildlife is one of the most common reasons that dogs are excluded from trails and certain areas of National Parks. This can be a cause of real frustration because we want our four-legged adventurers to be able to go wherever we can. Although it can be frustrating to have limited access with our dogs, the park service has very good reasons for excluding pets in certain areas. Dogs leave a “predator scent” wherever they travel, and this can cause many prey animals to alter their normal behavior.
Your dog’s natural instinct to alert and protect when they see large wildlife like moose or bison can also create a more dangerous situation for everyone involved. So, although it can be hard at times, always respect the park’s rules as to where you and your dog can explore together.
Take the right gear
Whether you’re going backcountry camping or on an extended day adventure within the park, you’ll want to have the right gear to make your dog comfortable.
Don't forget about the Canadian National Parks!
Most parks require dogs to be on a leash no more than 6 feet long at all times, so a rugged leash that’s comfortable for you and your dog is a must. The dog-friendly areas in NPs can be crowded with other people and dogs, so we find it's key to have the ability to keep your dog even closer than six feet. With our big carabiner leashes, there are a number of ways you can use the rope and carabiner(s) to make a configuration that works best for you. A traffic handle would be clutch in those situations, or if you'd prefer to have your hands free while hiking the trails, you can turn your Wilderdog leash into a hands-free leash. Check out all of our rope tutorials here »
Other essentials to include are poop bags for picking up waste, packable bowls that your dog can drink water from and possibly booties if the terrain is really rocky or cold.
Summit snoozin' on a dog-friendly trail
With a little planning, National Parks can be an awesome adventure that you and your dog can share. So choose your park, make your plan, pack your gear and get out there!