Which National Parks can you walk your dog in?
Many vanlife bucket lists include visiting as many National Parks as possible, but if you’ve got a canine companion, that might be more difficult than you think.
Most National Parks have strict rules about dogs, but with a little extra planning, you can make your visit to the park an enjoyable one for you and your pup.
This is a companion piece to our post on Campervan Life with Dogs.
Not sure if dogs are allowed in the park? Talk to a park ranger
Each national park has different dog guidelines and a park ranger will tell you exactly where your dog is allowed to visit.
When trying to establish if dogs are allowed in the park you want to visit, nothing beats a good old-fashioned conversation with a ranger to ensure you get the best recommendations for your unique situation.
Some parks offer trails to hike with your pet, but every park requires dogs to be on a leash.
Other parks don’t have any trails for dogs. In parks like these, you’ll find that dogs are allowed wherever cars can go, like pull-outs, parking lots, and campgrounds.
In parks with fewer dog options, a ranger can tell you about the best place to walk a dog, like a less-frequented stretch of road that you might not otherwise know about.
These dog regulations are in place for a reason, so it’s important to understand and respect the rules to keep these places beautiful for many years to come.
Is the weather right for your dog?
The weather, as well as your campervan setup, will play a pivotal role in how you visit the park with your dog.
Summer is a popular time to travel to National Parks, but it can also be the most unsafe time to leave your dog behind in a vehicle.
Every campervan setup is different in regards to temperature regulation.
If you’re still in the building or planning stages for your van, consider what features will help keep your dog cool when it gets warm.
If the temperatures are too hot, make other plans for your dog that day.
Many parks have dog boarding facilities nearby so you can enjoy your adventure without worrying about your dog.
Or consider spending the hotter hours of the day doing something else with your dog and then catch the sunset or sunrise from your favorite park trail.
A list of National parks where dogs are allowed
Parks such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico even have a budget-friendly on-site kennel.
A reservation isn’t required but it will help ensure that your pup has a space.
We did our best to find all the national parks where dogs are allowed.
But rules and policies change, so be sure to call the park you’d like to visit, whether it’s on this list or not.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
The smallest National Park, about one hour west of Little Rock, Arkansas, is also one of the best for visiting with your puppy.
Every trail in this park is open to dogs on a leash so you can explore the 26 miles of hiking trails together.
Although this park is known for its abundance of hot springs, your pup can’t play in the scalding water. The springs are only accessible from the bathhouses located in the town of Hot Springs.
After wearing your dog out on the trails, you can venture into town for some spa time or to grab a beer.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery, located along Bathhouse Row, uses the thermal spring water to brew its craft beer, so we recommend checking it out.
Keep in mind that that dogs are not allowed in the bathhouses or brewery, so make other plans for Fido during that time.
There is also a wealth of mountain biking trails just outside of this National Park, such as the Northwoods Trail System, which was just expanded last year.
So, if your pooch is begging for more adventure after visiting Hot Springs, there are many great dog-friendly options for outdoor activities nearby too.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park is an awesome option for dog adventures because dogs are permitted on all paved trails and all Wilderness areas.
Together, you can savor the views of the Painted Desert, backpack in the wilderness overnight, or check out a few of the more popular trails, including Blue Mesa and Big Logs Trail.
Your pooch can also become an official Bark Ranger at Petrified Forest National Park. This program is designed to educate visitors on how to properly visit the park with their dogs.
Ask about this at any visitor center or park entrance booth. Your puppy can get a free pet treat (as well as bragging rights) for becoming a Bark Ranger.
While this park has many dog-approved trails, it’s also located in the desert of Arizona. Check the weather conditions and plan your trip accordingly to ensure a safe experience.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Of the 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, less than 20 miles have dog limitations, which means you can plan a great dog-friendly adventure in this park.
Shenandoah is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just 75 miles from Washington D.C., and provides fantastic opportunities for you and your pooch to hike and camp.
While planning your trip, be sure to visit the park website or talk to a ranger to get the list of dog-restricted trails.
Some of these include the most popular trails in the park, so if you’re hoping to visit a spot such as Dark Hollow Falls, you may need to make other arrangements for your canine.
The iconic Appalachian Trail also makes its way through Shenandoah National Park, and dogs are allowed on all sections of the Appalachian Trail.
This also means there are many dog-friendly hiking options just outside the park, as well as in the nearby George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is located in Maine along the North Atlantic Coast and is one of the top 10 most-visited National Parks in the country.
It has 100 miles of hiking trails and an additional 45 miles of carriage roads where dogs are permitted on a leash, making it an awesome park for your hound’s bucket list.
Acadia includes several lakes and ponds that provide public drinking water, so pups (and humans) are not allowed to swim there. Dogs are also restricted from beaches during the swimming season.
Every year, Acadia sees encounters between off-leash dogs and wildlife, particularly porcupines, so keep your puppy on a leash and maintain your distance during any animal encounters.
You can find a full list of regulated areas on the National Park Service website. Park rangers are also a great resource for recommendations, so talk to a ranger to help plan your adventure.
This park is also another spot to fulfill your dog’s dreams of becoming a Bark Ranger, so be sure to ask a park ranger about the program when you arrive.
Here’s the website for Arcadia National Park.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park is known for its national and state champion trees that can be found within the park’s old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.
Located in South Carolina, this park permits dogs on all the hiking trails as well as the boardwalk trails and campgrounds.
While this may be an awesome spot to hike with your furry friend, there are a few things to take into account before your trip.
The Boardwalk Loop is a popular walking trail and doesn’t provide much room for passing, so consider how your dog handles close encounters with children or other dogs.
If your pup struggles in tight spaces, it may be best to find other less-frequented trails in the park to hike on.
Mosquitos and other insects can also be intense in the summer months, so this may be a better spot to visit during cooler times of the year.
You can check out the website for Congaree National Park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
There are several dog-friendly locations in this Southern Colorado National Park. The main use area of the dunes is the most notable option for adventuring here with your dog.
In this spot, your puppy pal can play in Medano Creek and explore the towering dunes up to the top ridge.
This should be plenty to wear out even the most high-energy Border Collie as you scramble to the top of the almost 700-foot sand dunes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is best seen during the fall or spring because sand temperatures can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months.
Winter can bring extreme cold and snow, so it’s also not an ideal time to visit this National Park.
If you need more adventure after visiting Great Sand Dunes, many nearby options are also dog-friendly such as Zapata Falls and trails in the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most recognizable National Parks. It is also an excellent place to travel with your pup.
The South Rim is the most dog-friendly area in the park. Here, dogs on a leash are allowed on all the trails above the rim.
If you’re looking to spend the night in the Grand Canyon with your furry best friend, there are several campgrounds and one lodge in the South Rim where you can make this happen.
The North Rim has more restrictions for your canine pals. Here, they are only allowed on the bridle trail.
At Tuweep, dogs are only permitted on established roads and at the campground. So, if you’re planning a trip with your dog, it’s best to stick to the South Rim.
Another great perk for puppy parents is a kennel located at the South Rim. Reservations are recommended ahead of time and proof of vaccination records must be provided.
This convenient amenity can give you a chance to hit some trails below the rim while having a safe place for your dog.
Utah’s National Parks- Bryce Canyon, Zion
The five National Parks that lie within Utah’s state lines are known as “The Big Five.” Many visitors plan to see all five parks during their stay in the state.
If your dog is tagging along on this trip though, they’ll only be able to tour two of the parks with you.
Both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park have dog-friendly trails that offer up some incredible views of the unique landscapes.
Zion’s dog-approved trail is the Pa’Rus Trail. This 3.3-mile paved route follows the beautiful Virgin River and provides views of the towering canyon walls that Zion is best known for.
Bryce Canyon also has a fantastic trail for dogs that offers up a panorama of hoodoos and red rocks. Pups are allowed on this park’s paved path between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point.
Due to the of the accessibility of this popular trail, it may be a challenging spot if your dog dislikes confrontations with kids or other dogs.
The remaining three parks in Utah aren’t as convenient for canines, so you may need to make other arrangements for your pup while you visit the park.
Capitol Reef has a path that dogs can travel on, but it follows along a busy road and therefore isn’t the best place for an adventure.
Canyonlands and Arches (both located near Moab, Utah) have very strict pet policies, so if you’re heading into those parks, you’re better off finding a kennel for the day.
You can find plenty of other dog-friendly hiking spots around Moab to help you round out your trip with your best furry friend.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park in California also has a few great options for traveling pets and their parents.
Although pups are restricted to paved areas (roads, sidewalks, and bike paths), this still provides opportunities for viewing Half Dome and many miles of exercise for your puppy pal.
The bike path through Yosemite is 12 miles long, so you can cover quite a distance with your dog either by foot or by bike.
Yosemite also has a few obscure spots along the Yosemite Valley that are approved for pups. You can visit the park website or talk to a park ranger for an exhaustive list.
Here’s the official website for Yosemite National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is recognized for being the longest known cave system in the world.
Most visitors who make their way to Kentucky to see this National Park are there to explore inside the caves, where your dog is not allowed.
However, if you’d like to traverse across any of the trails above the surface, the park offers 80 square miles of dog-friendly adventuring.
There is also a kennel located at the lodge so you can make your way into the caves without your pup.
And a few more Parks with varying dog policies…
- Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve
- Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
- Washington: Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park
- Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Should you leave your dog in your Campervan?
Many parks have strict policies about leaving dogs in vehicles and you could find yourself in trouble if a park ranger or other guest notices your dog in there.
These policies are in place to help keep your dog safe.
Since a campervan isn’t a typical car, you may have a wider window of safe temperatures for leaving the dog behind, but canine heat stroke can be fatal and needs to be taken seriously.
To ensure that your dog will be safe while you’re gone, close your van doors as if you were leaving and sit with your dog for at least 30 minutes.
See how the temperature changes and if it gets uncomfortable then make other plans.
If your dog is prone to barking or if your dog can be seen from your van window, it may be best to plan on other options for while you’re gone.
If you are at all unsure about whether your dog can be left behind, DO NOT RISK IT.
Know your Dog
Every dog is different as is every campervan. It’s important to know the needs of your pup and how to fine-tune your trip to keep him or her safe and happy.
If your dog loves to lay around and nap, leaving him or her behind for a few hours might not be a big deal.
But if your dog can’t stand to see you walk away without it, then you might find it has destroyed the inside of your van when you get back.
Consider how your dog interacts with crowds of people, kids, and other dogs or wildlife.
If your dog struggles with this, whether you visit parks where dogs are allowed or not, it may not be the right adventure.
All dogs have different comfort levels as far as how long they can be left alone and how much exercise they need.
Careful consideration of these factors will help your dog be successful if you’re out on the park trails without them.
Look for adventures near the park
A tired dog is a good dog. My first priority (and best advice) when taking my dog to a National Park is to ensure that she’s tired before I go off without her.
If the park you’re visiting has a dog-friendly trail, visit that first. Get your dog the adventure it needs so that it’s happy to nap while you visit other parts of the park.
Many National Parks are surrounded by other beautiful areas that might have more dog-friendly options. It’s common to find state and local parks where are dogs are allowed nearby.
Sometimes these nearby parks are just as magnificent, and often less crowded than a National Park, so you may find that adventure would suit your crew even better.
Our Top Tips for taking your dog to national parks
Here are a few of my best tips for visiting the National Parks with your dog:
- Visit the web sites of The National Parks Service to make sure dogs are allowed.
- Talk to a ranger to get the best information about dog accessibility.
- Watch the weather and don’t risk leaving your dog in a vehicle that’s too hot.
- Tire your dog out before hitting trails without them.
- Know your dog and what they can handle to keep this trip enjoyable for your whole crew.
- Seek out other nearby dog-friendly adventures as an alternate way to see the area.
- If your dog cannot be left alone, contact a nearby boarding facility.
Comment below with any tips or info.
Got questions about taking your dog to a national park? Ask them here and we’ll do our best to answer.
Jenny has been traveling on the road full-time with her dog, Dakota, since September 2018.
She lives in her self-converted 2006 Dodge Sprinter and spends her days hiking, camping, mountain biking, and writing about her adventures.
She’s attempting to visit all 50 states and see all the National Parks.
You can read about her adventures on her site, here.