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Are Dogs Allowed in the National Parks? |The National Park System's Stance on Pets

I am definitely a dog person. I'm also a "live life outdoors" kind of person. Mixing the two has brought me many great memories with my childhood dogs.

However, there were many family camping trips where we couldn't bring our furry friends because of the pet restrictions.

Today, I'm going to discuss the dos and don'ts of pets in the National Parks. As much as we all want to bring our furry companion with us, sometimes it just isn't possible.

Are Pets Allowed in the National Parks?

Technically yes, pets are allowed.

However this is extremely limited. In general, pet friendly areas within the parks are restricted to parking lots and campgrounds. Think areas with pavement. While your pets are allowed in the campsites, they are not allowed to be unattended, so bring them with you when you drive off to do your sight-seeing.

If you are simply driving through the park and are stopping at the visitor centers and scenic pull-offs only, you can feel free to bring your pet so long as they stay on the paved areas.

Just about all trails and buildings won't allow pets.

For those of you where that’s not the case, and you plan on taking a trail or going backpacking overnight, then you should find a good pet sitter for your furry friend.

If you do bring your pet, be mindful of the temperature and make your stops short so that you aren’t leaving your pet in the car for too long. This can be dangerous for your pet and barking dogs are obnoxious to other visitors trying to enjoy the park.

This is why my dog, Taco, wasn't always allowed on my family camping trips. It simply wasn't fair to leave her cooped up in the car while we go off and explore and we couldn't leave her unattended at the campsite.

Why aren’t Pets Allowed on Trails?

There are actually a few reasons.

Probably the most obvious is the fact that dogs go to the bathroom and don’t clean it up themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of pet owners don’t clean it up either and that ruins it for the rest of us. Not only is it gross, but it attracts other animals and can be damaging to the wildlife. Waste left behind can seep into the groundwater and pass on diseases to wildlife.

Another reason pets aren’t allowed on the trails is that they scare off the native animals and attract predators, weather that’s by barking, chasing animals, or by leaving their scent behind. This is not only dangerous to the wildlife, but can be dangerous to you and your pet.

Most dogs like to chase animals. It's just something they do. The National Parks are full of native animals that really don't want to be chased. And many of the native animals will fight back. Whether that's a porcupine that shoots its barbed quills, an animal with an infectious disease, or a cat with a mean bite, it's quite possible that you pet could get injured or killed.

Another thing that dogs like to do is dig, which can lead to destruction of habitats and messing up the trails. Keep in mind that many of the native animals make their homes or nests in the ground.

What are the Rules?

When bringing your pet into the National Parks, there are some rules you need to follow to avoid getting a ticket.

  1. Keep your pet on a leash at all times. The leash shouldn’t be longer that 6 feet so that you can keep adequate control of them and so the leash doesn’t become a tripping hazard to other visitors.

  2. Don't tie your pet up to an object (like a tree or park bench) and leave them unattended, even in your campsite. This can be a safety hazard to your pet, obnoxious to other visitors, and can scare the native animals away.

  3. Keep your pet from making excessive noise. I know, this is pretty impossible to control. Try parking away from other vehicles or avoiding busy areas. If you know you have a vocal dog, then don’t bring them into the National Parks just to leave them barking in the car.

  4. Clean up after your pet and dispose of the waste in the provided trash receptacles. Leaving your pet‘s waste laying around attracts unwanted animals and unpleasant smells.

  5. Keep your pet from interacting with the wildlife. Many of the animals inside the parks are endangered and/or protected. Having your dog chase animals or catch one is counterproductive to the parks goal of protecting the wildlife. This also includes keeping them from digging up nests or burrows that are found on the ground.

  6. Keep your pets from bothering other visitors. Some people are scared of or allergic to dogs so won’t want them near by. And no one likes it when someone else’s dog tries to snag your lunch. Make sure to be respectful of other visitors by keeping your pet close by and quiet.

There are Some Exceptions

Make sure to check for pet rules at the National park you are planning a trip to.

Some National Parks do have trails that allow pets!

For example, Acadia National park in Maine is one of the most pet friendly of the parks. Nearly all hiking trails allow dogs! There are some trails that won’t allow them, but overall Acadia is great for bringing your pets to.

Congaree National Park is another very pet friendly park. All trails, including the boardwalks, allow your pets to join you.

Other National Parks that are exceptionally pet friendly include: Cuyahoga, Grand Canyon, Great Sand Dunes, Hot Springs, Indiana Dunes, and Mammoth Cave.

While you can bring your pets to these National Parks, you will still need to be mindful of the park rules. Keep them close, quiet, away from wildlife, and from being obnoxious to other visitors. Breaking these rules can make the National Park Service change their minds into tightening restrictions, ruining this opportunity for other pet owners.

In Conclusion

If you plan your trip right, you can definitely take your furry friend with you.

This means following the park rules to avoid a fine and bothering other visitors, along with making sure you stick to pet friendly areas. Try visiting the really pet friendly National Parks that I mentioned above.

Always check the park rules of the National Park that you plan to visit, because some of them have different pet rules that can affect your trip.

If you are planning on spending your days out on the trails or backpacking, then you should leave your pet in the care of someone else. In most cases, pets are only allowed in parking lots and the campgrounds, while trails and visitor centers won't allow pets. Leaving your pet at the campsite or in the car all day isn't fair to them and is often unsafe.

By following the National Park rules, you are doing what's best for both the park and your beloved pet.

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Meet the Author


Hey! I'm Kaitlynn, a lover of the outdoors and all things travel. I quit my job to travel full-time with my husband, Matthew, in our skoolie. 

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Matt & Kate

Project 63 

Bringing you travel information and inspiration as we travel to all 63 National Parks.

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