The Most (and Least) Pet-Friendly National Parks
More than 300 million nature lovers head to a national park annually, many with their four-legged friends. Not all parks, however, welcome them. Which parks are the most pet friendly and which should you avoid when accompanied by a furry friend?
Photo By: James Kaiser
Photo By: Paul Maynard
Photo By: Dave Biagi
Photo By: George Matthew Cole
If your hound is the rugged mountaineering type, head to Acadia National Park on the craggy coast of Maine. Strung across a chain of islands, the oldest national park east of the Mississippi boasts nearly 150 miles of Fido-friendly trails and carriage roads. Rangy hikes yield sweeping views of the Gulf of Maine and scenic Bar Harbor. But watch out where the huskies go … leashed pets are welcome almost everywhere that is not a source of public drinking water.
With over 300 miles of hiking trails soaring to an altitude of 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is perhaps the country’s most stunning mountain region. Dogs are permitted, but you’ll have to shorten that leash. To protect both pets and native wildlife, Rover can’t roam the backcountry trails, but he is allowed anywhere vehicles are permitted. If park rules curb his enthusiasm, there are several nearby areas like Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Estes Park where he can stretch his paws.
When D.C.ers break out of the beltway, they head for the rolling hills of Shenandoah National Park. With 500 miles of hiking trails accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, it will take you a dog’s age to cover all the pet-friendly ground spread over 200,000 acres of parkland. Skyland and Big Meadows Lodges also each offer Pampered Pooch Package accommodations.
The Road to Zion
It’s difficult to imagine anything more breathtaking than the rocky cathedrals and emerald pools of Utah’s Zion National Park, unless you happen to have four legs. Sadly, pets are forbidden on most hiking trails in Zion; however, you can throw Spot a bone and take him down the refreshing Pa’rus trail, a 3.5-mile walkway that skirts the Virgin River. Just make sure to leash up, lest Spot spook at the sight of a lounging mule deer.
Above the Rim
Nicknamed the “big ditch,” the Grand Canyon will certainly inspire your four-legged backhoe. While pets are not allowed into the canyon itself due to safety concerns, you and your furry digger can hike the perimeter, including the jaw dropping South Rim Trail. Always keep a firm grip on the leash; dogs have been known to leap before looking. If you want to hike the canyon depths, the park offers a boarding kennel. For pet-friendly lodging, try the Yavapai Lodge West.
World's Largest Dog Park
Perhaps. While it’s designated a National Scenic Trail rather than a national park, the Appalachian Trail constitutes a 2,174-mile walk from Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia. With the exception of three restricted areas, dogs are welcome the length of the trail. Only 40% of the route requires that dogs be leashed, but we recommend you always keep pets tethered in wilderness areas. Because bears.
A Cautionary Tail
Because of their restrictive pet policies, we cannot recommend Arches National Park as a dog friendly destination, except for a fast photo op. While pets are allowed, or perhaps only tolerated in the campground, they must be leashed at all times and must not cause a ruckus. If you are visiting Arches, look into boarding options in nearby Moab.
Bo Versus the Volcano
The iconic profile of Washington’s Mt. Rainier National Park has drawn visitors to the foot of the icy volcano long before it was declared a national park in 1899. Within the 236,381 acres of the park, pets are restricted to roads, parking lots and campgrounds. A great alternative: Dogs are welcome on all trails within the Crystal Mountain Trail system, which is a vigorous nine-mile loop sure to tucker out both two and four-legged friends. Leashed pets are permitted in the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, which share borders with North Cascades National Park.
Border to Border (Collie)
The one trail bordering Mt. Rainier that welcomes dogs is the Pacific Crest Trail. Accessed at the top of Chinook Pass on the park’s eastern edge near the historic Entrance Arch, the PCT stretches all the way down to Mexico. Bordering 7 national parks including Crater Lake National Park, Sequoia, Yosemite and Mt. Rainier, the PCT gives hikers the rare opportunity to camp out with furry friends.
Way to Go, Ohio
Just south of Cleveland, you’ll find the deep forests and tumbling hills of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The spacious Ohio preserve is decidedly pet friendly, welcoming dogs all throughout its 20,000-plus acres, including the 20-mile long Towpath Trail, which traces the route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The only restrictions are that dogs are prohibited from buildings and trains, unless the conductor is Goofy.
Go West, Young Cur
Yosemite is probably the most famous national park in the country, but its popularity among dogs is confined to the Wawona Meadow Loop, which is the only trail open to them. However, furheads are welcome on roads, sidewalks, bike paths and most campgrounds. When you’re ready to explore less dog-tolerant areas of the park, there is a kennel in Yosemite Valley that operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Insider scoop: The Wawona Meadow Loop, Chowchilla Mountain Road and Four Mile and Eleven Mile fire roads (but not the Four Mile Trail in Yosemite Valley) are dog friendly. At Hodgdon Meadow: Carlon Road from the trailhead to Hodgdon Meadow and on the Old Big Oak Flat Road from Hodgdon Meadow to Tuolumne Grove parking lot will also welcome your best friend.
The Best of Friends
Kyle Rohrig and his dog Katana camp and hike together on a regular basis. They even wrote an inspirational book about their adventures called "Lost on the Applachian Trail." Don't worry, that's just a euphemism about finding yourself and Kyle did most of the typing.