The Most Dog-Friendly National Parks in the United States
It's a scientific fact that dogs are wonderful. Even so, they can cause damage to fragile ecosystems by trampling plants and bugs, can hurt themselves on sharp rocks and steep cliffs, and can fall afoul of less easygoing creatures such as venomous snakes and other dangerous wildlife.
For these reasons, many U.S. national parks have very strict rules for pets, banning them from hiking trails, campgrounds, and the backcountry. At ultra-popular western nature reserves such as Yellowstone, Zion, and Rocky Mountain, your canine friend can't do much beyond standing around in the parking lot (gives new meaning to the term "national park," huh?).
There are exceptions, however, where pups enjoy broader access to federally protected forests, beaches, peaks, and deserts—and a lot of the pet-friendliest parks are overlooked and underrated by vacationers. That gives you and your pooch better chances for exploring the great outdoors without big crowds.
Before heading out, all park visitors with dogs should learn the National Park Service's B.A.R.K. acronym by heart:
Bag your pet's waste.
Always put your pet on a leash (no more than 6 feet in length).
Know where you can go.
We can help you out with that last one. Scoll on for our picks for the best U.S. national parks to visit with a dog in tow.
Pictured above: sunset at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Of the roughly 200 miles of hiking trails and carriage roads threading through Acadia National Park's forests, along its craggy beaches, and over its granite mountains, about 75% of hikeable terrain (145 miles) is dog-friendly. That's far beyond the norm at other popular national parks. Additionally, pets may spend the night at three campgrounds—Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods—and make the day trip to Isle au Haut for exploring the isolated speck's cliffs and coves. Among the few places pets can't go: into the lakes. Most of those are public water sources (humans can't take dips, either).
For more information, visit nps.gov/acad.
Though dogs aren't allowed on the majority of hiking routes at this immense and spectacularly diverse collection of mountains, glaciers, rain forests, and rugged beaches on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, furry friends do get the green light on a handful of standout trails, including Peabody Creek, Madison Falls, and the July Creek Loop. Pets are also permitted on the beaches between the Hoh and Quinault Reservations and in all drive-in campgrounds and picnic areas. Keep dogs away from interpretive paths, tidal rocks, and the backcountry. South of the national park's borders, leashed pets are welcome to hit the trails of the Olympic National Forest, too.
For more information, visit nps.gov/olym.
The primary claim to fame of Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas is Bathhouse Row, where grand, turn-of-the-20th-century facilities were built for vacationers (including Al Capone during the town's wild Prohibition days) to soak in supposedly healing thermal waters. Not surprisingly, dogs may not enter those historic buildings today. But pups are welcome on all 26 miles of the park's hiking trails, which take two- and four-legged trekkers through woods, across streams, and to scenic outlooks with far-reaching views of the Ouachita Mountains. The Gulpha Gorge Campground permits pets as well.
For more information, visit nps.gov/hosp.
If your dog likes the beach, get ready for maximum frolicking at Indiana Dunes National Park. The sandy spot along the southern shores of Lake Michigan allows leashed pets on all beaches save for certain lifeguarded areas in summer. Other than the Pinhook Bog and Glenwood Dunes trails, the park's 14 hiking paths are likewise open to canine visitors. Trails show off the towering dunes as well as forests and wetlands inhabited by over 350 different kinds of birds (don't let Fido harass the wildlife—you could get a ticket). You can make pet-friendly Dunewood Campground your home base.
For more information, visit nps.gov/indu.
The country's newest national park, located in the Appalachian Mountains in the southern part of West Virginia, has lots of sandstone cliffs and whitewater rapids to attract climbers and rafters. But fans of dogs and hiking should also add the site to their to-do lists. All the trails allow pets, and it's hard to find a path without some intriguing feature or other, whether it's a waterfall, abandoned mining town, or staggering vista of the gorge, as at the Grandview overlook pictured above.
For more information, visit nps.gov/neri.
You can't spell "Petrified" without "pet," so maybe it's fitting that this northern Arizona reserve is so hospitable to dogs. They can't follow you into park buildings, but that's about it for pet restrictions here. Leashed pups are permitted on all hiking trails, which wind through a trippy landscape dotted with rocks that once were trees and, in the Painted Desert, multihued badlands wearing stripes. You can even take your dog into officially designated Wilderness Areas noted for being untouched and untrammeled.
For more information, visit nps.gov/pefo.
Located outside of South Carolina's capital city of Columbia in the center of the state, Congaree National Park contains more than 25,000 acres of old-growth hardwood forest that's nourished by the Congaree and Wateree rivers. Your leashed dog can accompany you on every hiking trail, including the most popular, a 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop through the heart of the forest. Because the majority of the park lies within a floodplain, the terrain is generally flat so you don't have to worry about your puppy pooping out. Pets can stay at all campgrounds, too.
For more information, visit nps.gov/cong.
Shenandoah National Park's list of places where dogs are forbidden accounts for less than 20 miles of the park's 500-mile hiking trail system. That means you and your trusty pooch can undertake everything from short jaunts ending at waterfalls to more ambitious journeys into the Blue Ridge Mountains or even multiday ambles along sections of the storied Appalachian Trail. The park's policy of allowing dogs at all campsites further facilitates epic adventures lasting longer than it takes to pass through the park on Skyline Drive.
For more information, visit nps.gov/shen.