Can You Hike With Dogs in National Parks?

Can You Hike With Dogs in National Parks?

So you’d like to go hiking with your dog? If you want to enjoy the wilderness and see some of the best scenery the USA has to offer, you need to know if there are any restrictions on dogs hiking in national parks before you head off.

Can you hike with dogs in national parks? It depends on which parks you wish to visit. Some are better than others. Generally, the most well-known parks allow less trail access to dogs.

It’s not all bad news though. Some lesser-known and out of the way parks offer fantastic dog-friendly hiking, and you won’t have to fight the crowds or sacrifice the breathtaking views.

Summary of Best Hiking Options With Your Dog

Parks That Allow Dogs To Hike

This post will go into more detail about what is available at each specific location, especially the national parks that allow dogs on trails.

General Rules for National Parks

Each of the national parks that are dog friendly have certain rules you and your canine companion need to adhere to.

  1. Dogs must be on a 6-foot max leash at all times
  2. Only allowed 50 to 100 feet beyond any paved road or walkway
  3. Most, but not all, parks allow dogs in campgrounds as long as they are leashed or crated
  4. Most national parks prohibit dogs on hiking, walking, or backcountry trails, beaches, lakefronts, and inside buildings
  5. Dogs are not to be left unattended in vehicles or campsites
  6. Always pick up after your dog
  7. Always keep dog food locked away except during feeding time.

Arizona

Hiking with dogs in Arizona can be challenging for a myriad of reasons. Seasonal soaring temperatures, extremely dry air, various wildlife, and rough terrain can make things difficult for dogs and their people.

As always, make sure that you are carrying enough water for you and your pup, are aware of your surroundings, and you let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

Grand Canyon National Park

With over 6 million visitors in 2017 (source: National Park Service), the Grand Canyon, one of the most visited national parks and it holds a spot on many bucket lists.

Campgrounds

The campgrounds allow dogs in a crate or restrained on a max 6-foot leash. There are 2 campgrounds Mather and Desert View.

One thing to note is that elk regularly wander throughout the campground uninhibited by the presence of campers and pets. If your dogs are not accustomed to encountering large animals, you might consider camping elsewhere or checking into the dog-friendly Yavapai Lodge.

Don’t want dog camping?

The Grand Canyon park offered a boarding kennel for dogs and cats. This is located at the South Rim.

Hiking South Rim Trail with your dog

Here is the first of many national parks that allow dogs on trails in this post.

You may walk the paved South Rim Trail (above the rim of the canton) with your pooch, again on a 6-foot leash. The view is glorious along the path, and placards tell of the various periods and layers of earth that make up the Grand Canyon. It is a definite must-see, but keep your expectations of hiking the canyon with your adventure hound in check, no dogs allowed below the rim.

Pro tip
Want a more challenging outdoor adventure whilst visiting the Grand Canyon? Hit the Rim Trail early in the morning and then hop in the car for a three and a half hour drive to Petrified Forest National Park. There you and your pup will find some backcountry fun.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park and the adjoining Painted Desert Wilderness Area offer excellent dog-friendly hiking, as all of the developed trails allow leashed dogs.

What to see

The most adventurous humans and hounds who access free permits at the visitor’s center, venture out into the backcountry and encounter rarely seen petroglyphs, native ruins, and the infamous Black Forest where whole trunks of petrified trees, some up to 50 feet long, litter the badlands.

Camping

If you aren’t down for overnight in the backcountry, McHood Park is a semi-developed free campground located an hour west in Winslow. Additionally, more developed camping is available for a fee at Winslow’s Homolovi State Park, where a few easy but interesting hikes welcome leashed four-leggers.

Saguaro National Park

Arizona is home to another amazing national park, Saguaro, named for the giant cacti that grow there. Unfortunately, due to the active wildlife and extreme desert environment, the park has a very restrictive pet policy. If you have your heart set on hiking to see the Saguaro, the Dawg House in Tucson has a fun doggy daycare program.

Arkansas   

If you are not from the area, you may not think to yourself, “I bet Arkansas is an amazing place to take the dogs for a hike.”

The Arkansas State Park System and the Ozark and Quachita National Forests offer an unbelievable amount of dog-friendly hiking on well-maintained trails through beautiful mountains and valleys with gorgeous foliage, lakes, and rivers. Of course, the National Park there will not disappoint either.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is a different kind of park altogether.

Unlike most of our national parks, Hot Springs allows dogs to explore all 17 of its trails. This is great news if you are looking for national parks that allow dogs on trails.

The campground is dog-friendly as well, of course, the standard 6-foot leash rule applies here as well.

The 26 miles of trail vary in difficulty, and you can expect to see an exciting mix of plant life, rock formations, and overlook views.

As you would expect, non-service animals are not allowed in any park building.

If you are looking forward to a soak in the hot springs after exploring the park with your pooch, I’ll Be Doggone Doggy Daycare, in nearby Benton, has excellent reviews.

California

Not surprisingly, as one of the largest states in the US, California has more than its share of national parks. Sadly, not all of what the state has to offer is agreeable for four-legged visitors.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree, one of the state’s most desirable destinations for humans, is not so friendly for your dogs. There are no dog-friendly hikes within the park.

If you have your heart set on seeing the Joshua Trees, you can drive the Park Boulevard Loop in an hour two, occasionally stopping to take in the sights.

Another alternative to merely driving the Loop is the series of unpaved backcountry roads that traverse the park and are dog-friendly. Although, they are also mountain bike and 4×4 friendly, can be extraordinarily dusty, and require diligence in regards to the safety of your furry companion. It may be tempting to let your buddy off-leash, “just for a little while,” but this area has many hazards including abandoned mines, dangerous plants, and predatory wildlife.

Death Valley

The other California National Park that can be a phenomenal trip for you and your dogs, but requires a significant amount of safety awareness is Death Valley.  The name implies that, right?

It may feel at some of these parks the pet policies are too strict, but we must always keep in mind that it is for the safety of our beloved pets and the protection of delicate ecosystems.

The same pet rules apply in Death Valley as Joshua Tree. However, one thing that sets Death Valley apart is that while Joshua Tree campgrounds fill up very quickly during most times of the year, it is much easier to snag a site at one of Death Valley’s campgrounds.

Again, dogs are strictly prohibited from the hiking trails in Death Valley, but more than 700 miles of unpaved backcountry roads are open for you to explore with leash in hand.

Pro tip 
If you want to visit a particular national park with your dog and it does not have dog-friendly trails, call the park and speak to a ranger. Many parks have fire roads, open to leashed dog walking, that are rarely advertised on the NPS websites.

Sequoia  and Redwood

The largest, oldest, and tallest trees in the world are a must-see. Unfortunately, these two national parks have some of the strictest and most adamantly enforced pet policies. Traveling with your pup to these parks means you will be very limited in what you can see.

While both have very cool drives, the point is to get out into the thick of it with our doggies. The following dog-friendly parks will give you a better opportunity to get close to these stunning trees.

Giant Sequoia National Monument

  • Sierra Nevada, southern California
  • 328,000 acres of the Sequoia National Forest.
  • 13 sequoia groves in the northern section in the Hume Lake Ranger District, east of Fresno, California.
  • 20 giant sequoia groves in the southern section in the Western Divide Ranger District, east of Porterville and Springville, California.

For more information, visit U.S. Forest Service website.

Arcata Community Forest – Humboldt County

  • 790 acre redwood forest
  • Many developed trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. If your dog is spooked by bikes and horses, check the trail map to avoid those designated paths.
  • No camping but there’s an area for picnics, children’s playground and restrooms.

For more information, visit the Arcata Community Forest webpage.

Jackson State Forest

  • Close to 49,000 acres
  • Located western edge of Mendocino County at Fort Bragg
  • Numerous hiking trails
  • Two main camping areas with picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.
  • Other activities include horseback riding, biking, horseback riding, swimming and day picnicking.
  • No fishing allowed.

Visit this site for more information.

Yosemite

Along with the distinction of being one of America’s oldest, Yosemite is also (sadly) one of the least pet-friendly.

The six short hikes for your dog

There are six “hikes” within Yosemite where you may walk your dog. The term ‘hike’ is being used very liberally; mostly just relatively short, paved trails along roads and bike paths. Your dog must be on a leash of no more than 6 feet long and must never be left unattended.

That being said, these short walks include stunning views in all directions and usually lead to an impressive overlook, waterfall, or something else that you won’t regret seeing.

Camping

As far as camping in Yosemite with your dog, you will find that the same rules apply. Some people feel that the rules are adhered to more stringently in this park, compared to others.

One crucial point, for the sake of your pup, yourself and neighbors, be sure to put the dog food out of easy reach. It’s the bears. Place the dog food either in your vehicle or one of the bear-proof boxes provided in the campgrounds.

Colorado

Despite Colorado being one of the most dog-friendly states, it’s four national parks are not so dog-friendly. This is due to specific preservation efforts, difficult terrain, and other factors.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  • Dogs are allowed (on leash) in just 3 of the trails in this Park
    • Cedar Point Nature Trail
    • North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail
    • North Rim Campground through to the overlooks.

Deers are known to aggressively protect their fawn and will attack dogs and their owners, even if the owner is carrying their dog. So June 1 to August 10, dogs are allowed in campsites in South Rim Campground but their movement is very restricted.

Deers are known to aggressively protect their fawn and will attack dogs and their owners, even if the owner is carrying their dog. So June 1 to August 10, dogs are allowed in campsites in South Rim Campground but their movement is very restricted.

NPS warns not to leave your dog unattended in the car. Very high temperatures can mean your dog can overheat in the car and die.

Click here to find out more.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Very strict rules


Pets are prohibited on ALL Rocky Mountain National Park trails, tundra, and meadows.

National Park Service

Park rules are very strict in this park. Dog on a leash of no more than 6 feet can be walked along established picnic areas, campsites, roads and parking areas.

Nearby hiking alternatives

There are alternative hiking trails nearby on the east and west side of the Rocky Mountain park. Check here for more details

Mesa Verde National Park

Once again, leashed dogs are permitted on established roads and parking lots as well as campsites.

The few dog friendly hiking trails that are available are very well marked and can be found here.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The fourth national park in Colorado is the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Like with the other three national parks in Colorado, serious consideration should be taken in regards to the safety of your pooch when visiting Great Sand Dunes.

What are some of the safety challenges?

  • There is wildlife in the park that may not appreciate your pooch as much as you do;
  • The sand temperatures can get very high, particularly in the summer month; and
  • The grasslands are off-limits to the four-leggers because paw pads are no match for prickly pear spines.

If you think the air temperatures are hot in the Great Sand Dunes N.P. averaging 75-80 degrees in Summer, consider the temperature on the surface of the sand, peaking at 150 degrees.

Source

Taking all of that into consideration, running on the sand dunes and in, around, and through Medano Creek with your dog could be some of the most fun that you will have together. It is like spending a day at the beach with your dog, but you are surrounded by mountains and thousands of miles from any beach! Just be sure to avoid the sand dunes in the middle of the say in Summer, when the temperature of the sand surface soars.

You are welcome to camp with your dog at Piñon Flats in Great Sand Dunes, just plan ahead as the campground will be full almost every night during peak season when the creek is at full flow.

Get out and explore some more

Colorado is jam-packed with gorgeous national forests, state parks, and county parks that have mile upon mile of dog-friendly hiking and camping. In this particular case you shouldn’t limit yourself, or your dog for the sake of visiting a national park. If you live in or plan to spend a good amount of time in Colorado, this book is a must purchase.

Utah

The Mighty 50

Utah may not be home to the most national parks, but they are concentrated in the southernmost part of the state, are relatively easy to travel between, and the entire area surrounding the parks is as remarkable as the parks themselves.

Sadly, The Mighty 50 as they are called, have very restrictive pet policies. When planning a visit to Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, or Zion you will find plenty of dog-friendly camping within the parks, but there are very few places where you can hike with your dogs. However, driving tours through these parks will never disappoint.

Zion National Park Pa’rus trail

The only dog-friendly trail in this park is the Pa’rus trail.

This easy 3.5-mile round-trip walk takes you and your pooch for a walk along the Virgin River and part of the campground. Keep Fido on a leash and clean up after him. This trail is also popular with cyclists, so make sure to watch out for them.

If you would like to explore more of the incredible hikes in Zion that won’t allow you to bring your pooch, there is a one of a kind daycare in Hurricane called Doggy Dude Ranch. While you are navigating the canyons of the Narrows, your dog can spend the day frolicking in the Virgin River and taking part in agility courses.

Dog Hiking Alternatives

After you check out the national parks from your car or walk the
Pa’rus trail, you will have plenty of dog-friendly hiking in the areas outside of the parks.

Not far from Arches and Canyonlands is a Bureau of Land Management area along UT 128/River Road. Here you will find some of the most fantastic views that Utah has to offer, with inexpensive first-come-first-serve camping and unbelievable dog-friendly hiking.   

Also, between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, you have the option of taking Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 that passes through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is extraordinary and the hiking that you can do with your pup rivals any in the country, two, in particular, are Calf Creek Falls and Escalante River Trail. Within Zion, there is one long lovely paved trail called the Pa’rus Trail.

Maine    

For the Atlantic coasters or anyone wanting to travel east with their dogs, Maine is one of the most dog-friendly states.

Acadia National Park 

Acadia National Park delivers spectacular camping and hiking for you and your dog. Many of the beaches, state parks, and towns along the way will be happy to host your pup as well.

Camping

The camping provides spacious, well-maintained sites with plenty of privacy.

Hiking

This park also holds a spot at the top of the hiking with dogs list.

With nearly 150 miles of hiking trails and backcountry roads to explore with your dog, there is plenty of ground to cover for hikers of all skill levels.

If you and your pooch are hearty souls and are equipped to handle cooler overnight temperatures, the campgrounds are open through October. In the late fall, the waterfronts at Sand Beach and Echo Lake both open up to exploration by doggies and their humans.

Pro tip
Visit Acadia National Park late in the season. The crowds that usually flock to this magnificent park are long gone. You will appreciate this fact when you get up bright and early to catch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, knowing that you and your pup are the first in the U.S. to see the light of morning.

Virginia

Shenandoah National Park

Another wonderfully dog-friendly park on the east coast is Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. It’s got wonderful scenrtary, waterfalls and woods.

Trails

Out of the 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah, less than 20 miles prohibit dogs and all five campgrounds welcome pets.

With over 400 miles of hiking trails open to dogs, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which way to go.

The National Park Service has done a thorough job of detailing each trail:

  • Length
  • Location
  • Distance
  • Dogs allowed/not allowed
  • Level of difficulty.

Check these trails in this chart.

If you are up for a challenging hike that provides rich visual rewards for your effort, Cedar Run/Whiteoak Circuit is a winner!

Indeed, it is essential to follow the rules and regulations regarding hiking with your dog wherever you are, but Shenandoah is prime bear country. There is so much open space and miles of trail that it can be incredibly tempting to let your pup off-leash. For the safety of all, it is critical that you resist the urge! Also, carrying a can of bear spray is advised.

Accommodation

Shenandoah offers pet-friendly lodging as well as camping on-site.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are pets not allowed in national parks?

Firstly, allowing pets in national parks can threaten local wildlife. How? Pets can be carriers of disease that could kill wildlife. This can be transmitted by the dog themselves or their faeces. Pets can chase and catch wildlife, reducing their population numbers. Your dog could be shot on site by the park officer.

Secondly, when irresponsible dog owners don’t secure their dogs, those dogs can roam and impact the experience of other campers and hikers (and their children) who are scared of dogs.

Thirdly, pets themselves may be at risk from the local wildlife. Coyotes and bears may become their prey when left unsecured and unsupervised in national parks. And don’t forget, the shrubbery in national parks could be home to paralysis ticks.

What are the most dog-friendly National Parks in the US?

If you want to go traveling national parks with dog, these are my top 3 recommendations for national parks that allow dogs on trails.

  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

What are the fines for dog owners in national parks with dogs where dogs are not allowed?

The answer to this question was hard to find. Based on my research, the fine could range from $75 to $1500.The value of the fine isn’t even discussed in the Code of Federal Regulations from the National Parks Service (NPS).

What are the dog laws in national parks?

Dogs can visit many national parks. Each offers a different experience experience for you pet. Not all parks follow the same rules.

National Parks Service

Before you head off on your hiking trip with your dog, check the rules of the individual location you’re traveling to by going to this page on the (NPS) website.

For those who really want to dig into the detail about the NPS regulations on pets, click here.

Are dogs allowed in Yellowstone?

Dogs can travel within a car inside Yellowstone and can’t be left unattended. Dogs can’t go on any official trails, boardwalks or anywhere in the backcountry.

Are dogs allowed in State Parks?

Just like National Parks, the rules around dogs in State Parks vary.

Here’s what I found out:

  • Most State Parks require your dog to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
  • If you want to stay overnight with your pup, there are specific camping cabins available in some State Parks.
  • There are a lot of choices. You can find state forests in 38 out of the 50 states in the US.

For pet policies for each specific State Parks and Forests, click here for the best resource. ALWAYS call ahead to double check that dogs are allowed in the State Park that you are planning to visit.

If you are planning on visiting the State Parks in California, here is a useful resource.

Time to Decide

It can be disheartening when you begin researching, “Can you hike with dogs in national parks?”

At first glance, it may appear as though the National Park Service is not dog friendly at all. Just remember that these rules and regulations are in place for the safety of your beloved pet as much as they are for the protection of fragile ecosystems, susceptible wildlife, and treasured history.

Even with the national park restrictions, there is plenty of adventure to be had with your four-legged family members. Always remember to do your part to keep these wondrous places accessible; Follow the rules and clean up after your dogs!

Author - Eileen

Eileen is dog mom to 2 Shetland Sheepdogs - Shellie and her pup Bernie. They enjoy a couple of walks each day plus 2-3 sessions with the frisbee or Chuck-it! She enjoys many road trips with her dogs. She has tent camped all over the U.S. The dogs love exploring new hiking trails. Regardless of the season, Eileen has plenty to share with you about outdoor dog life whether it's in the Rockies in winter, Massachusetts in the summer or Oregon and Minnesota in between. She loves to find new off-leash parks while traveling.
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