Although most of the 63 national parks don’t allow dogs so as not to disturb the wildlife, a few permit dogs on leash and in designated areas (except service dogs who are allowed to move around more freely).
A tour of America’s national parks is on many RV bucket lists but bringing your pet to these destinations can be a challenge. It’s important to know pet restrictions in the national parks you’re hoping to visit to minimize your impact on these sensitive environments. But an easier alternative is to target the most dog-friendly national parks in the US. Some of these parks offer miles of pet-friendly hiking trails as well as boarding services if you plan a hike to a location where your pups can’t go.
So let’s check them out!
Zion National Park, Utah
Stunning sandstone cliffs naturally colored in brilliant orange and pink hues leave visitors amazed in this 229-square-mile national park including a 15-mile-long narrow canyon popular for hiking through. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are allowed on the Pa’rus Trail. All other trails and wilderness areas are off-limits. Pets are allowed along public roads and parking areas, in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of Zion Lodge. No pets, other than service animals are allowed on shuttle buses.
New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
One of the newest areas under the management of the National Park Service is also one of its most dog-friendly parks. Dogs are welcome on all park trails which provide spectacular views of the gorge.
Several trails lead to spectacular waterfalls where you and your pup can cool off during the summer. There are also several pet-friendly campgrounds down in the gorge if you’re looking for a beautiful place to camp right along the river.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Explore miles of ever-shifting dunes with your pup by your side in this unique New Mexico national park. Your pup has to remain on a leash with a maximum length of six feet but dogs are permitted everywhere in this park aside from public buildings.
Be aware that there is very little shade out on the dunes. So your best bet is to explore first thing in the morning or take your pup out for a sunset stroll if you’re spending the night in this otherworldly national park.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified Forest is a unique stop just off Interstate 40 about two hours east of Flagstaff, Arizona. At one time, the environment here held the ideal conditions for preserving (well, petrifying) vast stands of now-extinct conifers.
You’re allowed to bring your dogs on all park trails and along paved roads as well as into official wilderness areas off-trail. Just be aware that the park can be hot, offers minimal shade, and contains many fossil deposits that dogs should be discouraged from gnawing on.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
In a park that boasts more than 500 miles of hiking trails only 20 miles are off-limits to our four-legged friends. Dogs are also welcome in park campgrounds, picnic areas, and pull-outs along the park’s famous Skyline Drive.
Whether you and your pup are looking for some wilderness solitude, picturesque views, or cooling waterfalls, you’ll find them here. Plus, you’re even welcome to explore sections of the famed Appalachian Trail.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
While a swampy sanctuary in South Carolina might not be your first thought for a pet-friendly vacation, Congaree permits leashed pets on all hiking trails and campsites. The fall and winter months are the best time to visit after the summer heat dwindles and flood waters recede.
Plus, you’ll avoid the height of mosquito season. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rent a kayak or canoe to explore one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America so long as you don’t mind catching the occasional sight of an alligator.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Heading down into the canyon with your pup is not an option here but walking on a leash along the paved South Rim Trail is permitted. So you can enjoy the views down into the canyon while your pup gets some exercise.
The 13 miles of trails along the South Rim give you a chance to get away from the park’s most crowded areas but the South Rim Kennel is an option if you want to board your pup and explore a little further. The Mather, Desert View, and Trailer Village campgrounds are all pet-friendly as well.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Pets are allowed on leash in the developed areas of the park and on the trail from the visitor center to the Fruita Campground. Pets are also allowed on the Fremont River Trail from the campground to the south end of Hattie’s Field in unfenced and/or unlocked orchards in the Chesnut and Doc Inglesby picnic areas and campgrounds. The apples were certainly unexpected treats.
Pets are allowed within 50 feet of the centerline of roads (paved and dirt) open to public vehicle travel and in parking areas open to public vehicle travel. Pets are not permitted on other hiking trails, in public buildings, or the backcountry.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads but must be kept on a leash at all times. Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The Gatlinburg Trail is a perfect hike for dogs and it leads right into the town of Gatlinburg. Streams, creeks, little bridges, and friendly folks will all be found along the way. You may see bears during your time here, so if your dog is reactive, just keep that in mind.
Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, California
You’ll love Joshua Tree National Park! Pets are allowed within 100 feet of roads, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are also permitted on the paved Oasis of Mara and Keys View trails. Be aware of hot sidewalks and pavement that will burn your pet’s feet and walk only during the cooler parts of the day.
Unpaved roads offer spectacular scenery and a chance to immerse yourself in the desert landscape with your pet while following park regulations and protecting the park. Anywhere you can drive your vehicle you can go with your leashed pet. Some unpaved roads require 4-wheel drive and/or high clearance.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Can you say prairie dogs? So cute and so plentiful in Theodore Roosevelt National Park! Leashed pets may be walked along roads and road shoulders, sidewalks, parking areas, and in campgrounds and picnic areas. Seeing your dogs looking at the prairie dogs from the car will be so memorable. The sidewalk at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (I-94, exit 32) is a good place to walk dogs and has fantastic views of the badlands all along the way. Pets are not allowed on trails.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Visitors take a trip to the prehistoric past when visiting Badlands National Park known to contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient rhinos, horses, and saber-toothed cats once roamed the area that’s now home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets in the 244,000 acres of protected grass and prairie lands.
Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are only allowed in developed areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, public buildings, and backcountry areas.
Your Dog Can Become A B.A.R.K. Ranger!
The Bark Ranger program was introduced by the National Park Service as a way to encourage responsible national park travel with dogs.
Visit a park. Take the pledge. Get a badge.
The dog lives for the day, the hour, and even the moment.
—Robert Falcon Scott