In the United States, there are roughly 63 national parks and many more national forests/monuments and state parks. The National Park Service was established in 1916 and currently manages 84 million acres of public land in the US. California has the most national parks with nine in the state and Alaska comes in second with eight. A total of thirty-two states and territories have national parks!
While visiting national parks can be a ton of fun, there are some rules everyone needs to follow to keep the area safe and healthy. Make sure to carry out any and all trash or throw it out in bear-proof trash cans, as litter can be damaging to the environment and can ruin the views for others. Respect any burn ban in place, which includes no smoking cigarettes or joints, because wildfires are dangerous to the land and people. Be quiet and respectful of the wildlife and of people around you. You can definitely enjoy music while camping or hiking but if it’s loud enough to bother others, you should turn it down.
There are plenty of other things to keep in mind while visiting a national park, including several rules around having dogs in the park. If you do bring your dog, you’ll need to keep them on a 6-foot leash, pick up and carry out any poop, limit your visit with them to dog-friendly areas, among other things. Not every park allows dogs so here are 15 of the most dog-friendly parks.
Acadia National Park in Maine
While there are a few trails dogs are not allowed on in Acadia (all of which require visitors to climb iron rungs or ladders at some point), this national park allows dogs on 100 miles of trails and 45 miles of carriage roads. If you’re camping, dogs are allowed in the Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods campgrounds. Swimming in the lakes is not allowed for humans and dogs alike.
Badlands National Park in South Dakota
In this park, dogs aren’t allowed on trails or anywhere prairie dogs are but are allowed anywhere a car can go. With so many scenic roadside overlooks, picnic areas, and campgrounds, there’s still plenty to do with your pup! Plus, there are plenty of great parks nearby that have dog-friendly hiking trails, like Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and Custer State Park (which is also located near Wind Cave National Park).
Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
This park is home to 110 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails, including the 20-mile Towpath Trail that follows the historic course of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Unfortunately, there are no campsites in the park, as camping isn’t allowed. But since the park is only half an hour outside Cleveland, Ohio, there are plenty of pet-friendly lodging and camping spots nearby.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
As the second most visited national park in the country, the Grand Canyon offers beautiful sights and a few pet-friendly trails! There are 14 miles of trails above the South Rim that you and your canine can enjoy while the Brindle Trail at the North Rim offers a 3.2-mile trip. For lodging/camping, dogs are allowed at the Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, Trailer Village, and the Yavapai Lodge.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Home to the tallest dunes in North America, this park is also home to a diverse landscape with ecosystems like grasslands, wetlands, and forests. In addition to the Dunes Overlook Trail and Mosca Pass Trail, dogs are also allowed to play on the massive sandy hills, developed campgrounds, and all picnic areas. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is the only park open 24/7, making it a great place to stargaze! Be careful on hot days, as the sand can get up to 150 degrees. If you’re going to this park in the summer, avoid going to the sand dunes during the hottest parts of the day and consider getting booties to protect your dog’s paws.
- Sandboarding and Sand Sledding in Great Sand Dunes National Park from National Parks Service
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas
This park is found in Arkansas’ Zig-Zag Mountains, a section of the Ouachita Mountains that were formed from the collision of two tectonic plates roughly 300 million years ago. The collusion of these plates caused the rocks in this area to be bent and broken, which then allows for rainwater to seep deep into the ground. Over a period of 4,400 years, water follows the faults in the rocks down 8,000 feet and then re-emerges with an average temperature of 143° Fahrenheit (62° Celcius).
Dogs are welcome on all 26 miles of hiking trails in this park but unless they are certified guide/service dogs, can’t join you in the historic bathhouses. There are no outdoor soaking opportunities but there are two places in the park where you can touch the thermal springs!
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
Other than service animals, dogs are unfortunately not allowed in the caves of this park but are allowed on the above-ground trails! One great trail system is the North Side Trails, which cuts through one of the last remaining old-growth forests in the state. They’re also welcome in the Woodland Cottages (for an extra $9 a night) and there are day kennels if you’d like to check out the caves.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia
This park is actually the newest national park and dogs are allowed on all the trails. Like the other parks on this list, there are hiking trails that range in distance and difficulty. The Nuttallburg Trails, for example, take you all around an abandoned coal mine and community. In these trails, you can see the entrance to the Nuttall coal mine, former rail lines, and the remnants of the residential area. If abandoned coal mines aren’t your thing, this park also has trails with fantastic views into the gorge, other trails that lead to gorgeous waterfalls, and over 1,400 established rock climbs.
Like all other parks, be sure to only take trash and dog poop in bags back and leave any and all historical items you might find.
Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Well known for fossil deposits, this national park is located in eastern Arizona and has Route 66 running right through it. The Petrified Forest National Park isn’t a forest anymore but was once home to a rainforest filled with dinosaurs, ferns, and giant trees. The trees would fall and be buried in river sediment, where they’d soak up minerals that caused the wood to crystallize. 225 million years later, these trees are now colorful quartz and coexist in the park with fossils of the dinosaurs and ferns. Make sure your pup doesn’t start chewing on a bone that could be millions and millions of years old!
Dogs are truly welcome in this park and if you stop by the visitor center, you can get a dog treat, guidelines, information on the Bark Ranger Program, and learn how to share photos of your pet in the park. There aren’t any campsites in the park so if you’d like to spend the night with petrified trees, you’ll have to do an overnight backpacking trip with your pup. As long as you read, sign, and follow some backcountry guidelines, you can get a free backpacking permit from the Rainbow Forest Museum to the south or the Painted Desert Visitor Center in the north.
Note: there is no water and some rough terrain in this park’s backcountry, meaning you’ll have to carry water and dog boots on any hike or backpacking trip.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Roughly 480 miles of marked trails in this park allow dogs, which gives you and your pup plenty of space to explore! Dogs are also allowed in the campgrounds and there are plenty of nearby towns with dog-friendly businesses, including several hotels. Some great dog-friendly trails in the back include Little Stony Man (0.9 miles), Hawksbill Gap Trail (2.5 miles), and the Rose River Loop (4 miles)
- Exploring Shenandoah National Park with Dogs – Navy Corgi
White Sands National Park in New Mexico
While sand may be in the name, this park’s dunes are actually made from gypsum. Covering 275 square miles, the gypsum dune field in this national park is the largest in the world. Leashed pets can explore the entire park with you (the only exception being inside park buildings). The dry desert air and high elevation can be a dangerous combination so it’s important to bring water and avoid dehydration.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska
As the country’s largest national park with 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias is home to a lot of wildlife and ecosystems. Dogs are allowed on trails and in the backcountry in the park but keeping them on leash is especially important, as there are dangerous aspects like bears, moose, and even traps and snares.
While traveling, camping, and hiking with your dog, it’s important to plan ahead and keep in mind possible trail dangers, like dehydration and ticks. National parks like the Grand Canyon and the Great Sand Dunes can get very hot during the summer so it’s important to plan your trip accordingly and pack plenty of water for you and your dog. Additionally, while these parks are relatively great for dogs, there are still plenty of areas and activities that dogs aren’t allowed to join in on. Keeping your dog in the car or tent can be dangerous, especially during the spring and summer, so you’ll either need to plan to only do dog-friendly things or find a nearby kennel or doggy daycare.