America’s Most Dog-Friendly National Parks
By Si Si Penaloza
August 25th marks 100 years of America’s National Park Service. With this auspicious centennial upon us, it’s the summer to celebrate outdoor adventures. What better way to usher in the second century of America’s National Parks than by getting fit with your pet at your side?
If glorious, towering pines aren’t enough to get you in the mood, perhaps sprucing up your social media feed is more your speed. No judgement (wink, wink). Parks Project has launched a chic collection of apparel and accessories, with each collection funding a specific project in our national parks. Pick out one of these divine finds from Parks Project to share your love of wanderlust and wide open green spaces. From Habitat Restoration in Joshua Tree and Muir Woods, trail restoration in Yellowstone and Yosemite to wildlife conservation in the Denali and Great Smoky Mountains, these cool finds are quite the conversation starters and all for a feel-good cause. We especially love the retro styling of the Grand Canyon Sunset raglan shirt and the boho inspired Clear a Path necklace. Not surprisingly, the brown buttery good Passport Cover is sold out; fingers crossed they restock before August 25th.
Of course, we can’t really celebrate much of anything without our fur mates getting in on the action. In most parks, pets are not permitted in more remote wilderness areas — this is for their own protection as well as that of indigenous plant and animal species. Requirements for visiting a national park with your dog vary, so do check each park’s regulations. We’ve outlined many of the legendary pet-friendly trails below, where you can spend quality time with your best friend safely. The upcoming centennial inspired us to compile a “greatest hits” list of America’s most dog-friendly national parks. Enjoy!
Acadia National Park
Acadia wins major points for the sheer spectacle of its geographical bounty and beauty. It is the grand peacock of the national park collection. A dog-friendly national park on the coast of Maine, it’s an absolute gem of unraveling inlets. Acadia welcomes dogs on all 120 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads in the park – with the exception of a handful of trails that require iron rungs or ladders. One simple dog-friendly rule for Acadia’s dog-friendly areas includes using a leash that’s no more than 6 feet long. Dogs are also allowed in all the pubic areas, except Duck Harbor Campground, Wild Gardens of Acadia, and Echo Lake Beach and Sand Beach during high season (mid-May to mid-Sept). Our favorite Acadia camping spots that welcome dogs? We can’t get enough of the Blackwoods and Seawall campgrounds, and the off-leash area adjacent to the park at Little Long Pond. Few pet-friendly national parks offer more hearty opportunities to take a hike with Hooch than Acadia. Dogs are also welcome at hundreds of beaches peppered around the state.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado wins the Oscar for most cinematic splendor. These are the tallest dunes in North America, set within a spellbinding matrix of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests. Think pristine alpine lakes and rolling tundra. Your sporting dog will be in heaven; dogs are welcome up to the top of the first tall ridge of dunes, between High Dune and Castle Creek Picnic Area, and throughout the adjoining Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. If you head there in the summer, the sand can get blazing hot, so outfitting Fido with booties to protect sensitive paws is the responsible thing to do. Take a brisk splash in Medano Creek to cool off. Everyone in Colorado seems to love dogs wholeheartedly. Pets are welcome at many hotels and vacation rentals. Tote along your own linens and blanket if your dog sleeps with you and a handy throw for the couch. This cuts down on extra cleaning fees or possible damage to a hotel property.
Grand Canyon National Park
The grandfather of them all, the Grand Canyon is very welcoming to pets. Next time you’re in northern Arizona, save a day for you and your pup to enjoy all 13 miles of the South Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon. Pets are not permitted below the rim of the Grand Canyon as safety is a major concern; pets must be leashed and restrained at all times. Grand Canyon National Park even offers a kennel for dogs near the South Rim Trail. You’ll traverse the edge of the canyon, but be mindful that the high elevation and dry climate quickly dehydrates the body. No matter how casual the stroll, bring at least a liter of drinking water and a travel bowl for pooch. If you venture with your dog into the park, he or she must be leashed at all times and will be limited to walking on paved rimside trails. Dogs are not permitted in any of the buildings or shuttle buses. Pets are also not allowed on any Grand Canyon tours, even if they’re wee corgis! Not even purse pooches are eligible for the Grand Canyon River Adventure or the Inner Grand Canyon Jeep Tour.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
There’s no better companion in the great outdoors than your trusty four-legged sidekick. A more recent addition to the US national park collection, the dog-friendly Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Cleveland, Ohio was designated in 2000. The lush forests and rolling meadows are simply sublime. For the best Instagram opportunities, head for Bradford Reservation. This five-mile trail crosses the Tinkers Creek Gorge area, Ohio’s most impressive canyon, known for its hemlock forests. Venture off the main trail to explore Bridal Veil Falls and the Hemlock Creek Loop Trail. Alternatively, follow the scenic Cuyahoga River, where dogs are welcome to join you on all 125 miles of trails through woodlands and wetlands. A few trails require stream crossings with stepping stones or log bridges, while the novice Towpath Trail is easily accessible to all visitors and follows the mostly level course of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Cave and grotto junkies make pilgrimages to this national park for the main attraction of 336 miles of underground passages. Trust us, there’s a definite wow factor to seeing so much geological eye candy in one park. Resist counting Fido out; over 70 miles of pet-friendly trails puts Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park firmly on our dog-friendly national park radar. With the exception of designated service animals, dogs aren’t allowed in the caves; however, pooches love the park’s above-ground hiking trails and woodland cottages. Meander the Green River Bluffs Trail, which winds through the hardwood forest to a delicious overlook of the Green River. If you’re up for a longer trek, the North Side Trail provides dramatic waterfalls and cuts through one of the last remaining old growth forests in the region.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is truly a national treasure. This park is a real calorie burner to boot! While pets are not permitted throughout most of this park, they are allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the park’s most physically demanding and spectacularly rewarding scenic routes. The Pacific Crest Trail is indeed epic, stretching all the way down to Southern California. This sprawl inspires many sporty pet parents to take Scout on a soulful overnight backpacking trip. Leashed pets are permitted in the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, which borders North Cascades National Park.
Shenandoah National Park
Oh hello Shenandoah! Skyline Drive may be the most photographed vantage point at this dog-friendly national park in Virginia, but with Fido along you’ll definitely want to pull over and go for an adrenaline spiking hike. Peaceful wilderness and hypnotic waterfalls will thrill you and your pup – it’s a great day trip, just 75 miles from Washington, DC. A majority of the Shenandoah trails are great for dogs of all sizes; of the more than 500 miles of trails in the park, only 20 miles are off-limits to dogs because they feature challenging rock climbs or have tricky passages. Many of the best short hikes to take with your dog are accessible along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite may seem like the strictest park of the bunch, but such no-nonsense regulations protect both pets and wildlife from disease and each other. The Wawona Meadow Loop is the only trail at Yosemite National Park to welcome dogs, but pups are permitted on the park’s many roads, sidewalks, and bike paths. Leashed pets can bunk down with you at all of Yosemite’s campgrounds, with the exception of walk-in and group camps. The National Park Service has prohibited pets on Yosemite trails for many years. Pets have been known to chase wildlife, pollute water sources, and may become uncharacteristically defensive or territorial in unfamiliar surroundings.