Don’t Paws Your Fun:
Six Dog-Friendly National Parks and their Pet Policies
Getting some late summer sun in America’s recreation areas can be rewarding in a lot of ways. As the leaves begin to turn, these places are great spots for colorful selfies or photography enthusiasts. Boating, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor fun can help keep you and your pet healthy, but where do you start?
There are more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in the United States. For around $80, you can get an America the Beautiful pass that allows you entry to all of the national parks. You can also pay the standard day-use fee, which runs from $10-35 per vehicle, depending on the park you visit.
There’s a lot of ground for you and your furry friend to cover on your fun-filled romp, and the prices are affordable. Most of the national parks allow you to keep your dog with you at camping sites and wherever vehicles can go. However, not all dog-friendly national parks allow pets to roam around without a leash. Knowing which ones are the most pet-friendly and for which ones you might need to kennel your dog can help you plan the best experience for your end-of-season hikes.
Ready to Run
Are you headed out for an outdoors adventure? Hiking is one of the best options for pets. Our dogs love to run alongside us, and why shouldn’t they? They’re practically built to run, just like their wolf ancestors! While they’ll need to stay on a leash for most of their run, they’ll be able to explore new territory with you at their side. Here are some great options to try.
- Shenandoah National Park has around 500 miles of hiking trails and more than 200,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Pets are allowed on all but about 20 miles of the trail system, as long as they are kept on a sturdy collar and leash set. All leashes in the national parks must be six feet long or shorter. You may want a good harness instead of just a collar for keeping pace with your dog. Harnesses are safer and more effective than collars alone. They provide better control, in case your dog decides to go chasing an errant bird, and even the most well-trained dog sometimes gets a little too eager!
- If you’re in the mood for some coastal hiking, shift your attention northward. The Acadia National Park in Maine spans a chain of islands and has around 150 miles of hiking trails where hikers can view scenes like the Gulf of Maine. Pets on leashes can go most places their owners go. However, some places where public water is sourced prohibit pets out of concerns of contaminating the water sources.
- One of the best spots to take dogs is the Appalachian Trail, which welcomes dogs off-leash on around 60% of the trail. The trail covers 2174 miles. There are three restricted areas, and dog owners are encouraged to watch out for bears.
Leash Up or Kennel
Due mostly to safety issues, some national parks aren’t as pet-friendly as others. In these areas, dogs may be confined to campground areas, bike trails, and roads, or small sections of trail.
- The Grand Canyon National Park allows pets along the perimeter of the canyon. However, if you want to explore the canyon itself, you’ll have to leave your pets behind. Local kenneling services can make this affordable if you don’t have a safe place to leave your pawed pal.
- Zion’s National Park in Utah doesn’t allow dogs on most hiking trails, although the 3.5-mile Pa’rus trail along the Virgin River does allow dogs as long as they are kept on leashes.
- Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, is also not ideal for pets. They’re allowed in the campground, but they must be kept on a leash and be quiet. If you’re going to kennel your dog while you’re exploring the arches, leave something like his favorite plush bed with him so he’ll feel more at home.
Looking Out for Our Furred Friends
It’s great to take our dogs with us, and they definitely enjoy their time in the great outdoors, too. However, you should keep several things in mind for the safety of your pet—and those around him, as well.
To Leash or Not to Leash
For starters, even in places where you don’t need to have your dog on a leash, it’s probably safest to do so. Consider it for your dog’s safety as well as that of other pet owners and explorers. Your dog may be friendly, but not every animal you encounter will know that. If your pooch pal chases after a rabbit or a bird, he may run straight into trouble before you can catch up. We don’t want that!
Other people may be more lax in their approach to dog care. To prevent an unfortunate incident, having your dog on a leash, even in a dog-friendly park, keeps him from running off to confront a strange dog that approaches your campsite. If your dog is unfamiliar with the animals of the area, he may not know to avoid things like snakes, so you will want to make sure he can’t bite off more than he can chew.
Anyone who has ever seen a poor pup come back with a face full of porcupine quills knows how quickly an overeager canine can end up getting hurt. If you want to avoid vet bills and having to suffer alongside your pained pooch, make sure you keep him safely in your control at all times.
Do Your Research
Make sure to do your research. Your faithful doggy friend will thank you, and so will your family. You can prevent a lot of potential issues by knowing about them before they come up. A list of things you should know about your dog-friendly park includes:
- Weather: You know how your dog reacts to different weather conditions. You may encounter late summer thunderstorms, for instance. Does your dog get scared by thunder and lightning? Many dogs do, and it is always distressing to see them huddled up and shaking in fright, even if the thunderstorm is completely harmless. But imagine how much worse it would be when out in the open country! Make sure you have shelter, and this is where you want to make sure your best friend doesn’t run off if he gets spooked by thunder.
- Flora and Fauna: This is also very important. Many dogs like to eat grass, or snap up a wayward bee (ouch!). When you’re at home, you generally know of anything hazardous that your dog could get into. In a national park excursion, even a dog-friendly park can’t (and won’t) control all the things that could make your dog sick or worse. Be aware of any potentially toxic plants, for instance, or animals that are dangerous. This could be as simple as knowing to look for rattlesnakes, but there are other dangers. Fungi might look tasty to your enthusiastic dog, but be very poisonous if consumed. Certain types of insects and arachnids, including ticks, scorpions, and spiders can be a bigger threat than they appear, especially for a carefree canine. Larger animals like bears or cougars present an obvious threat to both pet and owner, so make sure you know what you could encounter.
- Immunizations: Always make sure your pet’s shots are up to date, just in case!
- Registration: Finally, always make sure that your pet has his tag, in case you do become separated. Some pet owners go so far as to have tracking chips implanted in their dogs or in their collars, but whatever happens, you want to make sure someone knows that it’s your dog and not a stray. Take every precaution and you’ll be reunited with your wayward friend none the worse for wear.