A Dog Owner's Guide to Visiting National Parks

Many national parks allow dogs, as long as pet owners follow the rules. (Photo: Trialnes/Shutterstock)

When I was a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, I fielded many complaints from visitors who were unhappy they couldn't take their dogs hiking with them on a specific trail. It's true — there are a few trails at the park that are off-limits to dogs. But of the park's 500 miles of hiking trails, there are only about 20 miles where dogs are not allowed. And of all of the nation's 412 parks, Shenandoah is one of the few that allow dogs in the backcountry at all.

In most parks, pets are not allowed on trails, in buildings, on shuttle buses or in wilderness areas. This protects pets from wild areas, but it also protects the local plants and animals that the park is there to preserve. According to National Park Service public affairs specialist Jeremy Barnum, "If you're traveling with pets, it's always best to check with the park you intend to visit. Many of our parks allow pets on leashes and in campgrounds, some even have kennels." You can typically find a park's rules regarding pets on its website or by calling the park directly.

Despite the bans, most parks have a least some areas where you can enjoy the great outdoors with your furry friends — as long as you obey the rules like keeping pets on a leash shorter than six feet and cleaning up anything they leave behind when nature calls. And some parks, like the five mentioned below, take things one step further with hikes and paved trails designed to let you and your pooch #FindYourPark.

Shenandoah National Park

An English mastiff enjoys Shenandoah National Park.
An English mastiff enjoys Shenandoah National Park. (Photo: Mark Hanna/flickr)

As I mentioned, Shenandoah National Park has more than 500 miles of trails, and only a small portion of these are off-limits to pets. What's more, the vast majority of the park's trails are accessible via the Skyline Drive — a scenic road that winds its way through 109 miles of the park offering views of the valleys below. You can take your dogs backcountry camping with you as long as you avoid the trails where dogs are not allowed, keep them on a leash and bury their waste. Dogs are also allowed at the park's developed campgrounds.

Yosemite National Park

Dog at Yosemite National Park
It looks like this pup may have gone a little bit off-trail to catch this waterfall view at Yosemite National Park. (Photo: Barna Tanko/Shutterstock)

There is only one unpaved trail — the Wawona Meadow Loop trail — that is open to dogs in Yosemite National Park. However, dogs are allowed on any of the park's many roads, sidewalks and bike paths. And considering the entire Yosemite Valley is crisscrossed with paved bike paths that grant you views to everything from El Capitan to Half Dome to many of the park's famous waterfalls, you and your pet may never have to venture off the beaten path to see the sights. You can also bring leashed pets to all of Yosemite's campgrounds, with the exception of walk-in and group camps. And if you do decide to venture into the wilderness, the park has a kennel where Fido can hang until your return.

Acadia National Park

Dog at Acadia National Park
A sweet old girl enjoying low tide at Harbor Island in Acadia National Park. (Photo: Sharon Cabo/Shutterstock)

Much of Maine's Acadia National Park is open to dogs. They are allowed on most of the hiking trails and carriage roads as well as in the campgrounds. With all of those mountains, shoreline, woodlands and lakes for dogs and their owners to explore, it's no wonder that this park ranked "high on the tail wagging meter" by DogFriendly.com in 2002. Dogs are prohibited from visiting the sand beaches and hiking on a few of the steeper trails. And they must be on a leash and with their owners at all times, except in a privately owned piece of land adjacent to the park called Long Pond in Seal Harbor where dogs are allowed to run to their heart's content off-leash.

Grand Canyon

Black lab looking over the rim of the Grand Canyon
This puppy is taking in the sights at Grand Canyon National Park. (Photo: Steve Bower/Shutterstock)

Dogs are not allowed below the rim at the Grand Canyon. Nor are they allowed to ride park buses. But they are allowed (on a leash shorter than six feet) on any trails above the rim, in the campgrounds and throughout the developed areas. If you do decide to venture into the canyon, there is a kennel on the South Rim where your pet can chill until you return.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

dog hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Dogs are welcome on more than 100 miles of trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: National Park Service)

Located just a hop and a skip from Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers miles of hiking trails through lush forests and rolling farmlands — and best of all your dog is welcome on those trails, too! That's more than 100 miles of trails, including hikes to Brandywine Falls and the 20 miles along the Towpath Trail, which follows the course of the historic Ohio and Erie Canal.