Summer calls for outdoor vacations, often including our four-footed best friends. If your vacation plans include visiting any of our 59 scenic National Parks with your dog, planning ahead and knowing the regulations before you leave will make the experience more enjoyable for you and your pooch.

Regulations!? What Regulations?

Dog Safety at National ParksIt might seem that your well-behaved pet should have have the freedom to explore a bit  in the wild terrain of a National Park, but the parks were established, not only for the enjoyment of visitors, but also to protect the the plants and animals within their boundaries. There are some restrictions on all National Park visitors, including some that are specific to pets. These restrictions are meant to protect the parks’ wildlife and environment, but also to protect pets who could become prey of coyotes, bears, owls or other predators.

The National Park Service website says, “In general, pets are permitted but must be restrained either on a leash not exceeding 6 feet in length, caged or crated at all times. Park Superintendents and Managers have the discretion to further restrict areas open to pets (i.e., trails, buildings, campgrounds may be off limits).”

Those discretionary limits vary greatly and many parks only allow pets outside of vehicles at paved parking lots and in selected campgrounds. Carlsbad Caverns is an example of how limiting pet restrictions can be. Pets aren’t allowed on any of the trails in the park and the park also prohibits visitors from leaving their pets in a vehicle when the temperature is above 70 degrees because the New Mexico sun can quickly become deadly to a confined animal.

For a fee Carlsbad does offer day-use pet kennels in an air-conditioned location, but be aware that your dog will not be fed, walked, or otherwise attended to while in the kennel. For specific information contact the park concessioner, Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company, at (575) 785-2281.

Some of the parks have more hospitable regulations. Following are four of the most pet friendly National Parks:

Yosemite National Park, California

Pets are allowed in developed areas in Yosemite and in campgrounds (except walk-in campgrounds and group campsites). They are not allowed in any Wilderness areas.

Yosemite’s general regulations are:

  • Pets must be restrained on a leash not more than six feet long or otherwise physically restrained
  • Leashed pets may not be left unattended
  • For the courtesy of other visitors, human companions are responsible for cleaning up and depositing pet feces in trash receptacles
  • Remember that pet food is also bear food: store pet food as if it were human food.

Some trails are open to pets, but they are limited. In general, pets are allowed on fully paved trails unless a sign designates otherwise. There are about two miles of paved trails on the Valley floor from which you can see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome, and a paved trail to the base of Bridalveil Falls. According to Pet Hotels of America the following trails are also open to pets:

  • Meadow Loop and Four Mile fire roads in Wawona
  • Carlon Road
  • Old Big Oak Flat Orad between Hazel Green Creek and Hodgdon Meadow.

For detailed information visit the pet page on Yosemite’s website.

The Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon welcomes leashed dogs on 13 miles of trails above the South Rim of the Canyon and in all developed areas at the South Rim. They are also welcome at Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, and Trailer Village.

Though dogs are restricted from excursions below the rim of the Canyon, you can board your dog at the South Rim kennel for day or overnight while you enjoy areas where they are not allowed. Reservations are recommended and proof of up-to-date vaccinations are required.

The North Rim has no kennel and considerably less access for pets. Leashed pets are only allowed on the bridle trail (greenway) that connects the lodge with the North Kaibab Trail, and the portion of the Arizona Trail that continues north from there to the park entrance station.

For kennel rates and detailed pet information visit the pet page on the Grand Canyon website.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia is one of the most pet friendly of the National Parks. There are 100 miles of hiking trails and two campgrounds in the park that are open to pets. The general restrictions at this park are:

  • Pets must be restrained on a leash no longer than 6 feet (2 m).
  • Pets should not be left unattended. Summer sunshine poses a threat to pets in vehicles.
  • Pet owners are responsible for removing pet waste from campground, picnic areas, parking lots, roads, and other developed areas.

For detailed information visit Acadia’s website.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

If you’re planning a visit to Shenandoah National Park with its cascading waterfalls, grand vistas, and deep forest wildernesses, you’ll find that your pooch is very welcome. The park has 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and allows your dog to accompany you on all but about 20 miles of those trails.

Shenandoah’s general restrictions are:

  • Your pet must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.
  • Pets are allowed in campgrounds and pet-friendly lodging is available.
  • Pets are allowed, if leashed, on most trails.
  • Pets are NOT allowed on Ranger Programs

There is more information and some reminders of what to consider when hiking with your dog at  the Shenandoah National Park website.

Not traveling to one of these parks? You can find information about pet policies at any national park by entering the word “pets” in the search field on the National Park Service website. If you find that the park you plan to visit has very restrictive policies, consider arranging to leave Fido at a nearby doggie daycare facility. Daycare facilities will require your dog’s vaccination records, so be sure to carry copies whenever traveling with your dog.