Your pup can be a BARK Ranger at these dog-friendly national parks

A guide to which parks offer a tail-wagging good time for the whole family and what to do when Fido isn’t welcome

Photo: Amanda Adler

Pet owners planning a national park vacation may quickly learn that their dogs are not able to join them for walks along the geothermal features at Yellowstone National Park or on an airboat ride through the Everglades. While the risks to your pup at these locales may seem obvious, many parks also restrict access for dogs to protect the local plant and animal life. But don’t be discouraged—there are still a lot of great options available for those looking to bring their four-legged friends with them to national parks across the U.S.

Here are some of my favorite dog-friendly parks, each of which offers a great experience that the whole family can enjoy together.

A dog sitting on the top of a bluff at Acadia National Park
Maine’s Acadia National Park is often regarded as one of the most pet-friendly national parks in the United States. | Photo: Kimberly Barber

In the East: Acadia National Park

Maine’s Acadia is often regarded as one of the most pet-friendly national parks in the U.S., and it’s not without good reason: The park boasts nearly 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads that you can enjoy with your pups. This includes the relatively easy Wonderland Trail, which meanders throughout a beautiful pine forest and ends with sweeping ocean views. More experienced hikers can tackle the 7.1-mile Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail for breathtaking views of the park from above.

Just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park also offers a wealth of trail options to hike with your pooch, and the park lodges even offer dog-friendly rooms. 

Pets are also allowed on all the trails, as well as on watercraft such as kayaks and paddleboards, at the country’s newest national park, New River Gorge in West Virginia. 

A black and white dog with a red bandana sitting in the grass at Hot Springs National Park
Dogs are welcome on all 26 miles of trails at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. | Photo: Amanda Adler

In the South: Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas offers a unique experience as the park centers around the architecture of historic bathhouses. Dogs are welcome on all 26 miles of trails in the park, but dog owners will be equally excited to know that their furry pals are allowed to dine with them inside one of the historic buildings-turned-eatery, Superior Bathhouse Brewing. Here humans can sample brews crafted from thermal spring water, while pups are treated to complimentary Superior Bathhouse bandanas.

Pets are also allowed on all trails, including the boardwalk, at Congaree National Park in South Carolina. 

At Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, dogs are not permitted inside the namesake cave, but with more than 80 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails throughout rolling hills and scenic river valleys, there’s lots of outdoor exploration for your best friend to enjoy. While the humans see the inside of Mammoth Cave, pups can relax at the onsite kennel. 

A family with their two dogs standing in front of the entrance sign for Petrified Forest National Park
Visitors to Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park can enroll their dogs in the park’s BARK Ranger program. | Photo credit: Amanda Adler

In the West: Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park encourages dog owners to visit any park entrance booth or visitors center to enroll their dogs in the BARK Ranger program. After agreeing to the rules on the official BARK Ranger card, your four-footed participants get a treat. You can even purchase special BARK Ranger pet tags to commemorate Fido’s visit. Whether touring the park’s Rainbow Forest or the charming Painted Desert, leashed dogs are permitted on all of the trails and in the backcountry within the national park.

Grand Canyon National Park is a “must-see” destination for many, and leashed pets are allowed on trails above the South Rim (but not on trails that take you into the canyon itself). 

Dogs—and even horses—can join you for hours of excitement as you see the glistening wave-like dunes of gypsum sand at White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

Keep in mind that many national parks, especially those in the Southwest, get very hot in summer. Never leave your pets unattended in your vehicle as heat poses a serious threat.

Very large arch structure with some greenery in the foreground and a city skyline and sunset in the background
St. Louis’ Gateway Arch National Park is a great option for roaming with the furry family in tow. | Photo: Sanna Boman

Other dog-friendly national parks

Dog lovers will find St. Louis’ Gateway Arch National Park to be a convenient option for roaming with furry family members in tow. While your pet can’t go inside the famed arch, you can wander the grounds together freely, and snap keepsake photos with this distinctive landmark.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado also welcomes leashed pets in all day-use areas of the park, including the play area of the dune field. 

Pups who make it to the largest national park in the U.S., Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, can join their humans on trails within the park and in the backcountry.

Small dog standing on a dirt/sand roadway with red rock formations behind it
The enchanting hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah offer endless chances for your furry friends to frolic. | Photo: Amanda Adler

Try a dog-friendly state park 

While not all national parks allow dogs on their trails, many nearby state parks provide opportunities for pups to explore. Here are two to check out.

Goblin Valley State Park: Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks are known for their striking beauty, but not necessarily for offering dog-friendly trails. However, the enchanting hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park offer endless chances for your furry friends to frolic.

Custer State Park: South Dakota’s stunning Custer State Park is such a compelling place to visit that your pooch won’t miss out on seeing the Badlands or journeying into the dark tunnels at Wind Cave National Park.

Related: How to RV With Pets

Follow BARK Ranger rules

Whether your pets are joining you at the campground or hitting the trails for epic hikes, be sure to follow the National Park Service BARK Ranger rules:

  • Bag your pet’s poop: Pet owners are responsible for removing pet waste from all areas in the park. 
  • Always use a leash: Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
  • Respect wildlife: Don’t harass or harm wildlife by making sounds or approaching animals.
  • Know where you can go: Be sure you know where your furry friends are allowed to visit at each park.