Ely MacInnes and her husband Tom, began to travel in the western United States with their 85-pound mutt, Alaska, in March 2020. Driving and living in an RV, they visited White Sands and Petrified Forest National Parks in New Mexico and Arizona before heading to California, Oregon and Washington. Sometimes they have trouble knowing where in Alaska they can and cannot roam, but they often find that they can have great experiences.
“We can have a great time looking at the park from the car and do the limited options that allow dogs,” said Ms. MacInnes. “Most people think you can’t bring your dogs into national parks, but many national parks actually make it very welcoming.”
In June of that year, the couple started a Facebook group, US National Parks With Dogs, to exchange advice and information about their travels and provide a forum for others to share their experiences, both positive and negative. The group now has nearly 5,000 members.
“We want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the parks, whether they have a dog or not,” said Ms. MacInnes, adding that another pup, a blue heeler named Smoky Joe, is now part of his family.
For people who want to enjoy the outdoors with their canine pals, planning a visit to the park has become easier in recent years thanks to numerous online resources, as well as expanded grooming programs. within the Park Service.
Here’s what you need to know about taking your pup to the parks.
Yes, dogs are allowed in most national parks
First of all: Dogs are, in general, allowed in national parks. But there are rules aimed at preserving the land, protecting wildlife and keeping dogs safe. In all parks, dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet, and pet waste pickup and disposal is required. Then, specific destinations may have their own rules. In Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, dogs are largely restricted to developed car campgrounds and paved roads, while others, such as White Sandsin New Mexico, has more areas open to dogs, although they must be on a leash.
Whatever your destination, do your research
The Park Service website has a section devoted to visiting petsincluding a map illustrating which parks allow dogs, and then most individual parks have sites with dedicated pet pages, offering the most reliable and current resources of information.
Danielle LaFleur and her husband, Brodin Ramsey, were traveling with their dog, Chia, since March. They make a point to talk to the park rangers upon arrival to get the most up-to-date information and suggestions on which places to visit.
“In Joshua Tree, the rangers directed me to a four-wheel-drive road where no one passes,” said Ms. LaFleur. “We’ve done quite a bit of exploring there.”
Other sources include sites such as AllTrails and apps including BringFido (for dog-friendly hotels and more). And remember that rules exist for a reason; Violating these can harm your dog and the experiences of other guests, and may lead to further restrictions on dogs in the future.
Join the BARK Rangers
Another reason to chat with the rangers is to find out if the park you are visiting is part of BARK Rangers program, an initiative that began about 20 years ago with free books, badges and bandanas aimed at promoting good dog and park management.
“The program encourages pets and pet owners to engage in responsible behavior in their national parks,” said Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist with the Park Service.
Those principles are: Change your pet’s poop. Always keep your pet on a leash. Respect the wildlife. Find out where you can go. Individual parks may have additional activities for dogs, such as ranger-guided adventure walks.
Other federal lands are often more dog-friendly
Chris Chao and his wife, Melanie, were along for the ride pyro, their Siberian husky, in 51 national parks. But the couple continued to find that other public lands, including areas managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, were more open to dogs. While national park sites are specifically chosen for conservation purposes, other federal lands are more multi-purpose, often allowing hunting and ranching. Because of this, many national forests and BLM sites allow dogs to be off-leash with their people, and trails are more accessible to dogs compared to dogs in national parks. Of course, even if your dog is allowed off-leash, they should still be controlled; your dog should not chase wildlife, animals or other hikers.
“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks,” Mr. Chao said, “are very dog-friendly, but in Sequoia National Forestall trails are dog-friendly.”
Adjust your expectations
“It’s quite a bit of traveling with a child. You have to plan for stops and potty breaks,” Mr. Chao said.
In national parks with more restrictions, this may mean skipping attractions and hiking, hiring a pet sitter (Rover is an app for that), ride your dog for the day, or tag along with a travel partner or friend.
Halef Gunawan and his partner, Michael Demmons, sometimes take turns exploring while the other stays with them German shepherd, Kana. When the family visited Joshua Tree, Mr. went on a solo hike. Demons that he wanted to try, as Mr. Gunawan Kana around the visitors’ center. However, they try to prioritize destinations where they can do things together.
“We didn’t just want to leave him in the van; we want to include him,” said Mr. Gunawan. “I can’t imagine traveling without him now. It was a great experience for the three of us.”
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