Dog Friendly US National Parks

by | Jan 12, 2024 | Hiking and Travel Tips

Want to bring your dog on a hike in a US National Park with you? We share, in our opinion, the top five dog friendly US National Parks.

The Grand Canyon is a more dog friendly US National Park than you might imagine.
Cotopaxi out for a stroll at the Eastern Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

The US National Parks provide a variety of valuable services and experiences. Roaming around freely with your best four legged friend isn’t always one of them though! But there are parks that they can enjoy with you. In this article we share five dog friendly US National Parks to go hiking with your pup at.
I’m a National Parks addict, dog lover, and I like to take my “main man” everywhere. I also prefer to go to places that he can come along with me. (Except for an annual trip abroad to somewhere like Greece, Patagonia, or Costa Rica!)

Dogs are welcomed in almost all US National Parks, but what they can and can’t do there varies in a high degree. I was very fortunate to have the chance without a dog to visit almost every US National Park (56/63 is my count as of this writing with all that are left located in Alaska and Samoa.) Cotopaxi and I like to go everywhere together. So I have started to research, figure out, and experience the US National Parks that he’s not only allowed to join me at; but ones that he is legally allowed to leave the car and go on a hike with me on!

Acadia National Park in Maine has an endless supply of dog friendly hiking trails.
Cotopaxi and I in Southwest Harbor Maine in Acadia National Park on one of its many dog friendly trails.

First things first…

It’s a privilege to bring your dog to a National Park. Please leash them, clean up after them, and be attentive. Most bear encounters on the Appalachian Trail occur because of unleashed dogs, this was communicated to me by a ranger when I hiked the trail in 2023. And while we are at it…Leave No Trace and Pack Your 10 Essentials :)!
Cotopaxi is a B.A.R.K. Ranger and if you choose to bring the best companions in the world to one please consider the same.

Now onto the fun stuff…

US National Parks that Cotopaxi and I love visiting are the following:

  1. Acadia National Park, Maine.
  2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
  3. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia.
  4. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana.
  5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan.
    (Sleeping Bear is technically a National Lakeshore but 95% of the park is dog friendly and we lived right by there. Cotopaxi hiked every dog friendly trail he could. There were a TON of them!)
    Plus Happy People Hike was founded in Michigan so we MUST include a MI Park!
Hiking in Acadia National Park with your dog is dreamy with these views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our Most Dog Friendly National Parks start in Maine!

  1. Acadia.
    Cotopaxi and I went there in 2023 on a several day break from the Appalachian Trail to meet a friend of ours. Outside of a few mountain trails (Precipice and Beehive trails for example) and a few of the beaches your dog can hike with you on all remaining trails. The carriage roads are relatively flat or with small grades and spaced out perfectly for dogs to hike. He and I had a great day exploring the Schoodic Peninsula region and then a few days enjoying the mountain hikes over on the Acadia Mountain end of the park. (These are much less visited areas of the park.)
    Not to mention our cabin at Gallagher’s Travels in Bar Harbor had a public dog park at it. Needless to say, Cotopaxi loved Acadia!
Bark Ranger has arrived to hike in the US National Parks.
Cotopaxi sporting his new B.A.R.K. Ranger Bandana in Virginia.

2. Shenandoah.
We were in this long and narrow Virginia National Park for 10 days as I hiked the 110 miles ish of the Appalachian Trail. The AT grades are relatively less steep in this park than on most of the AT and are great for doggos to hike. Big Meadows Lodge has pet friendly rooms and all three of our campgrounds had tons of pooches staying at them. The park’s campgrounds offer access to the Waysides as well that were great shorter walks when we weren’t on the AT. Overall this park is accessible to DC, Baltimore, and a few other cities on the East Coast. You can feel good knowing your pooch and you will be able to get out and explore. Of the dog friendly US National Parks I have visited, this one might be the best.

New River Gorge's Endless Wall is an outstanding US National Park Hike.

West Virginia’s National Park is NEW and DOGGO approved!

3. New River Gorge.
From the Endless Wall Trail to Long Point to Kaymoor Miners this West Virginia National Park famous for its rafting and nearby rock climbing/mountain biking. It also sports excellent dog friendly hiking trails.
The town of Fayetteville is a funky fun small town that features makers, artists, breweries, and coffee shops. We stayed at this Sasquatch themed airbnb with a HUGE fenced yard that is also pet friendly.
Cotopaxi likely won’t be rafting the New River anytime soon (his canoe and kayaking experiences are shaky at best). However he loves hiking in NRG and this newer National Park is a great one to visit.

Hit the three dune challenge with your dog in the pooch friendly Indiana Dunes National and State Parks.

4. Indiana Dunes
Cotopaxi’s first National Park was also his first tent camping experience and our first road trip with him. The National Park and State Park border each other and we did the 3 Dune Challenge that is technically inside the state park. Per their website “Leashed pets are allowed inside both the National and State Parks. Dogs are welcome on all beaches except for the lifeguarded swim areas at West Beach and the State Park. They are also allowed on every trail except Pinhook Bog Trail and the Glenwood Dunes Trail System.”

Indiana Dunes was also voted the #1 attraction in the state of Indiana by Go Pet Friendly.

This is an often overlooked US National Park. It is close to Chicago and accessible to a large piece of the Great Lakes Region. We camped at the Dunewood Campground and from there you can hike and bike along Lake Michigan via Beverly Shores. Make sure you get excellent grub at the Goblin and the Grocer (just a short walk from the campground.)

Sleeping Bear Dunes has a dozen dog friendly hiking trails in its National Lakeshore.

5. Sleeping Bear Dunes.
We lived in two different small towns in Northern Michigan for a summer that bordered this stunning National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan.
I was a volunteer for the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes and that involved trail maintenance, cleanups, and a few other items. This enabled Cotopaxi and I to hike the trails constantly. From Pyramid Point to Empire Bluff to the Platte River Trails to Alligator Hill we had TONS of dog friendly trail options. The only two trails I did that weren’t dog friendly are the Dune Climb and Sleeping Bear Point.
The ascent and descent grades are well suited for dogs as well. The small towns that lay around Sleeping Bear (Franklin, Interlochen, Empire, Leelanau, Leland, Northport, and more) were also all very dog friendly.
The only adventure I did that my partner and Cotopaxi stayed at home for was a ferry trip and backcountry outing to the Manitou Islands. I wrote about visiting the Manitou Islands on my website HERE!

Joshua Tree doesn't permit dogs on the trails but they can hike the dirt roads in this US National Park.
Cotopaxi in Joshua Tree National Park and one of the MANY dirt roads that few cars drive down, perfect for a stroll amongst the Yucca’s!

National Parks have their Pet Friendly Do’s and Don’ts for good reason.

For instance we currently live in the town of Joshua Tree California, next to the National Park. Dogs are allowed to hike/walk on the dirt roads there (which we do often) but not on the trails. The reason for this is the endangered bighorn sheep’s water sources on trails. The sources are imperative to their survival and they view dogs as threats. The sheep won’t go to the water sources if they smell/see/sense dogs nearby. Death Valley and Saguaro are two other parks he has visited but he’s not allowed on the trails.Then there are parks like the Grand Canyon. There are many trails he’s not allowed on but he can hike/walk the entire Rim Trail. The Grand Canyon is a big place ya know, the Rim Trail is all he needs. It’s LONG.

It seems there are three “grades” for pets in the parks.

Super friendly like the ones on our list, limited but possible like the Grand Canyon, and then ones you need to be creative or leave them at home like Joshua Tree.

If you insist on hiking with your dog and don’t want to make the pivots then the National Forests are your spot! These have much less strictness on where and when your dog can roam (still on leash with poop bags of course) but you and your pooches can really get after it.

Visiting the National Parks and the ability to bring your dog is an unforgettable experience. Depending on how you would like to spend your time there though should reflect with the decision of which park to visit with them. And whether or not to leave them at home or with a friend!

Happy Trails and Happy Hiking to you and your Pups!
Thanks for reading and supporting Happy People Hike. Comment below with any questions or your favorite dog friendly US National Parks to take your pups hiking on.

Mike R

Mike Rudd

Mike Rudd

Nomad, Dood Dad, Planet Lover. Hashtag59 & Happy People Hike Lead Intern. Freelance Writer and Content Creator. Health and Wellness Curator.

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