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These Dog-Friendly National Parks Get Two Paws Up

As with pretty much every other activity, hiking is best enjoyed with a dog by your side. Especially if that dog is me, and the hike is through a national park. As fun as it is to road trip around the country in our RV, I’m here to tell you that dogs definitely experience FOMO, particularly when it involves the opportunity for adventure. While not all national parks are very dog-friendly, for their own valid reasons, there are plenty of parks where I’ve been able to get outside and hike my heart out—at least until I get exhausted from over-excitement, and then my dads will need to carry me. These are some of my very favorite dog-friendly national parks, where you should take your bark rangers, too! 

The Boardwalk Trail at Congaree National Park is one of my faves!

Congaree National Park, South Carolina
You might be thinking that a place resembling a giant swamp probably isn’t the best destination for dogs, but this South Carolina park is full of surprises! Sure, I can’t go kayaking on Cedar Creek or the Congaree River, but the trails here are all open for leashed dogs, including the uber-popular Boardwalk Trail, which weaves through huge trees and over murky waterways. My favorite thing about Congaree is how flat it is, so it’s easy on my little legs. 

I got a little tired at Petroglyph National Monument, ok?

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Dogs love petroglyphs as much as people! Which is why this Albuquerque park is one of my favorites, thanks to its thousands of ancient petroglyphs carved into the dark desert rocks. There are four different hiking sections at the park, and dogs are allowed on all of them except the Boca Negra Canyon area, which is typically too crowded, and to be quite honest, way too steep for me anyway. But the Piedras Marcadas Canyon trail is a lot of fun to scurry through (so many petroglyphs!), as is the volcanoes day use area on the western edge of the park. Fortunately for all of us, the volcanoes aren’t active, so we don’t need to worry about running away from lava. Be sure and bring the leashes, though, because there’s a lot of wildlife out here (rattlesnakes, coyotes, etc.) that don’t mix with dogs. 

I put the “pet” in Petrified Forest.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
The Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park is paws-down one of my favorite trails of all time. It’s the perfect length, the perfect elevation, and it’s just beautiful, filled with colorful badlands and shimmering logs of petrified wood the size of boulders. And this is just the tip of the iceberg at this Arizona park, as it’s the rare place where dogs are allowed on all trails, as well as wilderness areas, if you’re looking to get away from potential crowds.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
So dogs aren’t actually allowed inside the caves, for obvious reasons, but above the surface, it’s a whole different story. Most people and pups who come to this Kentucky park, famed for the largest cave on Earth, don’t realize there are more than 70 miles of hiking trails to explore above ground, through lush forests and along lazy rivers. With so much tree cover, not to mention the mostly flat terrain, it’s ideal for a short-legged dog like myself! 

Just because I can’t go into the caves at Mammoth Cave doesn’t mean I can’t explore the forests!

White Sands National Park, New Mexico
I’ve decided I’m a big fan of sand, but not so much the ocean, which is what makes White Sands my dream park—I can have all the sandy fun without all those crashing waves! This New Mexico park, the newest of the 62 major national parks, is pretty much a free-for-all of fun for everyone, dogs included. Aside from the visitor center, we’re allowed to venture literally anywhere in the park, both on-trail and off. The fact that the park is almost entirely white gypsum sand, which is ever-changing in the wind and elements, makes it much more forgiving for roving humans and their furry friends. Next time we go, I’m hoping to try sand sledding! 

I got to practice my jumping skills at Acadia National Park. Turns out I’m amazing at it.

Acadia National Park, Maine
When we went to Acadia National Park in 2019, a park ranger gave me a treat. I loved this park immediately. And my love only grew when I got to explore Sand Beach (dogs are allowed during the off season) and the Ocean Path Trail, where I got to practice my climbing and jumping skills on all kinds of different rocks and boulders. Turns out I’m amazing at it! Altogether, Acadia has more than 100 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails, through a multitude of different terrains. This is also one of those amazing parks that has its own “Bark Ranger” program, which lets dogs become certified rangers by completing an easy checklist and following the rules of B.A.R.K. Dogs are then sworn in, and their owners can buy a special “Bark Ranger” collar tag, which I desperately want and need.

Trying to decide if I want to get my paws dirty at Sand Beach in Acadia…

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Anchored by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the famed Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah is one of the most famous parks on the East Coast for hiking, and luckily for me, dogs are invited along for the ride. And with more than 400 miles of dog-friendly trails to explore, it’s quite a dream for outdoorsy dogs like myself. I also appreciate the huge variety of hiking trails, landscapes, and difficulty levels, which means there are plenty of easier forest treks and waterfall routes that I can do without exhausting myself from yanking on my leash. Some popular picks for dogs include the Overall Run Trail, a five-mile route in the northern section of the park, leading to the park’s tallest waterfall, with amazing mountain views along the way. In the middle of the park, along central Skyline Drive, Mary’s Rock is under four miles, and especially great at sunset.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
With its soaring sand dunes (which you know I love), babbling brooks, shimmering lakes, and pristine forests, this Colorado park is basically one giant playground for dogs and people alike. The main difference between these dunes and the ones at White Sands is that, unlike white gypsum, these ones absorb heat from the sun, so they can get quite hot and uncomfortable on the paws, especially during summer afternoons. But Medano Creek provides a nice oasis for splashing around! In general, dogs are permitted on trails like Dunes Overlook and Mosca Pass, as well as the first ridge of dunes.

Header photo: Taking in the sights at White Sands National Park

Bark Ranger Finn is always excited to explore the great outdoors with his dads, whether it’s a sidewalk or a rest area, but his favorite places are dog-friendly trails in national parks. Just don’t forget his leash!

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