When it comes to this country’s national park system, it’s very much like the hotels listed on our site: there is no one-policy-fits-all regarding pet-friendliness (though a 6-foot leash is a popular theme). Some parks welcome you and your pet with open arms, offering extensive access to their facilities, while other won’t even let you through the front gate with a dog in the car. Can you imagine that??? The bottom line is that it’s a delicate balance between protecting the wildlife and landscape while also keeping your pet safe.
What follows are petswelcome.com’s personal picks for the top 10 national parks. While they are not necessarily the most popular ones, we chose them because they combine beauty, interest and, of course, pet access.
1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California
While there are some areas within this national park that are off-limits to pooches, it’s our number one pick because of its natural beauty, accessibility, and the effort the folks there have made to welcome pets. There are extensive areas with the San Francisco, Marin County, and Marin Headlands areas of the park where dogs under voice control are allowed off leash; in fact, this is the ONLY national park in the country that allows dogs off leash within its confines.
2. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Extending 75 miles from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet, this park encompasses 30,000 acres of unparalleled shoreline. Except on designated swimming beaches, your pet is welcome throughout the park, on a 6-foot leash.
3. Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
If you and your pet are into birding (viewing, not retrieving) this is the place to be. Located at the southernmost tip of the Jersey Shore, this refuge comprises 11,000 acres that are an important resting spot along the Atlantic Flyway. Among the birds you might see in their migratory travels are: sanderlings, ovenbirds, yellow-throated warblers, peregrine falcons, ospreys, and American kestrels. With the exception of the Two Mile Beach Unit, you and your dog (on a 6-foot leash) are free to explore the refuge.
4. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
“Like no place else on earth” this park proclaims, with good reason. Located at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, the “White Sands” are 275 acres of pure gypsum dune fields. You and your pet (on a 6-foot leash) are welcome to come and explore this extraordinary landscape.
5. Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
The longest section of undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore is situated on the Central Flyway, offering a wonderful opportunity for birdwatching. It includes 70 miles of sandy beaches, dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats and is an important habitat for many rare and endangered species. You and your pet can enjoy this seashore wilderness together, so long as you keep him on a 6-foot leash.
6. San Juan National Historical Site, Washington
Located north of Puget Sound, San Juan Island offers a spectacular seaside landscape and unparalleled opportunities for viewing an incredible diversity of ocean life, including porpoises, orca whales, seals, river otters, and shorebirds. With your pooch on a 6-foot leash, you can enjoy discovering it together.
7. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee and Kentucky
You and your dog (on a 6-foot leash) can have the hiking time of your life exploring the 125,000 acres of this park located in north-central Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky. Part of the Cumberland Plateau in the southern Appalachians, this park offers up rugged beauty, with its deep gorges, sandstone arches, and beautiful streams and rivers.
8. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Located on Lake Michigan, this park includes 35 miles of beaches, many of them open to you and your leashed pet. In addition to getting in some quality beach time, you can also take advantage of 100 miles of hiking trails or enjoy fishing for trout, bass or salmon.
9. Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
This is one of the few southwestern national parks that allows you and your pet to explore the archeological sites together. While pets are not permitted in Boca Negra Canyon, you can both explore the petroglyphs of Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon, as well as hike the Volcanoes Day Use Area, with its cinder cones and scenic overlooks.
10. Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas
The 97,000 acres of this preserve offer remarkable ecological diversity, encompassing eastern hardwood forests, the Gulf coastal plains, and Midwest prairies. It is located along two migratory flyway, the Central and Mississippi, and has been designated a “Globally Important Bird Area.” Offering opportunities for camping, hiking (45 miles of trails), fishing, and much more, there will be no lack of activities for you and your pooch, who is welcome to explore the place, on a 6-foot leash.
So get outside and have some fun with your favorite animal. We think you’ll find that dogs will provide a whole new dimension when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. Just be sure to follow a few common sense rules when taking your pet into the wilderness. To find out more about other parks, go to the National Park Service website and put “pets” in the advanced search box in the upper right corner of the home page. And, of course, please let us know about your favorite pet-friendly national park.