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Outdoor excursions are that much more enjoyable when you have a four-legged friend by your side. And if your pup isn’t getting enough exercise from their daily walks or time at the dog park, you might want to consider a bigger excursion at one of the country’s famed national parks. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has a tool to identify parks that are pet-friendly, also outlining the principles of the B.A.R.K. Ranger Program.
If you and your pooch are ready for an adventure at a national park, you’ll want to know which destination will be the right fit. Thankfully, travel experts have recommendations for the best U.S. national parks to visit with your dog—who might end up enjoying the trip even more than you do. Read on to find which parks you should explore alongside your furry friend.
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A top destination for you and your dog is Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, where you can both enjoy the scenery and take on the trails. “Leashed dogs are welcome on all of the park’s 125 miles worth of trails, which are generally of a good standard,” Erika Barnes, founder and CEO of Pet Smitten, tells Best Life.
Aside from gorgeous forests and sprawling landscapes, Cuyahoga Valley is also a safe choice for you and your dog. “It has a relatively temperate climate, typically warm but not hot in the summer (great for making sure your dog avoids heat stroke) and cold but not freezing in the winter,” Barnes says. “There’s also, compared to many of our national parks, a refreshing lack of creatures and critters that might do harm to you and your dog. Sure, they are there, but for example, there have been no venomous snakes found at the park.”
Head up north to Maine and take in breathtaking views at Acadia National Park with your dog in tow. According to the park’s website, you both can explore 100 miles of hiking trials, 45 miles of carriage roads, and stay the night at the Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods campgrounds.
“There are plenty of trails to explore with your pup, and you can even bring them on a kayak or canoe trip,” Matt James of the travel blog Visingtingly says, adding that as in other national parks, you’ll want to make sure your dog is always on a leash.
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You may not have heard of this national park, but it’s certainly one your pup will enjoy, Adam Marland, travel photographer and writer for We Dream of Travel, tells Best Life.
“The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is tucked away in a remote part of Southwest Colorado and is one of the most beautiful but overlooked parks in the NPS system,” Marland explains, adding that leashed dogs can accompany you at visitors centers, campgrounds, and the three primary hiking trails at the park.
While exploring, you can discover the park’s famed “sheer black canyon walls,” Marland says, which are nearly 2 million years old, according to the park’s website. “Wandering amongst the alpine nature with thriving wildlife, unbeatable views, and a plethora of smells for the pup to enjoy will be an experience that neither of you will forget.”
Another puppy paradise is White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Described as being “like no place else on earth,” this park offers something for everyone. “White Sands is a giant playground whether you’re on two legs or four,” Marland says. “The park is among the most dog-friendly in the country, allowing you and your pets to explore absolutely anywhere you want to go, except for inside the visitor center.”
If you’re looking for a unique adventure, Marland recommends that you and your pup try sandboarding in the dunes of gypsum sand. “Worth noting for those sensitive puppy pads is that the gypsum present at White Sands differs from actual sand in that it does not retain heat, meaning it will not burn your feet even in extreme temperatures,” he explains.
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Head to Arizona and explore Petrified Forest National Park with your dog, setting out on trails to look at the famous petrified logs or taking a scenic drive through the park.
Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler notes that you can’t take your canine companion into buildings at Petrified Forest, but they’re welcome on paved roads and hiking trails in the backcountry. “As such, you can explore the park’s colorful badlands and millennia-old fossilize wood, all with your best friend in tow,” she says. “In fact, rangers even have treats on hand to give to pups!”
In addition, this park is not as well known, which could end up being a plus for you and your dog, Alex Schnee, of the travel blog Alex on the Map, explains. “The fact that this is a lesser-known park means that you don’t have to worry about wrangling your dog around strangers nearly as much,” he notes.
The Grand Canyon is on many of our bucket lists, so why not enjoy it alongside your best bud? The national park welcomes dogs along the Rim Trail, as well as at Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Grand Canyon Village, Steve Morrow, travel expert and founder of Paddle About, explains.
Be mindful of the heat and how it might affect your pooch in the summer, Morrow says. But if the weather gets a bit too warm or you want to explore a part of the park that’s not pet-friendly, the Grand Canyon Kennel is open all year in the event you need to board your pup for a bit. “If you are looking for an unforgettable adventure with your pup, Grand Canyon National Park is worth a visit,” Morrow concludes.
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West Virginia also offers a puppy paradise, if you venture to New River Gorge National Park—home to one of the oldest rivers in North America.
“America’s newest national park welcomes dogs of all colors and sizes, as they’re allowed on all trails within the park and preserve,” Sabrina Kong, DVM at We Love Doodles, says, adding that in order to enjoy the park, dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet.
You can explore the landscapes and get in some exercise, Kong adds, noting that you should check out the park’s largest waterfall, Sandstone Falls, as well as Brooks Falls on the west side of the river for “loads of water-fun.”
Debbie Littany, site owner of LongLiveDog.com, also recommends whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, or taking a scenic drive through this park. As with all national parks on this list, however, you will want to check individual park’s rules and requirements to ensure that you and your pooch have a pleasant and penalty-free visit.