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Dogs in National Parks
Should your dog come with you?

My family visited Yosemite National Park over spring break this year, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a large number of families brought their dogs along on their vacations. Of course, I’m completely accustomed to people traveling with their canine family members, but I haven’t been to Yosemite since I was a child, and things seem to have changed. While there are still a lot of limitations on dogs in our national parks, it is easier to bring them along than it used to be.

In Yosemite, dogs are allowed in developed areas, on paved trails unless signs specifically indicate that they’re not allowed and in most campgrounds. They are only allowed on the floor of Yosemite Valley, which means that they can’t go on the vast majority of hikes in the park, since most of them involve hiking up towards waterfalls or to reach various lookouts. They can walk to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, which is certainly a classic Yosemite experience. Dogs have to be in a crate or on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length at all times, and are not allowed inside buildings.

If you are considering taking your dog on a trip to a national park, do your research first to decide if it’s the best plan for you and your family. Of course, all the reasons to take your dog with you are obvious. It’s great to have them with you, and it’s often no fun to leave them behind—for them or for you. On the other hand, bringing your dog will limit what you can do considerably. If you want a few easy walks in the park or will mainly be driving and enjoying the park from lookouts or in a campground, then a dog-inclusive vacation will likely suit you. If you want to explore remote regions of the park or hike the most scenic trails, your dog will be a barrier to that experience.

It’s worth considering the risks to your dogs of coming along with you to a national park. The danger of attack by wild animal or contracting contagious diseases from wildlife are relatively small, but it’s worth assessing that risk for the particular park you have in mind. Fleas and ticks are a concern as they are in all wild areas, so a prevention plan is important. More likely to be a problem for some dogs is being uncomfortable in a new area. If your dog is a happy-go-lucky type who is completely content in any situation as long as you and the food are around, then this is not an issue. If your dog struggles with new situations and places or in the presence of strangers, the national parks and the crowds they involve may make the vacation stressful for your dog.

The dog friendliness of national parks varies considerably, and only a few welcome dogs wholeheartedly. Yosemite is probably at the lower end for canine opportunities, but Acadia National Park allows dogs almost everywhere, including all trails except those few with ladders or other obstacles. Similarly, Shenandoah National Park allows dogs on over 95% of its trails, and the restricted ones all require rock climbing or other challenges.

Has your dog vacationed in a national park?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

photo by Jen/Flickr

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