If you’ve been traveling with pets for a while, you’ve likely discovered that most of our national parks are not particularly pet friendly. There are a handful of exceptions. But, for the most part, pets are granted very little access to some of our most popular vacation destinations.
When you consider the National Park Service’s mission to conserve the land, plants, and animals within their boundaries, their restrictions are more understandable. With conservation as the primary motivation, their policies are designed to limit the impact of all outside forces on the natural environment.
Luckily, the National Forest Service has a multi-use directive to balance recreation, sustained harvesting of resources, environmental and wildlife protection, and conservation. This translates into much more welcoming pet policies!
Generally, leashed pets are welcome on all trails at all national forests across the country, and it’s rare that you’ll find a national park without a national forest nearby. That’s great news for you and your pup if your pet-friendly vacation plans include some spectacular hiking options!
When visiting national parks with Ty and Buster, we alternate days in the park where dogs are restricted, with days doing things that are more fun for the boys.
Here are some examples of our favorite national forest alternatives:
Black Hills National Forest when Visiting Badlands or Wind Cave National Parks
There’s nothing quite like the beauty of the Black Hills, and there are some great pet-friendly options to explore near Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks. Custer State Park offers some fantastic hiking options, but if that’s not enough, head over to Black Hills National Forest.
Spanning the border between southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, Black Hills National Forest covers over 1.25 million acres. Comprised predominately of ponderosa pine forests and grassland prairie, it’s a place where time seems to stand still.
Bridger-Teton National Forest when Visiting Grand Teton National Park
Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, and Shoshone National Forests are all within easy striking distance of Grand Teton National Park, so your pet friendly exploration options are virtually unlimited. Our favorite adventures with the dogs include walking from downtown Jackson to the top of Snow King for a great view of the valley, a three-mile hike up to sparkling Goodwin Lake, and a day spent hanging out in Atherton Creek campground.
Dixie National Forest when Visiting Bryce or Zion National Parks
Situated between Bryce and Zion National Parks, Dixie National Forest spreads across almost two million acres in southern Utah. Hiking here is a dream, with trails to meet every ability level. We chose a 5-miler out of Red Canyon and were rewarded with an absolutely perfect afternoon among the hoodoos with the boys.
Gallatin National Forest when Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is virtually surrounded by national forests, and you’ll find some absolutely stunning scenery along these routes. Two of our favorite areas are Paradise Valley, north of the park, and Gallatin River Canyon, west of Yellowstone – both in the Gallatin National Forest.
The Yellowstone River flows out the north border of the park, through the village of Gardiner, and up Paradise Valley to the town of Livingston. This spectacular river valley, flanked by the Absaroka Range to the east and the Gallatin Range to the west, offers world-class fishing, fantastic hiking, and stunning scenery.
From West Yellowstone, Hwy 191 takes you through Gallatin Canyon, where the milky-blue Gallatin River rushes over rocks that have been worn smooth. Turn-outs, campgrounds, and picnic areas are scattered along the river, so plan to take your time and soak up the beauty of this place.
I hope that the next time you encounter pet policies that seem to be holding you back you’ll remember this article and look for more accommodation opportunities nearby. If you’d like more information about our pet friendly travel with Ty and Buster, visit us at GoPetFriendly.com.