TRAVELING WITH PETS TO NATIONAL PARKS
I receive a number of e-mail inquiries about the National Park Service policies on allowing pets (notably dogs) at national park sites. I thought I might take an opportunity to explain some of the general NPS regulations in this area, as well as some of the reasons behind them. Generally speaking, the rules and regulations on bringing pets into national parks are fairly restrictive, and so if you are planning anything more than a day outing, you may really be better off leaving your pets at home or placing them in kennels in towns near the parks you are planning to visit (some parks even maintain a list of kennels in the area). In most cases, bringing pets severely limits your options for exploring the trails or backcountry areas at our national parks.
While pet regulations may vary somewhat from park to park, the standard policy in most national parks is that pets must be leashed or physically restrained at all times and pet leashes may be no longer than six feet in length. In addition, pets may not be left unattended, tied or physically confined.
Some parks like Bryce Canyon NP or Capitol Reef NP allow pets near campgrounds and visitor centers, but not on trails or in backcountry. At Zion NP pets must be leashed at all times, and though they are not permitted on unpaved trails or in backcountry, they are permitted in campground and on a two-mile paved bike trail. At Canyonlands NP, pets may accompany visitors in frontcountry areas, which include overlooks, paved and two-wheel-drive dirt roads, and the Squaw Flat and Willow Flat campgrounds. At Grand Canyon NP, leashed pets are allowed on the rim trails throughout the developed areas in the park but not below the rim.
The NPS offers several explanations as to why the presence of pets is regulated in the parks. Dogs, the most common traveling companion, are natural predators that may harass or even kill native wildlife which is protected within a park's boundaries. Domestic dogs and cats also pose several threats to natural resources. They retain a primitive instinct to mark their territories with scent and can spread diseases to other wildlife. Many national parks include narrow trails, and since pets are sometimes hard to control, even on a leash, they may trample or dig up fragile vegetation.
The park regulations are designed for the pet's protection as well. At Blue Ridge Parkway they ask you to keep your pet on a leash, because when a loose pet chases an animal like a squirrel or a raccoon, the wild animal's ability to survive is threatened, and when it is threatened, it may react aggressively. In some cases unleashed dogs have been injured or killed by large wildlife. At Glacier NP, mountain lion sightings have increased in recent years, and they warn you not to leave pets tied up at your campsite. As they put it, "unattended pets may attract a lion and result in the loss of your pet." At Theodore Roosevelt NP, the warning is "bison and pets do not mix."
The Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service have similar restrictions on pets at their developed sites and areas, but since they tend to have far fewer developed areas than the national parks, they may offer a better alternative for people who wish to travel with their pets. Common sense should tell you that if you are planning a trip with your pet to any federal lands, it is probably a good idea to find out about specific rules regulations ahead of time.
At national parks and at other federal sites, guide dogs and hearing-assistance dogs are not considered pets, so regulations governing their presence are far less restrictive. Some parks, however, require you to register these animals upon your arrival.
Useful resources for traveling with your pets:
Pet Vacations - A web site offering information on pet accommodations and travel tips
Travel With or Without Pets : 25,000 Pets-R-Permitted Accommodations, Petsitters, Kennels & More - a 512-page paperback, in its 8th edition.
The Portable Petswelcome.com: The Complete Guide to Traveling with Your Pet.