National Parks, Camping, and Dogs

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All year round, people like to pack up their cars with tents, cooking supplies, hiking gear, and sometimes even their dogs. Camping and hiking require a lot of preparation and know-how, but how does that change when you’re bringing along your four-legged friend? Here are some things to keep in mind when you decide to bring your dog along on your adventure.

Tip: Keep in mind that your dog may not like camping. Some dogs may also need to be tent trained so they are comfortable (similar to crate training).

Before you prepare for your trip, keep in mind that many campgrounds, trails, and National Parks are notdog friendly. There are often strict rules in natural areas and it might be illegal to bring your dog with you. It might sound harsh, but these laws and rules are set in place to preserve the beauty and health of their environments as well as to keep you and your dog safe. Dogs may intimidate the local animals, carry diseases that are harmful to the local wildlife, or could be hunted by local predators. Keep them safe and always research ahead of time to learn the requirements of your chosen destination.

Don’t be discouraged though! There are parks and campgrounds that are dog friendly, or have nearby dog-friendly alternatives that still give you and your pup similar sites and experiences. Check out National Park Paws and their article 5 Popular National Parks & Their Dog Friendly Neighboring Alternatives for some ideas or inspiration for your trip!


When packing for your trip, you must pack for your pup as well; if it’s helpful, consider what your dog might need for a long walk. You would need basics, such as the following:

  • Leash
  • Drinking water and bowls
  • Treats
  • Collar or harness
  • Up-to-date dog tags
  • Dog-waste bags

These cover the basic elements, but make sure to plan ahead and consider what your pup will potentially need for your specific destination.

  • Cool vest or water-proof jacket (to keep them cool or warm)
  • Dog boots or balms (to prevent paw burns or frostbite)
  • Dog seat belt or something to keep them secure in the car
  • Car seat covers (to keep your car clean and tidy)
  • Food that can be used for their meals and carried with you on hikes
  • First aid kit (for yourself as well as your dog)
  • Medications your dog is taking (if any)
  • Dog bed (if your pup is not sleeping next to you or for extra comfort)
  • Toys (depending on the length of the trip; they may grow bored)
  • Comb and flea/tick repellant (good for if they get into burrowing plants or encounter these common pests)
  • Dog wipes (for messy paws or a quick bath)

What your dog might need depends on your destination and your situation. Try to cover the basics without getting bogged down with too much to carry or pack. Needs and wants are not always the same, so stay organized and light, but also prepared!

Bonus Ideas:

  • Containers to carry your used dog-waste bags—if you cannot bury your dog’s waste according to regulations, or there aren’t any proper waste bins in the vicinity, consider special dog waste containers for your trip. You can pack the dog poo out of the area, leaving it clean and waste-free.
  • Dog backpack—your dog may be large enough to carry some of their own supplies, making it easier on you. Make sure it is not too heavy for them or too hot.
  • Small bell—you can attach it to your dog’s collar or backpack so you can locate them easily in leash-free areas or in possible emergencies.

Tip:Research animal hospitals or local vets in the area ahead of time. You may not have time or access to look them up in an emergency.


Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

Another tip for a great and eco-conscious trip with your pup is the Leave No Trace Seven Principles (LNT). Leave No Trace is not only a motto adopted by many outdoor enthusiasts who are determined to care for the environment, but it is also an organized community that supports researched education on caring for the earth. “Leave No Trace provides research, education and initiatives so every person who ventures outside can protect and enjoy our world responsibly,” says their website.

This eco-friendly advice can apply to any trip you have in mind for you and your dog! It can help in deciding where you want to go and how you plan to travel. When you follow this advice, you can feel good about protecting the local wildlife as well as leaving the area ready for other travelers to enjoy.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles are as follows:

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

These principles are not specific instructions, but rather reminders of how one ought to think when visiting and enjoying the outdoors. As dog owners, you can apply the principles to yourself and how you care for your dog. If you need further support or ideas on how to do this, consider National Park Paws’ article about these same principles. You can also get a visible reminder of these important principles at the LNT website where they offer stickers and other educational materials.


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To Leash or Not to Leash?

Going camping, hiking, or traveling can be freeing—a dog should be allowed to go without a leash, right? More often the opposite is true. Leashing your dog should be seriously considered even in leash-free areas or backcountry outings where leashes aren’t required.

Most national parks and campgrounds strictly require leashes—leashes that are six-feet-long or less. When packing a leash for your pup, look ahead of time for these rules so you are prepared.

When you have the option of letting your dog off the leash, consider these questions.

  • Is my dog off-leash trained?
  • Does my dog have a high-prey drive that can encourage them to ignore their training?
  • Is the environment safe?
    • Are there prey animals that will consider hunting my dog in the area?
    • Will my dog eat plants in the local area that are legally protected or toxic to my dog?
    • Are there cliffs or vegetation that can pose a danger to my dog?
  • Can I recall my dog when there are distractions in the area?
  • Will I be committed to paying attention to my dog at all times?
  • Will my dog be aggressive toward other dogs we might meet on the trail?

If you are unsure or cannot answer these questions, you might want to keep your dog leashed for their safety as well as the safety and comfort of those around you.


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BARK Rangers

Several National Parks across the country have a program for dogs and their owners called BARK Rangers. It does not grant your dog exemptions to the park rules, but rather it is a commitment to following the rules and being an example. Your dog can become a BARK Ranger in participating areas and may be eligible for receiving an official BARK ranger tag or badge (some parks offer them for a donation fee).

BARK Ranger participants pledge to:

Bag your dog’s waste

Always use a leash

Respect wildlife

Know where you can go

Learn more about the BARK Ranger program and its participating parks in this article: The Bark Ranger Program. You can also learn about BARK Ranger Gracie making a difference in Glacier National Park in Montana.


Waste Removal

Disposal of dog waste is very important when traveling. Some dog owners make the mistake of assuming dog waste is natural and biodegradable, but dog waste poses a risk to the environment and the local health of animals and people.

This risk includes parasites, harmful bacteria, and other diseases that can be spread by your dog’s waste if it is not properly disposed. These pose a direct health threat to the local wildlife as well as other travelers and their pets.

The other problem with leaving dog waste is surface runoff—water that comes in contact with pet waste. This water can carry the diseases and parasites to local water sources, like beaches, rivers, and lakes, polluting these bodies of water. Dog waste also carries a high amount of excess nutrients that can start algal blooms in the water that are harmful to local water life and the environment.

If there are no commodities, such as waste bins or bathrooms where you are, you can do your part by burying your dog’s waste with any human waste. This waste must be buried six inches deep so it can be broken down by bacteria at that depth. It also needs to be over 200 feet away from any trails or water sources.

Many outdoor organizations encourage you to “pack it up, pack it out.” There is a risk that comes with burying waste—one might bury it too close to a water source they didn’t notice or something similar. That is why travelers are encouraged to pack the waste up in air-tight containers and take it back to somewhere they can properly dispose of it.

A convenient container for this is the Doo Doo Tube—your dog can even carry it. It holds in odors and germs, so you don’t have to smell the waste as you walk.

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Aftercare

You went on a hike, had a weekend camping, or visited a beautiful National Park—humans are often exhausted after all that fun and traveling. We can’t forget that our pups need time to rest and recover from their trip as well. Here are some tips to help your dog rest up:

  • Check for bugs—ticks or fleas your pup might have picked up.
  • Give them a nice bath.
  • Let them rest a few days—don’t push them to exercise until they’ve recovered.
  • Check for burrs—plants love to bury themselves in dog fur.
  • Hydrate their paws—use a dog balm that is safe for them if they ingest it.
  • Give them a nutritious meal.
  • Always give them access to lots of fresh water.

Related Articles

5 Products to Keep Dogs Cool for Summer Walks

Hurricane Preparation for Your Pup

How to Be an Eco-Friendly Pet Parent 

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