With nearly 300-million visits in 2021, the national parks are some of the most popular travel destinations in America. And while Fido isn’t allowed in all 423 parks within the system, there are a good number that do welcome four-legged visitors who are on their best behavior and follow a few simple rules. Does your pup have what it takes to be sworn into the BARK Ranger program?
New smells, lots of people, and plenty of wildlife are just a few of the factors that can be overwhelming for Fido when visiting a national park. To help determine if your pup is ready for the adventure, the National Park Service’s Healthy People Healthy Parks initiative created the BARK Ranger program in 2016. The program encourages a safe and fun visit for furry park-goers and their owners.
If you’re visiting a national park with Fido, start your trip at a visitor center and ask a park ranger or volunteer how your pup can “paw”ticipate in the BARK Ranger program. Dogs are not permitted in buildings, so someone will need to wait outside with your pooch. Most pet-friendly parks will have a pamphlet about where dogs are welcome included with trail maps and information near the door, so check that out while you wait.
At participating parks, a ranger will come out and go over the rules and where dogs are welcome within the park. Once you and Fido understand the rules, it’s time for him to raise his right paw and repeat after the ranger. The BARK Ranger pledge is an oath to protect the parks and yourselves by following four steps.
Bag your poop. Always use a leash. Respect wildlife. Know where you can go.
Bag Your Poop
While stepping in animal waste is one quick way to ruin a national park experience, there are several other reasons why it’s important to clean up after your pet, too. It might seem like leaving your pup’s poop behind when it’s off the beaten path isn’t a big deal, but pet waste can contain non-native plant seeds as well as harmful bacteria and other unnatural components that can harm wildlife and pollute water sources. Always carry extra bags with you, and make note of receptacle locations. Most parks that welcome pets, like New River Gorge National Park, also provide waste stations with bags.
Always Use a Leash
Your pet may do well under voice command, but national parks can be an unpredictable place. While you don’t want your pup to scare wildlife or other visitors, it’s also important to keep him safe. A chance encounter with wildlife like the porcupines that reside in Acadia National Park may not end well for Fido. Dogs should be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and should never be left unattended.
Porcupines aren’t the only creatures Fido might find in the wild. For the safety of pets, humans, and the furry creatures that call the parks home, visitors on two legs and four should avoid any contact with the native wildlife. An encounter with predatory animals like bears, alligators, mountain lions, and even venomous snakes could be extremely dangerous for everyone. For this reason, many parks like Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone have very limited areas where pups can explore on paw. No matter which parks you visit, stick to pet-friendly trails and always view wildlife from a safe distance.
Know Where You Can Go
Knowing where your dog is welcome before you set out on an adventure can save time and disappointment. Ask a park ranger for advice on which trails to take and what areas are a must-see. There are many opportunities for your pup to join you for a one-of-a-kind experience in the national parks. However, with the increasing popularity, many parks are moving to a permit or timed entry system, so be sure to plan your adventure with Fido in advance.
After your canine has taken the oath and is proclaimed an official BARK Ranger, you’ll receive his park ranger-signed certificate. Some parks, like Petrified Forest, provide dog treats and many sell collar tags in their gift shops, so your pooch can show everyone his achievement. At Indiana Dunes National Park, Friends of Indiana Dunes, Inc. has generously funded dog tags for all the pups who take the pledge.
If your pup wants to lead by example, he can take it a step further and become a BARK Ranger Ambassador. This Volunteers-In-Parks program, available at locations like the Blue Ridge Parkway, is an opportunity for humans and their canine companions to make one-on-one connections with other furry park guests and their owners, and spread awareness and encourage positive pet behaviors. Ambassadors are trained on how to approach visitors and explain the importance of following the BARK Ranger rules.