The Best Dog-Friendly National Parks for Leaf Season

Posted by Lauren Barker

Fall is in the air at our national parks, and as the temperature begins to dip, the leaves begin to pop with hues of orange, red, yellow and purple. Of course, autumn likely means more time outside for Fido, too. At these dog-friendly national parks, there’s no better time of year to visit with your pooch. Keep in mind that with fall foliage comes large crowds, so be sure to allow adequate time, check permit requirements, or try visiting on a weekday.

Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor, ME
"I need a moment." Photo by @kg_andthepups

Spend a glorious fall day with your pup in Acadia National Park, a featured attraction in the 2021 edition of our Ruff Guide to the United States. Start your tour with Carriages of Acadia, which invites you to travel with Fido down Acadia’s historic roads in a horse-drawn carriage on one of four guided excursions. If you would rather explore on your own, take the free, pet-friendly Island Explorer shuttle into the park and wander the trails, hike the granite peaks, and savor the natural beauty of the changing maple, birch and poplar leaves. Visit Jordan Pond House for famous popovers, lobster stew, or a refreshing glass of hand-squeezed lemonade on the lawn. You can also see Acadia splashed in shades of red, yellow and orange from the water with a scenic nature cruise aboard the Sea Princess. Narrated by an Acadia Park Ranger, the pet-friendly cruise will take you to the Great Harbor of Mount Desert and Somes Sound Fjord. Fall foliage in Acadia generally peaks in mid-October.

Constructed in 1900, the Canterbury Cottage Bed & Breakfast is a cozy alternative to traditional lodgings in Bar Harbor. Wake up to a hearty hot breakfast every morning before hitting Acadia's hiking trails or making the short walk to the downtown shops and harbor. Dogs of any size are welcome in the property’s Cottage and Garden rooms for an additional fee of $20 per night.

New River Gorge National Park

Glen Jean, WV
These views are “gorge-ous.” Photo by @summ_merr

Bring Fido to New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia, home to the world’s second oldest river. The New River cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, which are dominated by deciduous trees like oaks and maples. Start your visit with your leaf “pupper” by stopping at the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center. A short boardwalk leads to two observation decks, both with dramatic views of the gorge’s famous landmark bridge surrounded by the colors of fall. Then, take a scenic drive along Fayette Station Road, a one-lane loop that winds down under the bridge and across the river with numerous stops for photo ops. Finally, make your way south to Grandview for the highest overlooks in the park. Bring a picnic lunch, hike numerous trails and snap some photos for your pooch’s Gram. Peak leaf season in New River Gorge is late September through late October.

Stay with Fido in one of the pet-friendly cabins nestled among the trees at Adventures on the Gorge in Fayetteville, WV. One dog of any size is permitted for an additional fee of $75 per stay, and two dogs of any size are allowed for an additional fee of $100 per stay.

Yosemite National Park

Midpines, CA
“Is this why it’s called the Golden State?” Photo by @gustafolaf

Explore the great outdoors with your hound this fall at Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You’ll feel like you’re in another world while walking among granite monoliths, waterfalls and Giant Sequoias. Take a hike with Fido along the Wawona Meadow Loop, a flat, 3.5-mile path through one of the park’s largest meadows where colorful foliage from the surrounding hardwoods will dazzle and delight. For more scenic views, head to the Mirror Lake Trail, a paved 2-mile path that passes beneath the base of the iconic Half Dome and treats you to fall vistas of vibrant yellow maples and fiery red dogwoods. Mid-October to Mid-November is the best time to see the fall colors of Yosemite.

Go glamping with your pooch in an Airstream trailer at AutoCamp Yosemite. Fully equipped trailers feature plush bedding and spa-inspired bathrooms for human comfort, and furry family members receive a blanket, treats, waste bags and bowls. Two dogs up to 50 lbs are welcome for an additional fee of $75 per stay. If your pup is on the larger side, book a room at the Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp, where two dogs of any size are permitted for an extra fee of $25 per pet, per stay.

Shenandoah National Park

Front Royal, VA
“Orange you going to take our picture?” Photo by Lauren Barker

Spanning the entire length of Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the 105-mile Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive will give your dog a bird’s-eye view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The picturesque three-hour drive is wildly popular in the fall, when the leaves are changing colors. Stop along the way at one of 75 scenic overlooks to admire the beautiful views of bright yellow birches and poplars, orange and red black gums, dark red brown oaks, maples, and Virginia creeper. Most overlooks have trailheads that will provide a relatively easy hiking break for your four-legged friend. Of the 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, all but 20 are dog friendly. The timing of color changes varies from area to area, but you can check the park’s fall color webcam daily for the latest updates.

For a true cabin-in-the-woods getaway with sweeping views and unparalleled serenity, Shenandoah National Park offers a trio of pet-friendly properties: Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland Resort, and Lewis Mountain Cabins. Guests with pets can choose to ‘ruff it’ in a rustic cabin at Lewis Mountain or opt for a modern suite at Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland. All three locations operate from April to November and allow two dogs of any size for an additional fee of $30 per pet, per night.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO
“Life is golden.” Photo by @itsmeeejessicaaaa

Rocky Mountain National Park is known for many things, but in autumn it’s all about the aspens. The high-altitude trees turn to shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall, giving the mountainous landscape a golden hue. While pets aren’t allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain, there are plenty of opportunities for incredible views of fall foliage along the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake. Travelers and their pups will wind through more than 10 miles of aspen groves in the Kawuneeche Valley, and will likely spot wildlife like moose, elk and even black bears on the move. While the Rockies’ colors tend to peak in October, the Trail Ridge Road closes at the end of the month, or sooner if winter weather arrives. Be sure to check conditions before you begin your trip.

Spend the night at Discovery Lodge in Estes Park, located on 5 acres with a pond and dog-friendly walking trails just 10 minutes from the national park. Gorgeous Rocky Mountain views are visible from the hotel and the on-site dog park. Two dogs of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $20 per pet, per night.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Peninsula, OH
Falling for fall. Photo by @nicfulep

You won’t have to travel far out of the city to catch a glimpse of fall foliage at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Located just outside of Cleveland and Akron, this national park allows leashed dogs on more than 110 miles of trails, and its lowland and upland broadleaf forests put on a show that even Fido will enjoy. Take your pup to Ledges Overlook, a rock outcropping with an unobstructed view across the valley to observe pin oaks, dogwoods, and black gum in a variety of reds, while aspen and tulip trees dot the horizon with bright yellow, and the sugar and red maples bring hues of red, yellow and orange. Continue on the Ledges Trail for a 2.2-mile loop, or head to the Brandywine Gorge Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that leads to two overlooks of the 65-foot cascading Brandywine Falls. Colors generally peak during the third week of October in Cuyahoga Valley.

Stay close to the park at Staybridge Suites Akron Stow Cuyahoga Falls, and relax in the indoor heated pool and whirlpool after a day of hiking. Complimentary breakfast and evening receptions with great food and drinks are also included. Two pets up to 80 lbs are permitted for an additional fee of $50 for stays of 1 to 6 nights, or $150 for longer stays.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Townsend, TN
“Smile and say “autumn!”” Photo by Lauren Barker

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact dates for the peak of fall colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park due to the wide range in elevation throughout the park. However, this also means that no matter when you’re visiting in the fall, there’s a good chance you’ll catch a dazzling display. Beginning in mid-September, trees at the highest elevations like American beech, mountain maple, yellow birch and pin cherries begin to turn, so just driving through the park along Newfound Gap Road is a sight to see. If you’re visiting from early to mid-October, take Fido for a drive along the Foothills or Blue Ridge Parkways, when colors above 4,000 feet begin to pop. Lower elevations are most vibrant from mid-October to early November, making a drive through Cades Cove a must-do. Fall is also the perfect time to spot wildlife like black bears, deer and elk in Cades Cove as they prepare for colder temperatures, and wildflowers along the road add to the colorful landscape.

After a day of leaf peeping, you and your pup can kick back in a cozy cabin at the Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend. All cabins feature luxurious feather beds, wood-burning fireplaces, and private porches with hot tubs where you can continue admiring the colors of fall. Dogs of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $50 per stay.

Ready for a Road Trip?

Photo by Linda Segerfeldt


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Have you and Fido visited a national park for fall foliage? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

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