10 Unique Dog-Friendly National Park Experiences

Posted by Lauren Barker

America’s national parks are more popular than ever, and everyone who visits, including Fido, has a bucket list of experiences they hope to achieve. Unfortunately, finding dog-friendly things to do in national parks can be a challenge. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve highlighted some of the best and most unique experiences you and your four-legged adventurer can enjoy together.

1. Go Sandboarding

Mosca, CO
“Where’s the ocean?” Photo by @linda.e.cockrell

Who says you need snow to sled? In Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado, you and your pooch can ride the tallest dunes in North America. Stop by one of the local outfitters to rent a sandboard or sled that’s made specifically for sliding on the dunes. A similar experience awaits you and your furry daredevil at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, home to the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. You can purchase waxed snow saucers in the park’s gift shop, or bring your own. Just remember that sand gets hot in the summer, so be sure to protect your pup’s paws by sledding in the early morning or evening, or with his own pair of boots.

After all that fun in the sand, Fido will be dog-tired and ready to call it a night at Best Western Alamosa Inn in Alamosa, CO. Two dogs of any size are allowed for an additional fee of $20 per pet, per night.

2. See the First Sunrise in the Continental U.S.

Bar Harbor, ME
“Why are we up so early?” Photo by @fin_n_bix

If Fido is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, take him to Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine. From the summit of the park’s Cadillac Mountain, you and your pup can be among the first to see the sunrise in the continental United States that day. If your pooch is an avid hiker, leave extra early and take the 7.1-mile roundtrip hike to the top. For lazier Labs, a daily vehicle permit can be obtained that will allow you to drive to the summit parking area for easy access to lookouts. In addition to receiving the first rays of sun each morning, Cadillac Mountain is also the highest point on the east coast of the U.S. accessible by car.

Book a room at Balance Rock Inn on the Ocean in Bar Harbor, and you’ll be just a short drive from Acadia’s hiking trails. Dogs of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $40 per night. Three campsites in Acadia also permit pets for no additional fee - Blackwoods, Seawall and Schoodic Woods. Reservations are highly recommended for each.

3. Take an Airboat Adventure

Miami, FL
“Ready for the wind in my fur!” Photo by Facebook.com/CoopertownAirboatRentals

What would a trip to Everglades National Park be without an exciting adventure on an airboat? Fido is welcome to join you for a ride through south Florida swamps with Coopertown Airboats. Start your visit by exploring Coopertown’s alligator exhibit, where you’ll spot rehabilitated alligators, snakes and turtles. One of their trained experts will teach you about the incredible reptiles and other animals that call the area home. After meeting the locals, your guide will take you and your pup on an educational airboat tour over 9 miles of sawgrass prairies, pointing out flora, fauna and native wildlife. Once you’re back on land, you’ll have the opportunity to have your photo taken with a baby alligator. Private tours are also available.

For all the creature comforts, stay outside Everglades National Park at Miami International Airport Hotel. Two pets of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $25 per pet, per night. If you and your pup prefer to “ruff” it, Flamingo Campground in Homestead accepts dogs for no additional fee.

4. See Old Faithful Erupt

Yellowstone National Park, WY
“They call me Old Faithful, too.” Photo by @the_stanasaurus

Fido is welcome to join you for perhaps the most famously unique experience in any national park, the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. This natural wonder, true to its name, erupts at predicted intervals around the clock, spewing boiling hot water up to 184 feet in the air. Dogs may not walk on the boardwalks or trails within the park, but there's a shaded area located about 100 yards away where you and Fido can view the spectacle. Once he’s marked Old Faithful off his bucket list, your pup can enjoy a leisurely drive along Yellowstone Loop, where he can watch for wildlife and steaming fumaroles.

Stay with Fido at Old Faithful Lodge Cabins, where you can also view the famous geyser from the lobby. Pets of any size are permitted for an additional fee of $25 per stay.

5. Kayak or SUP on Glacial Waters

Sedro-Woolley, WA
“Who needs a paddle? Just use your paws.” Photo by @3frenchiesinapod

Just a few hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park boasts more than 300 glaciers atop jagged mountain peaks. These ancient rivers of ice grind rocks into a fine powder called glacial flour, which is carried down streams to Diablo Lake. Bring your own canoe, kayak or SUP and explore this stunning reservoir from Colonial Creek North Campground. You and your four-legged paddler can spend the day admiring the alpine landscape and beautiful turquoise color of the water. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, spend the night at Colonial Creek Campground, where dogs are welcome for no additional fee.

If Fido prefers cozier digs, Hotel Leo in Bellingham will greet him with treats, bowls, mats, and a pet rug. Dogs of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $25 per stay.

6. View Synchronous Fireflies

Hopkins, SC
A mesmerizing phenomenon. Photo by @congareenps

Once a year, a phenomenon of the insect world takes place in Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC. For a few weeks in late May and early June, male fireflies flash in unison to alert the females. This mesmerizing display begins each evening at dusk. While dogs are not allowed on the Fireflies Trail or boardwalk during the event, you can still enjoy the incredible show at the much less crowded and pet-friendly Kingsnake Trailhead. Be advised that fireflies aren’t the only insects that love Congaree. Make sure to apply bug spray before arriving at the trailhead to avoid mosquitoes.

Cool off and wind down at The Graduate Columbia in South Carolina’s capital city. Pets of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $25 per night.

7. Pick Fruit From an Orchard

Torrey, UT
“It’s not bacon, but it’ll do.” Photo by @cydneyskeens

From the 1880s to the 1950s, Mormon pioneers planted thousands of fruit trees in what is now Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. In an area mostly surrounded by desert and red rock, the Fremont River made farming the land possible. Today there are 1900 heirloom trees adorning the orchards, and Fido is welcome to join you as you explore and pick your own apricots, apples, peaches, pears, cherries and more. Look for the “U-Pick Fruit” signs to determine which varieties are ready for harvest. Once you’ve picked your bounty, take a walk along the Fremont River Trail or grab a spot at Chestnut or Doc Inglesby picnic areas to enjoy your sweet treat.

Breathe in the fresh Utah air from the balcony or patio of your room at The Rim Rock Inn in Torrey, and grab BBQ or a slice of pizza from the attached restaurant, The Rim Rock Patio. Pets of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $10 per pet, per night.

8. Stargaze at an International Dark Sky Park

Multiple Locations
“Where’s Canis Major?” Photo by @flapjack816

The International Dark Sky Association, which protects and preserves the night sky for future generations, has designated many International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. Each location has vowed to proactively limit their amount of light pollution, giving stargazers on two legs and four a real treat. At national parks like Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Bryce Canyon, Great Sand Dunes, and Death Valley, Fido can join you as you spot celestial objects in the darkest skies in the country. While dogs aren’t allowed in the backcountry or on trails at most parks, the night sky can be enjoyed from almost anywhere, including campgrounds and picnic areas. Remember to check the weather and phase of the moon before you plan to stargaze to avoid clouds and light.

For a unique camping experience under the stars, spend the night with Fido at Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. Pitch your tent among the famous rock formations and find a spot to lay back with your pup to count meteors. Furry campers are welcome for no additional fee, and reservations are strongly recommended.

9. Stand Beneath Tree Roots

Kalaloch, WA
“Look at all these sticks to fetch.” Photo by @benztheshep

Olympic National Park encompasses nearly one million acres and three distinct ecosystems - lush, temperate forests, glaciated mountains and the rugged Pacific Coastline, which is where you’ll find dog-friendly Kalaloch Beach & Nature Trail. Fido will enjoy a day of splashing in waves, digging in the sand, and updating his Instagram with a shot beneath the roots of the now-famous Tree of Life, or Tree Root Cave. This Sitka spruce sits along the beach, the ground beneath it eroded away, exposing roots that lead nowhere. How the tree manages to survive on such little land is a mystery you and your pup will have to see to believe.

After a day on the beach, put your sandy paws up at Kalaloch Lodge, where Fido will be welcomed with a Pampered Pooch package complete with a bandanna, bowls and treats. Dogs are permitted for an additional fee of $25 per pet, per stay. Campers in Olympic National Park will enjoy ocean views at Kalaloch Campground, which welcomes dogs for no additional fee.

10. Paddle Through Mangrove Forests

Homestead, FL
“I hear there are sea cows out here.” Photo by @retirementtravelers

Biscayne National Park in south Florida is made up of 95% water, making it the perfect destination for human and doggy paddlers. Bring your own kayak, canoe or paddleboard and launch from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Experienced kayakers will enjoy the trip out to Elliot Key, where Fido is welcome in all developed areas. Beginners will delight in the calm waters of the creeks and canals, weaving through mangrove-dotted shorelines. You and your pup will feel like you’re in another world as you cruise through the canopy, spotting nesting birds, crabs, rays and manatees. The park provides a map with a list of paddling trails ranging from 2 to 17 miles roundtrip.

After a day on the water, get your land legs back at TownePlace Suites by Marriott Miami Homestead. One pet of any size is accepted for an additional fee of $100 per stay, and two pets of any size are welcome for $150 per stay.

What unique adventures have you experienced with your dog in a national park? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

Banner photo by Lauren Barker.