Pet-Friendly Fun in Parks is as Easy as B.A.R.K.

Learning the B.A.R.K. Principles
Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
park ranger, woman, and dog hiking on a trail at sunset
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail - NPS Photo / © Bhoj Rai

The ultimate treat you can give your pet is a memorable excursion to a national park. The open air and beautiful landscapes provide an engaging experience that offers health benefits to you and your pet. And while all visitors to parks should #RecreateResponsibly, there is a specific set of guidelines for national park visitors with pets. Learn the basics of bringing a pet to a park, so you and your pet can both can be B.A.R.K. Rangers!

B.A.R.K. Ranger Principles

Two visitors go on a walk with a dog on a leash. One visitor holds a large waterbottle

Visitors and a B.A.R.K. Ranger at Arches National Park

NPS Photo / Veronica Verdin

B.A.R.K. Ranger guidelines help visitors with pets ensure that everyone can have a fun and safe visit to a national park. Whether you’re visiting a park on a family vacation or just enjoying an afternoon in a local park, be sure to:

Bag Your Pet's Waste

Help keep our parks clean by collecting and properly disposing your pet’s waste. Before heading to the park, make sure you have a bag or canister to put it in until you find a trash can. Pet waste is not a natural fertilizer and can introduce disease into a park’s wildlife population or pollute water sources. 

Always Use a Leash

Some people are frightened by or allergic to pets, and leashes help protect the experience of other visitors to the park. Leashes also help protect your pet from becoming lost and from wilderness hazards. Even the best trained pet can be disturbed by unfamiliar sights, sounds, or smells in a new environment, and keeping them on a leash helps everyone enjoy their visit. Requirements for visiting a park with your pet can vary, so be sure to check each site’s regulations before you visit – in most cases, pets must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet.

Respect Wildlife

Keep your pet at a respectful distance from any animals you may encounter when in a park. Pets can chase or threaten wildlife, and the scent left behind by a pet can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife. This principle also protects your you and your family from dangerous encounters with park wildlife.

Know Where You Can Go

As with any park visit, it’s important to do your research before you head out to a park. Learn if the park is pet-friendly, and where exactly you can go with your pet. Visit the park’s website or call ahead to make sure you’re planning a visit that is safe. Pets should not be left unattended. Don’t leave pets alone in a car while enjoying a park, as sunshine and heat threaten pets – choose a pet-friendly itinerary or leave your pet at home to enjoy parts of a park that are restricted to pets instead. 

Discover Pet-Friendly Parks

A dog leans over a stone wall and pants. In the background, a range of mountains

A B.A.R.K. Ranger at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

NPS Photo

Many national park sites across the country welcome pets in specific areas. From Petrified Forest National Park, where B.A.R.K. Rangers can go with you anywhere except into buildings and the trails and viewpoints of Natchez Trace Parkway to designated areas of Hampton National Historic Site and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, each park has specific guidelines and rules about visiting pets. The same goes for camping with pets in parks – some parks offer pet-friendly campgrounds, while others do not. Again, make sure to check the park’s website or call the park before your visit to ensure that pets are welcome in the areas of the park you’re looking to explore. If you’re planning to hike with your pet, check out the National Park Service’s tips for hitting the trails with your furry friend. 

Remember, you are responsible for your pet when you take them to a park. Be sure to pack enough water for yourself and your pet, ensure they have the right endurance and health for whatever activities you plan, and check for ticks after visiting a park where they may be present. A little preparation work can ensure that everyone enjoys a “pawsitive” park experience.

Meet the Working Dogs of Our National Parks

Border collie wearing orange working vest looks back at handler. Eleven bighorn rams graze in the grass below her. Going-to-the-Sun Road is in background.

Gracie looks back at Ranger Mark Biel while watching a herd of bighorn rams grazing just downhill from the Logan Pass parking lot in Glacier National Park. Gracie and Ranger Mark prevented these sheep from ever entering the parking lot.

NPS Photo / Alice W. Biel

National Park Service dogs also play an important role in resource protection, as well as visitor safety and education in our parks. The iconic mushing dogs of Denali National Park & Preserve provide a natural and historical way for rangers to travel in the park’s protected wilderness areas, helping support scientific research, trail maintenance, the transportation of equipment, and more. In 2016, Glacier National Park became the first NPS unit to use an employee-owned dog to help manage habituated wildlife such as bighorn sheep, deer, and mountain goats. Gracie, a professionally trained border collie, and her shepherding skills help keep park visitors and wildlife a safe distance apart.

Be a B.A.R.K. Ranger Ambassador

a woman walking a dog on a road in a snowy forest

A visitor and a B.A.R.K. Ranger on a walk in Denali National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo / Victoria Stauffenberg

Help spread the knowledge of B.A.R.K. Ranger principles by volunteering you and your pet as a B.A.R.K. Ranger Ambassador, also known as Paw Patrol. These VIP (Volunteer-In-Parks) programs connect pet owners in parks: Ambassadors and their pets make contact with other visitors and their pets to help everyone enjoy their visit, increasing awareness of positive pet behaviors. Volunteers provide information about the park and highlight the park’s pet policies and safety guidelines. Check if a park near you has a B.A.R.K. Ranger Ambassador or Paw Patrol program!

National parks hold the power to inspire a sense of wonder and a love of exploration in each of us, including our pets. Following the B.A.R.K. Ranger guidelines in a national park is a great way to make memories as a family. The National Park Foundation's outdoor exploration programs help ensure all people see themselves in parks, pets included, and feel welcome in these places that belong to all of us.

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