Bringing Dogs To National Parks and National Forests

Are dogs allowed in national parks? Are dogs allowed in national forests? If you’ve been asking yourself these questions, then you’ve come to the right place. At Portland Pet Food Company, we’re all about bringing dogs with us wherever we go, especially on outdoor adventures, which is why we did the research for you! To start, let’s dive into the difference between a national park and a national forest.

What’s The Difference Between A National Park And A National Forest? 

National parks and national forests serve similar purposes. National parks emphasize the preservation and protection of resources, and while national forests also focus on preservation, they also work to provide the community with services, such as cattle grazing and fishing. Here are the mission statements of both: 

National Park Service Mission: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and world.”

National Forest Service Mission: “To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

In general for both national parks and forests, any rules regarding dogs are in place for the safety of you, your pet, wildlife, and the surrounding habitat. Here are a few examples of why these rules are so important: 

  • You go hiking in Yellowstone National Park with your dog in an area where dogs aren’t permitted, and you see a bear walking a safe distance away. When you are just about to turn around to give the bear more space, your dog starts barking, startling the bear and bringing its attention to you, leading to what could be a dangerous situation for all.

  • You're hiking in the Smoky Mountain National Park with your dog on a trail where dogs aren’t permitted and your pooch marks its territory on a tree — this scent will now deter wildlife from this area.

  • You let your dog wander off-leash in the Willamette National Forest and while you aren’t paying attention, they stumble on a bird’s nest and disturb it, knocking the nest (and all of its eggs) to the ground. 

Everything You Need To Know About Bringing Dogs To National Parks 

Many national parks allow dogs in some capacity -- a few parks that don’t allow dogs include Channel Islands National Park, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Always be sure to check the website of the park you’re traveling to before visiting to ensure pets are allowed. 

For parks that do allow dogs, there are varying restrictions on what dogs can and can’t do -- here are a few of the general guidelines that you can expect at most national parks: 

  • Dogs are generally not allowed on any trails but can be in developed areas, such as campsites. 

  • Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and can not be left unattended.

  • Dogs cannot make noise that is unreasonable considering location, time of day, impact on other visitors, and other factors such as frightening wildlife. 

  • Owners must clean up after their dogs. 

Dogs are welcome at most national parks but can usually only enter areas that have been developed for camping, parking, etc. Learn more about bringing dogs to national parks here

Everything You Need To Know About Bringing Dogs To National Forests

Going to parks with dogs

Many national forests allow dogs in less of a strict capacity than national parks, so if you’re looking for a beautiful place to hike with your dog, a national forest is a safe bet. However, similar to national parks, each national forest has its own set of rules, so you should always do research before showing up with your pooch. 

In general, here are a few of the general pet guidelines you can expect at most national forests. 

  • Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times when in developed areas and on interpretive trails. 

  • Many trails allow dogs to be off-leash, but confirm before letting your dog off.

  • Always be cognizant of your surroundings, ensuring your dog doesn’t damage any terrain, scare or hurt wildlife, or impact other hikers/dogs passing by. If your dog does not follow commands in distracted environments, it’s best to keep them on a leash just in case.

  • Owners must clean up after their dogs. 

Dogs are welcome and allowed to explore at most national forests, just be sure to check the signage around you to determine when your dog needs to be on a leash. 

Tips To Know Before Bringing Dogs To Either A National Park Or A National Forest 

No matter where you’re exploring, a national park or a forest, here are a few best practices that you should keep in mind: 

  • Never leave your dog in a car unattended, especially on warm days, as car temperatures can be very dangerous for dogs. 

  • Check your dog for ticks after being outside.  

  • Always keep your dog’s food in a wildlife-resistant container, as bears and other animals may be attracted to the smell -- especially if it’s delicious PPFC! 

  • When camping, be sure your dog stays in the tent at night.

  • Keep your dog hydrated and energized while hiking -- just as you need snacks, so does your dog! Read our blog about keeping dogs nourished for hikes here. 

  • Don’t take your dog on hikes that they aren’t ready for -- if your pooch is used to a one-mile walk around the neighborhood, they probably shouldn’t do a steep, 4-mile hike in the heat! 

  • Be courteous to the people and dogs around you -- just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean the other dog coming down the trail is! 

Even though dogs can’t explore all of the fun areas of national parks and forests, they are more than likely welcome in some capacity, just be sure to do research before your trip. And of course, most importantly, have fun! 


At Portland Pet Food Company, our fresh meals and treats are perfect for on-the-go adventures -- each dog treat is twice-baked to ensure a texture that won’t crumble in your backpack. And our shelf-stable, fresh dog meal toppers are great for camping -- no need to use any precious space in the cooler! Our products are available in many specialty pet and food stores across the country, just use our store locator to find a location near you. Alternatively, subscribe to our dog meal subscription service and order what you need on your schedule!