Camping with your dog can be a fun way to relax and enjoy some quality time together out in nature, but it’s important you come prepared! Just as people need specific supplies to have a fun camping experience, so does your dog. Below, I will cover some of the basic necessities, where to camp and how to follow rules/regulations, and some tips on how to stay safe while exploring the great outdoors with your pup.
WHERE TO CAMP
Before we begin, please know that leaving your pup alone at the campsite or in your car is never an option! Your dog needs to be attended to at all times, wherever you camp.
Many parks allow camping with pets, but only in designated areas. For example, the state of Pennsylvania allows pets in day-use areas, designated sites in campgrounds, designated cabins, and all areas not otherwise closed to pets. Pets must be physically attended and controlled at all times, whether in a crate or on a leash, and must be current on their rabies vaccinations. Some parks even have maximum leash lengths, which is why it’s important to do research on the parks you are considering visiting before you leave. Additionally, consider what kind of campground you may be visiting, and how much you plan to involve your dog in your daily activities!
U.S National Parks welcomes pets in designated areas including developed areas, trails, campgrounds, and some lodging facilities. However, some parks are more pet-friendly than others, so I have included a brief run down below of some of the best and worst parks to visit with your dog.
MOST DOG FRIENDLY
Acadia National Park - this park is located in Maine and is considered the “crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.” It has 158 miles of hiking trails, and is one of the most visited national parks in the US. Plus, Acadia is pet friendly! To enjoy this park with your dog, he or she must be restrained on a leash no longer than six feet. This helps keep your dog safe, in addition to keeping the local wildlife safe and out of harm's way. There are several areas closed to pets, but despite this, 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles worth of carriage roads permit pets.
Grand Canyon National Park - one of the most popular national parks, the Grand Canyon is immensely large and has two pet friendly areas - the North and South Rim. Pets are allowed on trails above the rim on the North and South sides of the canyon, and are also allowed at several campgrounds and lodges. Pets must be on a six foot leash at all times, and are not permitted below the rim on the inner canyon trails. This helps protect your pet and the park by keeping them away from wildlife!
Great Sand Dunes National Park - this park conserves a large area of sand dunes in south-central Colorado. Pets are permitted in the Preserve and main use areas of the park and must be leashed at all times. Pets aren’t allowed in the visitor center, in the backcountry, in any backpacking campsites, or off several trails. Overall, a large part of the park is accessible and dog-friendly, but there are a few precautions you should take if you choose to bring your pup. The first is the sand temperature. In the summer, surface temperatures of the sand can soar as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time, it is best to plan early morning or evening hikes, outfit your pet with protective dog boots, and monitor them for signs of heat exhaustion. Additionally, cactus spines grow in the desert grasslands, and wildlife such as deer and mountain lions are native to the area. Keeping your pet close to you is one of the best ways to protect them from natural threats.
Shenandoah National Park - located 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is full of cascading waterfalls, quiet forests, and other spectacular views. Shenandoah offers both campgrounds and backcountry camping, and is generally very pet friendly with some restrictions. There are a total of five campgrounds in the park, all of which are dog friendly. Dogs in the park must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times, and are prohibited from certain trails. Despite the restrictions, there is still plenty to explore, as the restricted trails total fewer than 20 miles of the 500 miles of trails in the park.
White Sands National Park - White Sands is a national park located in New Mexico approximately 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo. The park is known for its expansive desert, and is pet friendly and offers the opportunity for backcountry camping. In order to camp with your dog, they must be non-disruptive, kept on a six-foot leash, and under physical control at all times. Be sure to bring plenty of water, as there is no water in the dunefield for pets or humans.
LEAST DOG FRIENDLY
Zion National Park - known for Zion Canyon, Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah near Springdale. Camping is only permitted in designated campsites, with three total campgrounds that are all drive-up and allow a maximum of two vehicles. Although dogs are allowed in the campgrounds, they must be on a leash no longer than six feet, and hiking with pets is only permitted on roads and Pa’rus Trail. Additionally, anyone planning on visiting Zion with their dog should know that summer temperatures often exceed 95ºF and rarely dip below 65ºF.
Yellowstone National Park - though it is one of the most iconic and visually stunning parks in the US, Yellowstone National Park is one of the least pet friendly of all the parks. Home to predators like wolves, coyotes, and bears, Yellowstone prohibits pets from most areas of the park for their own safety and protection. Pets are only allowed in developed areas and must remain within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds. This severely limits what you are able to see, and it’s recommended that you leave your pup at home if you’re planning on exploring Yellowstone!
Yosemite National Park - known for its waterfalls, valleys, sequoias, and vast wilderness, Yosemite is an extraordinary park located in Central California, though it’s not the best place for dogs. Pets are allowed in all campgrounds except Camp 4, and are allowed in developed areas and fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths. However, pets are prohibited from all trails, wilderness areas, and lodging areas - so if you’re looking for a good place to hike with your pup, you should probably scratch this park off your list.
Big Bend National Park - located in West Texas, Big Bend is a home to a diverse group of wildlife, including more than 450 species of bird, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. Unfortunately for pet owners, this makes it one of the least pet friendly parks to visit. At Big Bend, pets can only go where your car goes, and they need to be on a six foot leash at all times. The main reason for this is to protect wildlife and archeological sites, but it is also crucial to protecting your pet as well! Predators such as coyotes and mountain lions can attack pets, even during the daytime, and pets can also cause a disturbance to native wildlife and the ecosystem. Because of this, it is best to leave your dog at home if you want to put this park on your itinerary.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - this park is located in Gatlinburg, TN and is known for its mountains and diverse plant life. The park may be a great place to hike for many people, but it’s not a great spot for pet owners. Dogs are allowed in picnic areas, campgrounds, along roads, and on the Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee Trail exclusively, and must be kept on a 6 ft leash at all times. Bears and coyotes are natives in this park and can pose a threat to pets. Additionally, even the most well-behaved dogs can spook native wildlife and disturb the park’s wildlife populations and ecosystem. But no need to worry, there are still plenty of other pet-friendly parks in the area, including Pisgah National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, and Chattahoochee National Forest.
TYPES OF CAMPING
Backcountry Camping vs Frontcountry Camping
Frontcountry Camping allows for people to bring their trailers, mobile homes, or RVs to the campsite with them, and are usually easily accessible. These campsites often also have restroom facilities, space for tents, and permit the use of campfires (but be sure to check the rules, first!). Your tent will most likely be fairly close to other groups of people, so it may be helpful to assess whether or not your dog is capable of handling being in close quarters with strangers without getting too agitated or stressed out. Most campsites will require some kind of reservation as well, so be sure to check ahead and plan your trip accordingly.
In contrast, backcountry camping requires several miles of hiking to reach the campground spot, and is often more secluded than the other campgrounds. Permits and reservations are often required to go backcountry camping, and it is extremely important to abide by park rules while out in the wilderness. Additionally, while pets are often allowed in frontcountry campgrounds, they are often restricted from backcountry campgrounds - so be sure to double check the park’s pet restrictions before you book.
Though many won’t consider this “true” camping, this can be a great option for people who aren’t ready to “rough” it in the wilderness but would still like to escape for a bit with their furry friend. “Glamping” usually entails staying in some kind of cabin in the woods. These places are often pet-friendly, feature bathrooms and running water, and are often secluded enough to feel like you are at home in nature. This can be a good option for people with anxious pets who dislike strangers or other dogs, or for people who want to go on hikes but who don’t want to give up the comforts of their home. Some popular glamping resorts include Getaway House, Under Canvas, and Tye Haus.
For example, Getaway House provides a dog bowl, a tie-out for sitting around the campfire, and even a complimentary bag of doggie treats. They also have a blog that talks about different trails and restaurants near the campsite that you can check out during your stay. The cabin is fairly small though, so keep that in mind if you have a multi-dog family!
Always do your research and read the rules and regulations regarding pets at any camping facility you’re interested in.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
If your dog eats kibble, you’ll have an easy time packing it up for your camping trip! The only downside is that kibble can take up a lot of space and it doesn’t take long for it to weigh enough to break your back. However, kibble can be packed in self-sealing bags, doesn’t require much preparation, and lasts a long time - making it one of the easiest options for on-the-go meals.
So what do you do if your dog eats raw? Depending on the duration of your camping trip, packing your dog’s frozen raw food may or may not be a viable option. For shorter trips ranging from 1-4 days, you can store your dog’s frozen food in a heavy duty cooler to keep it fresh. Be sure to load your cooler with plenty of ice to keep the temperature as low as possible, especially if you will be camping in a warmer climate.
Alternatively, you can opt to pack freeze dried raw, or some form of dehydrated food. Freeze dried food takes up less space than frozen raw, is easier to keep fresh, and can easily be reconstituted with a little bit of water, making it a great option for longer trips or for people who don’t want to lug around a cooler. There are several different options available when it comes to pre-made freeze dried raw foods, such as Stella & Chewy’s, Vital Essentials, or Primal Pet Foods, but all make relatively good substitutions for a balanced raw food diet - just pick the brand and protein that aligns best with your pup’s current diet! For example, Stella & Chewy’s and Primal both follow a BARF raw diet model, while Vital Essentials follows the PMR model. Additionally, be sure to bring extra water to rehydrate the food at meal times - this will make the food more palatable, and ensure your dog is staying hydrated.
For longer trips or outings where you expect to be doing a lot of hiking with your pup, it is important to bring along some extra food and some trail snacks not just for yourself, but for your dog too! Physical exercise can tire your dog out very quickly, so providing a high calorie energy bar like Ruff Bar can help keep their stamina up while out on the trail. They may also be hungrier than usual if they are burning more calories, so bringing more food than you anticipate needing is always a good precaution to take.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
And as always, bring LOTS of water. It doesn’t take long for humans or dogs to suffer from dehydration or heat exhaustion, and in the winter it can be even harder to recognize! Always bring more than you think you need for yourself and your dog.
Keeping the Food Safe
Additionally, always be aware of your surroundings and check to see if you’ll be staying somewhere where bears live! If you are, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to keep your food safe and out of reach.
CANINE GEAR GUIDE (BOOTIES, BACKPACKS, COATS)
Always bring more than you think you’ll need! Picking up after your dog is not only courteous to those around you, but it also helps keep the environment clean and prevents the spread of pathogens and bacteria. If you’ll be camping somewhere with no trash can in sight, I thoroughly recommend getting an air-tight bin to put your waste in until you head back to civilization!
Collar & ID Tags
This one is pretty much a given, but your dog should have a snug-fitting collar with proper identification on them at all times. Your dog’s ID tag should include at minimum your name and phone number, but can also include your dog’s name, your address, or a note that your pet is microchipped. Having proper identification helps others return your dog to you in the case of an escape or emergency, so it’s important your pup wear this gear at all times.
Leashes and Tie-Outs
For many campsites, leashes are a necessity, as free-roaming dogs can often disturb others or the native wildlife. I typically recommend always having a standard 6-7 ft leash on hand to give you easy control of your dog, while also allowing him some space to roam. If you are planning on camping and hiking in a more remote area, you may be interested in bringing a long-line (10 ft or longer) leash, or even a tie-out. If you plan on bringing a tie-out, definitely check the rules and regulations for your specific campsite to ensure they are allowed.
Nighttime visibility is incredibly important to keep your pup safe. Not only will others be able to see him, but you will too! With little to no light pollution out in the wild, it’s very easy for animals to fade into the darkness in the middle of the night - make sure you keep track of your dog’s whereabouts with a handy collar light.
Perfect for rocky terrain, snow and ice, or hot deserts, dog booties can help protect your dog’s paw pads from damage while out and about. Extreme temperatures can cause your pup’s pads to crack or blister, while sharp terrain can lead to cuts and scrapes. Protecting your dog’s feet with booties is a great way to keep them safe and comfortable.
Just as humans bring mess kits, your dog needs some travel bowls for his meals, too! Using collapsible bowls will help save on space and allow you to feed your pup at your campsite or on the trails. Some bowls even offer the option of cinching the food inside! Take into consideration how much your pup eats in one meal when selecting a bowl, and remember to store any food away and out of sight when not in use.
Carrying a lot of gear? Let your dog carry his gear with a dog backpack! There is a wide variety of styles to choose from, but in general, dog backpacks allow your pup to carry his own toys, food, bowls, and other various items. Please keep in mind that puppies or some senior dogs should not wear backpacks, as it can put a lot of extra stress on their joints and could potentially cause severe damage. Additionally, it is crucial to introduce your dog to a backpack slowly, positively reinforcing any good interactions before taking the bag out for a 10 mile hike. When loading the pack, remember to weigh it, increase weight gradually, and never exceed 20% of your dog’s body weight.
Although most dogs will lay on the ground with no issue, many will appreciate a travel mat or cozy sleeping bag. The ground can get pretty cold at night, even during the summer months, so providing your pup with a travel pad can help keep them warm, comfortable, and can even make them feel more at home.
Emergency Supply Kit
You never know when emergencies will strike, so it’s always important to come prepared. You can purchase pre-assembled emergency kits, or make your own! Some essential supplies to include would be: a tick key, vet wrap, tweezers, disposable gloves, adhesive tape, hydrogen peroxide, and antiseptic wipes. You can also find pre-made kits on REI or Chewy’s websites.
For Summer Camping (with access to water)
Before letting your dog swim in any streams, rivers, or lakes, it is important to check local reports for any signs of blue-green algae. This is a type of cyanobacteria that grows easily in hot, humid climates anywhere with standing water, and it is extremely toxic to dogs. After ingesting the algae, animals can die within hours - the two different kinds of toxins can either cause death by liver/organ failure or by respiratory failure. It is crucial to seek immediate medical care if you suspect your dog ingested blue-green algae, but the best way to keep them safe is to monitor reports of the algae before you travel!
Dogs that go swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, or canoeing can all benefit from the added safety of a life jacket. If you’ll have access to a lake, beach, or river during your trip and intend to let your dog have access to water, a life jacket can help provide extra protection. Life jackets are great for dogs who don’t know when to stop playing, dogs who aren’t confident in swimming, or even just as an added precaution. They can help prevent drowning, and the handles on the jacket can help you lift your pup out of the water if necessary. They come in different sizes and buoyancy levels, so choose the one that best suits your pup’s needs.
Super Absorbent Towel
Where there’s water, there’s a wet dog! Pack a super absorbent towel just for your dog to help keep the wet dog smell to a minimum. Plus, toweling your dog off after a dip in the lake will help keep your campsite nice and dry, too.
In addition to preparing for swimming, it’s also important to be aware of the heat index and prevent your dog from suffering from heat stroke or dehydration. Cooling vests or cooling towels, like Frogg Toggs, are a great way to help lower your dog’s body temperature in high heat. Most cooling vests work through evaporative cooling. When cool water is poured on the vest, it cools the dog’s body as the vest dries and the water evaporates. Many companies make cooling vests, but some of the best come from Ruffwear and Kurgo.
For Winter Camping
Both short haired and long haired dogs can benefit from insulated coats on winter campouts, especially in colder climates where temperatures can drop to below freezing during the night or with a high windchill! There are a variety of coats to choose from with different purposes, but the most effective coat will fit snugly against your dog’s body and will feature some kind of insulation and waterproofing. Popular brands include Hurtta, Ruffwear, and Kurgo.
Kennel or Tent
If you won’t be staying in some kind of cabin, you will likely need some kind of shelter for yourself and your dog. If you don’t plan on keeping your dog in your own tent, you may want to invest in a soft-sided kennel for your dog or a dog-tent of their own! This will help keep them safe from the elements and provides a safe space for them to rest. Be sure to bring some blankets along as well!
Doing a Test Run: for dogs that are often anxious in new environments, it may be useful to try camping close to home or in your backyard for a day before planning a big trip! This can help your dog get used to being in a tent and being outdoors for a prolonged period of time. It also gives you a safe space to handle any anxious behaviors close to home before you have to experience them in the wilderness. Some pups may not be comfortable with the camping experience, and that’s okay! You can always look into cabins or pet-friendly hotels that are close to the trailheads instead.
Beware of Weather Conditions: extreme heat or cold is not only uncomfortable for you, but can be fatal to your dog if not monitored closely and handled quickly enough! When camping, it is important to watch for signs of heat stroke, dehydration, or heat exhaustion in the warmer months, and for signs of hypothermia in winter.
Respect the Wildlife: letting your dog chase wild animals like rabbits, deer, or other critters can lead to your dog getting lost, injured, or even lead to you getting a fine for disobeying leash laws! Always double check the leash laws for the trails you are planning on walking, and be sure to keep your dog close to you and on-leash for trails that are frequented by wildlife.
Refresh Obedience Training: your dog should already know basic commands like sit, down, and stay, but it is crucial that your pup have reliable recall and know other life-saving commands like “leave it” and “drop it.” Whether in a campsite or on a trail, dogs are masters at finding all sorts of harmful “snacks” such as wild animal feces or litter left by other hikers. Teaching your dog to “leave it” will help you avoid any forbidden snacking, and will keep your dog safer while out exploring. Additionally, if you plan on having your pup off leash, make sure they come reliably when called, even in the face of distractions! If your pup still has some selective hearing, it is best to use a long-line rather than allowing them total freedom.
In the end, camping with your dog can be a great way to bond, exercise, and get out and experience nature. However, it is important to come prepared. Always research the park and their rules before camping, pack the necessary gear to keep your pup safe during your trip, and remember to keep yourself accountable for their waste and behavior while out in the park. Happy camping!