Travel idea: Camping at Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 40 million people in the U.S. go camping each year, and about the same number have at least one dog, as much a part of the family as the kids. When summer arrives, schools are out, and it’s vacation time for many families across America. Camping, a tradition since the late 1800’s and even before, became more popular by the 1930’s as Americans found the pleasure in exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Visiting a national park sounds like a great idea, always educational and fun for the whole family, but dogs love a camping adventure and want to go too. Fortunately, most national parks permit dogs on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times, subject to Federal regulations and individual park rules and restrictions

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. There is a wide diversity of the environment from mountains and forests to lakes and shore within the group of islands which form the 45,000 acres of the park. Dogs will love camping at Acadia where they are allowed on more than 100 miles of trails, as well as on the 45 miles of historic carriage roads. They are restricted, however, from beaches, lakes, steep hiking trails, and trails where peregrine falcons are nesting.

You can camp with your dog at Blackwoods, open 1 May – 31 Oct, or Seawall, late May-Sep. There are approximately 300 campsites, restrooms, running water, a dump station, and shuttle bus service, but no hookups at Blackwoods. One vehicle, two tents, and up to six people are permitted at each campsite. Entrance fee – $20/night for 7-day maximum.

The Seawall campground on the western side of Mount Desert Island, the largest part of Acadia, is about a 10-minute walk to the ocean. Each of the 122 campsites allows tents and RVs up to 35′ long. Seawall has drinking water, flush toilets, campfire rings, and a dump station, with free showers and camping stores about a mile from the campground. Shuttle bus service is also available. Entrance fee – $14-$20/night, 14-day maximum.

Duck Harbor (Isle au Haut) is a one-hour ride on the ferry from the mainland. Although dogs are not allowed to stay in the Duck Harbor campground, it might be fun to take him along for a day trip of exploring. A $25 special permit is required to go to Duck Harbor.

(Note: Campsites are specifically marked.) Campground reservations – 877-444-6777

Visitor Centers:

Hulls Cove – 15 Apr – 30 Jun, 8:30am to 4:30pm; Jul & Aug, 8am to 6pm.
Park HQ – Open year round, 8am to 4:30pm; Apr – Oct, Mon thru Fri. (Winter camping hours vary.)
(Note: See for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is simply awesome. With a spectacular panorama of color at sunrise and sunset, an amazing variety of plant and animal life, and incredible scenery, it is truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The South Rim is open year round, subject to fire danger restrictions, weather conditions, and road closures. You and your dog are welcome to check out the view along the two ½ mile Greenway trail along the Rim. A well-behaved pet can go along with you on the 3/4 mile guided Geology Tour. Dogs are restricted, however, from park buses, lodging areas, and trails along the North Rim.

One of the most popular campgrounds that allows pets is Mather, located within Grand Canyon Village. Mather, about a mile from the South Rim, offers 327 camping sites among the Ponderosa pines for tents and Rvs. Mather can be crowded and is usually full by noon. Each campsite has room for up to three tents, a fire grate, and picnic table, with drinking water, dump station, and restrooms on the campgrounds. Laundry, showers, bank, pay phone, and other amenities available at the Visitor Center, a short distance away. Summer hours 8am-5pm. Campsites – $18/night, 7-day maximum. Reservations Required: 877-444-6777, or online at

Desert View has 50 campsites for tents, small Rvs, and travel trailers, for a 7-day camping limit. Each campsite permits up to six people, two tents, and two vehicles or 1 RV/trailer, and your dog. Be sure and include water with your camping equipment and wood or charcoal for cooking on campsite grills only. Only certain types of firewood can be used, “certified” wood is sold at the Visitor Center. There are only two water faucets, no hot water, and no hookups. Showers are available for a fee at Mather campground, 25 miles away. Overall, you can consider Desert View offers very basic camping.

Camping fee – $12/night/7-day maximum. ATM machines are conveniently located near the campground restrooms. Reservations not required, so come early.
Entrance fee – $25/vehicle for seven days. Visitor Center – 8am-8pm (summer hours)
(Note: See

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited and one of the largest in the U.S., encompasses more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountain trails, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life in this part of the Southern Appalachians. Free entrance to the park.

Located on both sides of the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines, the main entrances are at Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are nine designated campgrounds including Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Campsites have individual fire grates, picnic tables, and restrooms on the campgrounds, but no showers, hot water, or hookups. Fees vary from $14-$23/night at each campground. We will look at two of the largest, Cades Cove and Elkmont, with individual campsites for up to six people, two vehicles, and tents. Both require reservations for a maximum of 14 days and permit motor homes up to 40′ and trailers up to 35′. Both have food storage lockers and dump stations onsite or nearby. There are specific restrictions on firewood, but bundles of “certified” firewood can be bought at Cades Cove and Elkmont. Keep in mind this is bear country, and all food must be stored in your vehicle or storage lockers.

Cades Cove, in eastern Tennessee, is an ideal choice for viewing wildlife with more open areas in this part of the park. You can find everything you need at Cades Cove Campground Store from groceries, souvenirs, and camping supplies to a variety of express food and beverages. Hours – May-Jul, 9am-7:30pm. Aug, 9am-7pm. Sep-Oct, 9am-6:30pm.

Elkmont campgrounds, 8 miles from Gatlinburg, date back to the early 1900’s as a summer resort in the Appalachians. The 220 campsites range in price from $17-$23/night, 7-day maximum, and reservations should be made in advance for this popular campground open until 29 Nov. Limited selection of camping essentials available at the campground concession.

Your dog cannot be left unattended at the campsite, and he is allowed on only two trails in the park, the Gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The first trail follows the Little Pigeon River about 2 miles through the forest from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the edge of the town of Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is an interesting part of history, which you may want to explore further. Check at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if your dog can go along, or if any kennels is available. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep & Oct, 8am-6:30pm. The Oconoluftee trail through the forest is about a mile and a half walk beside the river to the town of Cherokee. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep-Oct, 8am-6:30pm.
(Note: Detailed information at

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, camping is healthy, inexpensive recreation. Whether it’s the shore, the forest, or the mountains, you’ll escape those hectic travel arrangements and the stress of everyday life. Leave behind the modern conveniences, and inconveniences; your dog will enjoy it as much as you!

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Travel ideasTravel with pets

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.