Wherever you travel this summer chances are good that you will find yourself with your dog on land owned by the federal government at some point. Every state in the Union has at least one national park or forest or shoreline or wildlife refuge beckoning summer adventurers. With that mind here is a quick primer on what to expect when taking your dog to our national lands.
As a general rule, dogs in national parks are welcome to go "anywhere a car can go." This means your dog can hike along roadways and walk around parking lots. In most parks dogs can also go in picnic areas and stay in campgrounds. Occasionally dogs will be permitted on short trails around a Visitor Center or a campground. Two of the best national parks to hike with your dog are Acadia National Park in Maine and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. If you are traveling in Canada this summer, you will find most of their national parks extremely dog-friendly.
These parks are a notch below national parks in terms of prestige and are a mixed bag for active dog owners. Some, like Dinosaur National Monument or White Sands National Monument, allow dogs on most trails while others, Devil's Tower or Cedar Breaks for instance, ban canine hikers from all trails.
National forests, under the stewardship of the Department of Agriculture and not the Department of the Interior like national parks, offer the meatiest hiking opportunities for dog owners. Dogs are permitted on most national forest trails, although access can sometimes be remote. Many times national forest lands surround national parks so you can get your dog on a trail after being cooped up when visiting there.
These parks are cousins of national forests and you can expect to have your dog accompany you on your hike. Hiking opportunities are limited, however, as there typically aren't many trails in a national grassland.
National Recreation Areas
As the name implies, these lands are managed to maximize public use - for humans and dogs. Many trails in national recreation areas are open to off-road vehicles, mountains bikes, and horses. These types of trails will invariably be open to dogs as well. You can expect to find good canine hikes in almost any national recreation area. Do your research, however, as many national recreation areas are developed primarily for boating and fishing.
National Seashores and Lakeshores
Dogs are seldom allowed on trails at a national seashore but happily most (the southeastern national seashores are an exception) allow dogs on the beach year-round. National lakeshores are good bets for canine hikers as dogs are allowed on many trails in these parks along the Great Lakes.
National Wildlife Refuges
Although these lands are managed primarily for the protection of birds and animals, most have trail systems ideal for short day hikes. Expect your leashed dog to be welcome at most of the more than 500 national wildlife refuges in America.
National Historical Parks
These parks are hidden gems for canine hikers. There are few bans on dogs in national historical parks. In addition to learning a thing or two about American history, these parks often feature interesting hiking: the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania in Valley Forge Historical Park, the mountains of Harpers Ferry Historical Park, the wild Potomac River of the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park to name but a few. National Battlegrounds are also good places to get out and explore with your dog.
National Trail Systems
The United States Congress has designated more than 900 trails as "National Trails." Such trails can be recognized as Historic Trails for their significance to our heritage, as National Recreation Trails or as National Scenic Trails. The most famous of the National Scenic Trails, that must be 100 miles long, are the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail that crosses the spine of the Pacific Cascade Mountains from Canada to Mexico. National trails often include local and even private land and while dogs are often welcome throughout, check before setting off on a multi-day adventure to make sure your dog can legally complete the trek.
Bureau of Land Management Lands
If you've ever spent hours driving "in the middle of nowhere" out West chance are much of the land around you was under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is responsible for 262 million acres of land - the largest chunk of public land left in America. Most of the BLM lands are from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast and there are plenty of recreational opportunities for your dog - mostly underpublicized. If you want to explore BLM lands look for a book written, edited and illustrated by BLM staff - Adventures on America's Public Lands.
For detailed information on individual places to take your dog visit http://www.recreation.gov/.
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