Alternatives To Favorite National Parks That Don’t Allow Dogs

Traveling with your dog across the United States can indeed be frustrating for the active dog owner. Many popular destinations such as American national parks do not welcome dogs. But active dog owners don't have to be shut out from America's splendors. Your dog can't trot among the giant saguaro cacti in Arizona's Saguaro National Park but he can hike past the stately sentinels of the desert on the Canyon Loop at nearby Catalina State Park. Dogs will never be able to walk under the greatest collection of natural bridges on earth at Utah's Arches National Park but just down the road dogs are welcome on the Negro Bill Canyon Trail in the Colorado River National Recreation Area that leads to the sixth longest stone arch in the United States. Your dog will never look 1000 feet straight down at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers in Canyonlands National Park but next door in Dead Horse Point State Park she can look down 1500 feet into the canyon at the Colorado River below.

So if you have to drive past a tempting national park with your dog, don’t go too fast. Here are some excellent choices right next door:

Quinault Rain Forest (Olympic National Forest, Washington).
All year long cool ocean currents brew Pacific storms that are powered onto the Washington coast on the prevailing westerly winds. Reaching shore, the storm clouds quickly slam into the Olympic Mountains and go no further. And so the state’s northwestern coast is drenched in an average of 140 inches of rain every year, blanketing the region in some of America’s largest and greenest trees. Visitors flock to Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest to marvel at one of the best examples of the country’s rare temperate rain forest ecosystem. Dogs aren’t welcome here but you can still hike through a verdant rain forest with your favorite trail companion. Surrounding the national park is the generally dog-friendly Olympic National Forest, including the Quinault Rain Forest south of the Hoh Rain Forest.

Best explored on two loop trails off South Shore Road at Lake Quinault, the Quinault Rain Forest Trail penetrates deep into an old-growth forest where firs and spruce can tickle 300 feet in height. Clubmoss draping branches and thick canopies suffocate the light on the forest floor of this four-mile canine hike.

In a half-mile loop the Rain Forest Nature Trail interprets the creation of this lush arboreal paradise. At one magical turn in the trail you stand with your dog beneath all four titans of the rain forest - Western red cedarSitka spruceDouglas fir and Western hemlock - growing in a row. Giant trees can often be seen growing in orderly rows. This is the result of their propagating on the mossy safety of large fallen trees on the forest floor. As the fallen trees decay, a process that can take decades, they become homes for many living creatures, including carpenter ants, folding-door spiders, centipedes, salamanders, and shrews. Mushrooms and other fungi grow on the rotting trees, and eventually the rotten trees turn into nurse logs, as young trees grow on top of them. When the nurse logs decay completely their thriving wards are left with a distintive hollow root pattern.
If this has only whetted your appetite for rain forests you can take the dog on a roughand-tumble hike on the Dry Creek Trail #872. Other routes in the Quinault National Recreation Trail System lead to a cedar bog, waterfalls and along the lakeshore. Lake Quinault bills itself as the “Valley of the Rain Forest Giants” and several short spurs reveal several charter members, including the “World’s Largest Spruce Tree.” This monster soars 191 feet high with a circumference only a few whiskers shy of 59 feet around. On the North Shore a half-mile trail takes you to a gnarled big cedar that is believed to be over 1,000 years old. You can easily stand inside the ancient wonder with your dog.

Nelder Grove (Oakhurst, California). One of the star attractions of Yosemite National Park is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. It was these massive cinnamon-colored trees, the largest living things on earth, that inspired our national park system. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln set aside the Mariposa Grove as a protected state reserve “for the pleasuring of the people.” Eight years later the world’s first national park was created at Yellowstone and Yosemite was transferred to national guidance in 1890. Your dog can’t get on the trail through the Mariposa Grove but the closest place to get him to walk among giant sequoias is five miles south of Yosemite in the Nelder Grove. Naturalist John Muir discovered this redwood grove in 1875 and as he investigated he happened upon a retired miner named John Nelder who was homesteading there. The area was heavily logged thereafter, mostly sugar pines, firs and cedar and the largest sequoias still stand.

The Shadow of the Giants Trail, now a National Recreational Trail, was built in 1965. The self-guiding interpretive path meanders for about a mile through the Nelder Grove, one of eight (the most famous is the Mariposa Grove) growing above the Kings River. Unlike sequoias in national parks, the 100 giants here remain in dense forest and you can walk right up to the largest trees. Those would be Old Granddad and the Kids, a grouping of giant sequoias on a ridgeline and Bull Buck, one of the world’s five largest arboreal monarchs. After a half-mile hike from the lower campground you reach Bull Buck, nearly 250 feet tall, 99 feet around at the base and probably 2700 years old. 

Converse Basin (Kings Canyon, California).
Like Yosemite, its neighbors to the south, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, boasting the largest concentration of giant sequoias in the world, do not allow dogs on the trail. About five miles north of Kings Canyon National Park and the famous General Grant Grove, however, is the Converse Basin Grovewhere your dog can get up close to a famous giant sequoia, the Boole Tree.

Converse Basin is a giant sequoia graveyard. This area was once quite possibly the finest sequoia grove that ever was. Massive trees over 300 feet high were enthusiastically felled by loggers - often for little more than shingles. One 285-foot sequoia known as the General Noble Tree was cut in 1893 to display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Chicago Stump can be seen today. Among the trees destroyed in the Converse Basin was the oldest known giant sequoia to have been cut down - 3200 annual growth rings were counted. So many trees were taken that the area is known as Stump Meadow.

The hiking trail in the Converse Basin is a 2 1/2 mile loop to reach the Boole Tree. Leading straight out from the parking lot you are quickly on the edge of Kings Canyon and you’ll enjoy open, sweeping views as you switchback up the ridge. Shortly after finishing your climb you reach a short side trail that leads into a depression containing the Boole Tree, once thought to be the largest giant sequoia in the world but more exacting measurements have placed it eighth. No one knows why this great tree was spared when equally large trees were brought down.

If you have spent the day looking at giant sequoias in the landscaped national parks, your encounter with the Boole Tree might come as a bit of a shock. It is related to its brothers in Kings Canyon National Park like the wolf is to your dog. Surrounded by dense forest growth, it is actually possible to not immediately recognize the Boole Tree from the main trail. But once you see your dog up against its massive trunk - its ground perimeter of 113 feet is the greatest of all giant sequoias - there is no mistaking this special tree.

Oglala National Grasslands (Crawford, Nebraska). 
America's badlands received their ominous name when early settlers found it impossible to safely roll a wagon through the cracked lunar landscape in the Upper Midwest. Our most famous badlands are preserved in national parks in the Dakotas - and off limits to canine hikers.

To give your dog a chance to explore these unique lands of sculpted rock, head south from the Dakotas to the lesser-known badlands of the Nebraska panhandle. Here in the Oglala National Grasslands you will find Toadstool Geologic Park where the relentless tag-team of water and wind have carved fanciful rock formations into the stark hills.

The "toadstools" form when underlying soft clay stone erodes faster than the hard sandstone that caps it. A marked, mile-long interpretive loop leads you on an educational adventure through these badlands. Your dog is welcome on the hard rock trail but you can also explore off the path for close-up looks in the gullies at fossil bone fragments that lace the rocks and 30-million year-old footprints preserved in the stone.
There are some rocks to be scaled along the route but this ramble under banded cliffs of clay and ash is suitable for any level of canine hiker. There is only sporadic shade and seasonal streams in this ancient riverbed so bring plenty of water for your dog, especially in the summer months. Take a break at the end of the hike in the small fenced yard of the reproduced sod house beside the parking lot.

For extended hikes, Toadstool Park connects to the world-renowned Hudson-Meng Bison Boneyard via a three-mile trail. This archeological site seeks to unravel the mystery of how over 600 bison died nearly 10,000 years ago in an area about the size of a football stadium. Human predation is the leading suspect.

Catalina State Park (Tucson, Arizona). 
Your dog won’t be able to trot among the giant cacti in Saguaro National Parkor in the Sonoran Desert in the expansive Tucson Mountain Park but your dog can experience this one-of-a-kind ecosystem nearby, nine miles north of Tucson, in Catalina State Park.

A small Hohokam Indian village was estab-lished on a wide ridge above Sutherland Wash, now known as Romero Ruin, about 1,500 years ago. The small community flourished for more than 1,000 years before being abandoned. The early Spaniards called the Santa Catalina Mountains "La Inglesia" for their cathedral-like appearance. The first European settlement in these foothills came around 1850 when cattle ranchers Francisco and Victoriana Romero established a homestead along the wash. The ranch grew to 5,000 acres but did not survive two generations. Gradually the forgotten property came to the attention of scientists and historians. In 1983 Catalina State Park, sprawling across 5,483 acres, was established, including 34 distinct archeological sites.

Eight trails of varying length and difficulty traverse the park's more than 8 square miles. Most - including the longer and most strenuous hikes - are off-limits to dogs. The best canine hike at Catalina State Park is the 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail that visits the differing habitat types found in this beautiful desert terrain. The trail rolls gently up and down through riparian arroyos and past stands of stately saguaros. Keep an eye to the sky for a chance to see any of the more han 170 species of birds that call the park home. The loop winds up with an unexpected hidden stream complete with a delightful doggie swimming hole.

Dead Horse Point State Park (Moab, Utah). 
Most of us have seen the spectacular scenery around Moab without realizing it - the landscape has often been used as the setting for Hollywood westerns. Before that, popular Western novelist Zane Grey stoked the imaginations of readers with action placed in Moab. Real people started coming to the Colorado River town in the 1950s when uranium was discovered nearby. Even though the mines have since played out, the town has never returned to its sleepy agricultural days. Today Moab is an outdoors mecca at the foot of the La Salle Mountains. Moab is the gateway to southeastern Utah’s canyon country and the national parks at Canyonlands and Arches. In these parks dogs are not allowed in the backcountry, on trails or on rivers within the park. Still, there are plenty of other opportunities here that make Moab a prime destination for canine hikers.

Legend has it that cowboys once herded wild mustangs onto to the top of this mesa - 2000 feet above the Colorado River - and blocked off their escape across a narrow neck of land with branches and brush, thus creating a natural corral. One time the horses in the corral were forgotten about and died of thirst while looking at the unaccessible Colorado River below. In 1959 more than 5,000 acres, most of which are on the mesa top, were designated Dead Horse Point State Park (nine miles north of Moab on US 191; turn west on SR 313, then go 22 miles to the Visitor Center). While your dog will never trot the trails of Canyonlands National Park and look straight down 1000 feet at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, she can get the same kind of experience next door in Dead Horse Point State Park.

Two loops, connected by the Visitor Center, skirt the edges of the rim of the rock peninsula. Numerous short spur trails poke out to promontories overlooking the canyonlands (most are unfenced and provide no protection for overcurious canines). This is sparse desert land on top of the mesa and during a hot summer day there is little shade and no natural drinking water on the trails for thirsty dogs. All told there are ten miles of paved and primitive trail at Dead Horse Point, most on hard, rocky paths.

A half-mile spur on the western side of the Dead Horse Point mesa leads to an overlook of Shafer Canyon. Across the canyon you can see an open plain that was used to film the famous final scene in the movie Thelma & Louise when Susan Sarandon drives a Thunderbird convertible over a cliff. Although there are wrecked automobiles in Shafer Canyon, they were placed there by the Bureau of Land Management to shore up the river bank. The wreckage from the movie was airlifted out of the canyon by helicopter.

To the east of Moab on Scenic Route 128 is the Colorado Riverway Recreation Area with distinctly different canine adventures in store. Director John Fordbegan shooting Hollywood westerns on location here in 1949 he went searching for a new desert location for his upcoming Wagon Master to star Ben Johnsonand Ward Bond. He arrived in Moab where he was shown the Professor Valley and the Fisher Towers on the Colorado River. Ford indeed made Wagon Masterhere and more than 50 feature films would be shot on location around Moab in the next 50 years. To John Wayne, this area always defined the West.

Your dog won’t be able to draw a full conclusion to agree or disagree with the Duke - the canine hike at Fisher Towers ends when a ladder climb scales an awkward rock before the end of the trail. Upstream, the packed-sand Negro Bill Canyon Trail climbs gently up a scenic canyon, crossing and tracing a clear-flowing stream for two miles to reach the Morning Glory Natural Bridge. Your dog won’t be able to walk under the magnificent natural arches in Arches National Park but he can play under the sixth longest natural rock span in the United States. The pool under the bridge makes an ideal doggie swimming pool but be careful of the flourishing poison ivy growing nearby.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area (Diablo, Washington). 
This is glacier country - the North Cascades is the most heavily glaciated area in the continental United States. The current park glacier census stands at 318 with countless more snowfields that are fed by some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world, between 400 and 700 inches in an average year. The millions of North Cascades acres have been carved up among various federal agencies since 1968 but most of the region - 93% - has been designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area, named after the first director of the National Park Service.

Dog owners must approach the North Cascades like working a jigsaw puzzle. Dogs are banned from the North Cascades National Park North Unit and South Unit (except on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) but are permitted in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area sandwiched in between. Dogs are also allowed in the limited-access Lake Chelan National Recreation Area to the south. The only paved access road to the area is Washington State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway that, to the good fortune of canine hikers, runs across the dog-friendly Ross Lake NRA. Long day hikes to overnight expeditions can be found on the State Route 20 trails.

Quick leg stretchers introduce the natural and human history of the mountains at the Visitor Center in the Newhalem Area. The River Loop picks its way through alpine forests to a free-flowing section of the Skagit River. Diablo Lake, with its rich turquoise waters, is the central jewel of the Ross Lake NRA and several canine hiking opportunities exist here. The Diablo Lake Trail on the north shore is an out-and-back affair of nearly four miles with just a modest elevation gain. Thunder Creek, that feeds the lake with fine glacial sediment, is shadowed by a 38-mile trail but the first steps are an easy canine hike of less than a mile to a crossing suspension bridge. The popular Thunder Knob Trailcrawls through dry forest terrain to views of Diablo Lake and surrounding peaks.

More long-distance outings are available upstream at Ross Lake, the largest of the three man-made reservoirs on the Skagit River. The East Bank Trail runs 17 non-strenuous miles along the shore of the lake. At Ross Dam a short walk of less than a mile leads down to the 540-foot tall dam and across the road the Happy Creek Forest Walk takes a short stroll through an ancient creekside forest.