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5 Best Dog-Friendly National Parks in the South

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve: Dog-friendly national parks in the south

National Parks have a bad reputation for being unfriendly to dogs. These gorgeous spaces have many no-dog zones, so, understandably, hikers with dogs often avoid National Parks. 

You might be surprised to learn that there are a fair number of dog-friendly National Parks in the South where you and your furry pal can roam the wilderness together!

We’ve sniffed out the top five dog-friendly National Parks in the South and are here to give you all the information you need to enjoy these outdoor meccas with your canine companion! So, get your furry pal excited about a new Southern National Park hiking experience!

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1. New River Gorge National Park – West Virginia

New River Gorge

New River Gorge is a 70,000-acre National Park in southern West Virginia near Beckley. Established in 2021, it’s the newest park in the National Park system. However, the ‘New’ River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent, winding through the park and carving spectacular valleys through the Appalachian Mountains.

New River Gorge National Park, sometimes called ‘The New’ by locals and rock climbers, is a paradise for hikers with dogs. A diverse landscape awaits, with a mix of unfragmented forests, rugged cliffs, wetlands, and bottomland woods.

This area is also steeped in coal mining history, and as you hike the land, you may see fragments of that long-gone era from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Diamond Point offers a look at the ruins of Kaymoor, an old mining town. Grandview offers a glimpse at an old railyard that used to ship coal. 

No matter where you place your boots and paws, you’re sure to immerse yourself in this beautiful area’s quiet nature and lively history. And the best part? Entrance is free!

New River Gorge Pet Policy

New River Gorge is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South. Pets are allowed on all trails, which includes over 100 miles of hiking trails! The terrain in the park is varied, from hiking alongside the whitewater of the New River to viewing the valley from high-elevation overlooks.

The New has a few pet-specific policies that are pretty standard throughout all parks:

  • Pets are not allowed in any buildings (except for service animals).
  • Pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet. We love Ruffwear’s Crag Reflective Leash, which is 6 feet long and complies with all National Park leash laws.
  • Always pick up your dog’s waste and dispose of it in a trash can – not on the trail!

New River Gorge participates in the B.A.R.K. Ranger Program. This program is specialized for dogs and their owners. After a few lessons, your dog can become a New River BARK Ranger with an official tag designating it a good boy/girl. 

B.A.R.K. stands for Bag your pet’s waste, Always keep your pet on a leash, Respect wildlife, Know where you can go.

What To Do With Your Dog At New River Gorge National Park

Exploring New River Gorge National Park with your furry friend can become a thrilling adventure that you and your pet will cherish. Here’s a rundown of activities you can enjoy together in one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South.

🚶‍♂️Hiking Through Diverse Trails 

With pets allowed on all trails within the park, you can choose from easy to challenging hikes, ensuring you and your pet get just the right amount of exercise and exploration. 

Here are some trails with fantastic views for you and your pup:

  • Endless Wall Trail – beautiful views of the rugged cliffs that shape the canyon and valley below. Multiple outlook points along the trail (please use caution with your dog around cliff edges!)
  • Grandview Rim Trail—This popular trail showcases stunning views of the river valley below. Check it out in June to see blooming mountain laurels!
  • Long Point Trail – A fantastic overlook that gives you a breathtaking view of the New River Gorge bridge.
  • Sandstone Falls – A short loop with some game trails and off-shoots that will take you closer to Sandstone Falls. It’s a beautiful area and a fun place to watch ducks and geese fly through the rapids!
Sandstone Falls at New River Gorge National Park

🐕Becoming a Bark Ranger

In a unique twist, dogs visiting New River Gorge National Park can achieve the status of “Bark Ranger.” This fun initiative allows your pet to be recognized as a responsible park visitor, with Bark Ranger tags available at the visitor center. It’s a fantastic way to make your trip memorable and promote good pet practices within the park.

📸Enjoying Scenic Views Together

For those looking for a less strenuous activity, the Canyon Rim Boardwalk offers an easy, short trail that leads to one of the most breathtaking views of the New River Gorge Bridge. It’s a perfect spot for you and your pet to take in the grandeur of nature together.

🐾Whitewater Adventures

While the park is renowned for its whitewater rapids, these adventures are more suited for humans. However, watching the rafts navigate the waters can be a fun and relaxing way to spend time by the riverbanks with your canine companion. Plus, a cool dip in the river is pure bliss on those hot summer days.

☀️Dining Out

After a day filled with outdoor activities, you can head out to one of the nearby pet-friendly restaurants to refuel and relax. It’s a great way to end an exciting day, sharing moments and a treat or two with your pet. We highly recommend Bridge Brew Works! It has a relaxed, pet-friendly atmosphere and some delicious beers.

Pet Specifics At New River Gorge

A few pet-specific things are unique to New River Gorge National Park. Even though it’s one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South, there are still things to be aware of if you bring your pup along for the journey.

  • Drinking Water: While it’s tempting to let your pup drink from streams or the mighty New River, we recommend packing your own water due to the possible presence of Giardia in the water. You can read more about whether or not you should let your dog drink from streams, rivers, and lakes here! There are fountains available at the visitor centers to refill your water bottles.
  • Ticks: West Virginia is better than Pennsylvania, but being neighbors with the worst state in the country for ticks means you should definitely be prepared for some unwanted hitchhikers. Bring a tick remover tool like the TickCheck Tick Remover.
  • Water: Pups that love to swim will have a blast at New River Gorge. We recommend a life jacket for safe water activities. Ruffwear’s Float Coat is stylish and functional. The Pacific Loop Toy also makes for a great fetch toy that will float in the water!

2. Congaree National Park – South Carolina

Boardwalk Through Forest, Congaree National Park

Congaree is known as the home of champions and is renowned for its biodiversity. It has the largest expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, where the trees still grow tall, untouched by man or machine.

There are over 15 different species of champion trees in Congaree, including loblolly pine, sweetgum, American elm, and the common persimmon. When you and your pup hike Congaree, you are walking with giants!

There are two bonus aspects of this park. First, it’s one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South. Second, it’s free to enter. So, pack the car and head to this astounding National Park with your canine companion!

Congaree Pet Policy

Like New River Gorge, Congaree allows pets on all hiking trails and boardwalks. Although slightly smaller than New River Gorge, it is still packed with immense beauty and biodiversity, just waiting to be explored!

Congaree’s pet policies are pretty standard:

  • Leashes cannot be longer than six feet.
  • Pets cannot be left unattended at any time.
  • Do not leave pets in the car for any extended periods.

All campgrounds allow pets, so if you come to Congaree for camping, you can bring your furry pal.

Activities To Do With Your Dog At Congaree

Here are some paw-some activities that you and your pet will absolutely love at Congaree, one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South.

🚶‍♂️Stroll the Boardwalk Loop Trail

Kickstart your adventure with a leisurely walk on the Boardwalk Loop Trail. It’s an easy 2.4 miles through stunning swampy forests, where the sights and smells are a feast for the senses—not just yours but your pet’s, too! Keep those leashes ready, and your eyes peeled for some amazing wildlife sightings. 

🌲Discover the Wilderness with Your Furry Explorer

Ready to venture off the beaten path? Grab a map and your adventure buddy and hit one of the park’s pet-friendly trails. Whether it’s the high-ground trails or the backcountry paths, each step is an opportunity for you and your pet to bond and experience the raw beauty of Congaree together.

☀️Canoeing or Kayaking on Cedar Creek

One unique way to explore this dog-friendly national park is by canoeing or kayaking down Cedar Creek. If your pup loves the water, this is a great way to spend the day in the park with your furbag. Remember their life jacket, water, and snacks for the trip! 

🌳Picnic Amongst the Giants

After all that exploring, why not relax with a picnic? Find a cozy spot under the towering canopy of ancient trees and enjoy some well-deserved rest and refreshments. Remember your pup’s snacks as well! We love American Journey Soft & Chewy Snacking Sticks. 

🗺️Join a Ranger-Led Program

While pets might not catch every word, they’ll certainly enjoy the extra company and new locations. Check the park’s schedule in advance; these programs are a great way to learn more about the park, its ecosystem, and its history.

Pet Specifics At Congaree

Here are some pet-specific things to consider when taking your furry pal to one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South.

  • Reactive dogs: The elevated section of the boardwalk trail is a confined space and may not be the best for reactive dogs who have all the feels when they see another person or dog. Check out our guide on hiking with reactive dogs for more tips!
  • Heat: Summers in Congaree can get sweltering and humid. Please bring plenty of water for your pet and never leave them unattended in a vehicle.
  • Ticks: Like New River Gorge, Congaree is known to have ticks. Check your furry pal after hiking and remove any unwanted hitchhikers.

Packing a dog first aid kit can be a lifesaver when your pup scrapes a paw or sprains an ankle on the trails. The Kurgo RSG First Aid Kit for Dogs is a 49-piece kit with everything you need to care for your furbag.

Or, if you’d rather pack your own dog first-aid kit, we have a fantastic guide on building a dog first-aid kit!

3. Shenandoah National Park – Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is situated in Virginia’s northern region. You’ll find the Shenandoah River and valleys to the west, and to the east are the Virginia Piedmont’s rolling hills. Looming in the background is a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This scenic park has over 200,000 acres of protected lands where things are still wild, beautiful, and waiting to be explored! 

Shenandoah Pet Policy

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley from Stony Man Mountain, in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Shenandoah is very pet-friendly and definitely makes our list for dog-friendly National Parks in the South. This vast park has over 500 miles of hiking trails, and pets are only restricted from about 20 miles of trails. You could spend days here without hitting every trail with your furry companion!

Shenandoah has all the usual pet policy rules, such as keeping pets on a leash no longer than 6 feet, picking up their waste, and not leaving them unattended for any amount of time. 

Here are a list of trails you cannot go on with your pet at Shenandoah:

  • Fox Hollow Trail
  • Stony Man Trail 
  • Limberlost Trail
  • Post Office Junction to Old Rag Shelter
  • Old Rag Ridge Trail
  • Old Rag Saddle Trail
  • Ridge Access Trail (Old Rag area)
  • Dark Hollow Falls Trail
  • Story of the Forest Trail
  • Bearfence Mountain Trail
  • Frazier Discovery Trail

A note about the Stony Man Trail: dogs are allowed at the beginning of this trail that follows the Appalachian Trail. However, dogs cannot go on the blue-blazed Stony Man Trail that leads to the summit.

You And Your Pet At Shenandoah

Whether you love the mountains, waterfalls, wooded trails, or scenic views, Shenandoah has everything. There’s so much to do at the park that you should consider booking one of their pet-friendly lodgings for a few days!

Here’s what you can do with your pet at Shenandoah, one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South!

🐾Hiking on the Trails with Your Furry Explorer

Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering over 500 miles of trails where pets are more than welcome. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely walk through vibrant wildflower meadows or a challenging trek up to stunning viewpoints, this park has you covered. Just remember to keep your pup on a leash and both of your spirits high!

🐕Staying at Pet-Friendly Lodging

After a day of exploring, you and your furry friend will need a cozy spot to rest your heads. Lucky for you, Shenandoah National Park offers pet-friendly lodging options to make you feel right at home. 

From quaint cabins nestled in the woods to comfortable rooms with all the amenities, finding the perfect place to cuddle up and dream about the next day’s adventures is a breeze.

⭐Camping Under the Stars

If you’re more into sleeping under the stars, you’re in luck! Shenandoah offers pet-friendly campgrounds where you can set up your tent and enjoy a night in nature. 

Imagine roasting marshmallows over a campfire, sharing stories (or barking at some mysterious night sounds), and waking up to the gentle sounds of the forest. It’s all about making memories you and your pup will cherish forever.

🗺️Cruising Along Skyline Drive

Not all adventures require getting your paws dirty. For a more laid-back experience, buckle up and take a drive along Skyline Drive. This scenic route runs the entire length of the park and offers breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley. 

Plenty of overlooks allow you to pull over, stretch your legs, and snap some photos. And the best part? Your dog can take in the sights alongside you, making it the perfect activity for humans and dogs who appreciate a good view without the hike.

Pet Specifics At Shenandoah

Shenandoah is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South. With so many trails to explore, there are a few things to consider before beginning your adventure!

  • Heat: Summer heat and humidity may affect older and younger dogs. Bring plenty of water and a portable dog bowl like the Ruffwear Bivy Bowl!
  • Skunks: While skunks aren’t usually moving around during the middle of the day, you may come across these odorous creatures if you’re doing an early morning or evening hike. A curious dog may turn into a smelly dog pretty quickly! Check out our guide on what to do if you see a skunk on a hike for tips on handling a skunky situation!
  • Rescue Sling: With so many trails to explore, bumps and scrapes can happen. However, if you’re five miles into a hike and your dog becomes injured, you need a way to carry them out. Consider packing something like the Fido Pro Airlift Rescue Sling. It packs down into a stuff sack and weighs just 8.5 ounces.

With these tips, you and your pet can enjoy Shenandoah National Park together, enjoying the views with smiles and wagging tails!

4. Mammoth Cave National Park – Kentucky

Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave with long sidewalk ramp

Mammoth Cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, offering unique landscapes and rich history. It sits on 52,000 acres of land, offering more than just the world’s longest cave system.

Hiking and biking trails await for boots and paws aboveground. Mammoth Cave has over 80 miles of hiking trails that wind through dense forests and winding rivers, leading to cascading waterfalls over stone grottos.

Mammoth Cave is free to enter. However, there may be fees if you come without your pup and want to take a cave tour.

Mammoth Cave Pet Policy

Mammoth Cave is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South. Regarding pets, dogs are allowed on all surface trails in the park, totaling over 80 miles of hiking trails with your canine companion!

Some Mammoth Cave specific rules include:

  • Pets are not permitted in the caves
  • Pets cannot go inside park buildings
  • Pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times

Pretty easy, right? Mammoth Cave N.P. also has some pet-friendly lodging available at the Woodland Cottages.

You And Your Dog At Mammoth Cave

With 80 some miles of hiking trails, there is much to do with your furry pal at this beautiful National Park in south-central Kentucky!

🗺️Hitting the Surface Trails

With your furry friend by your side, explore the diverse surface trails that wind through lush forests and past stunning natural vistas. It’s a fantastic way to spend quality time together, soaking in the beauty of nature and maybe even spotting some local wildlife. 

Remember, keeping your pet on a leash means everyone can safely enjoy the great outdoors.

🏕️Cozying Up in Pet-Friendly Lodging

After a day full of adventures, there’s nothing like retreating to a cozy spot where you and your pet can relax and unwind. Mammoth Cave National Park offers pet-friendly lodging options that are perfect for you and your adventure companion. 

Imagine stretching out on the porch, your faithful friend at your feet, as you reminisce about the day’s explorations. It’s the perfect end to an adventurous day!

🔭Stargazing: A Night under the Stars

Don’t think the adventure has to end when the sun dips below the horizon. Mammoth Cave National Park boasts some seriously starry skies. It’s even designated a Dark Sky Destination

Lay out a blanket, snuggle up with your pet, and gaze at the Milky Way. Moments like these—sharing the wonders of the cosmos with your furry friend—truly remind us of the magic of nature.

🌊Paddling Adventures: Canoeing/Kayaking

Looking for a little splash of excitement? Grab a life jacket for you and a floatation device for your pup, and hit the waterways around Mammoth Cave National Park. 

Canoeing or kayaking with your pet can be an exhilarating experience. It allows you both to see the park from a whole new perspective. Glide over clear waters, navigate through serene landscapes, and enjoy a bonding experience like no other.

Whether strolling along scenic trails, cuddling up in a cozy cabin, counting constellations under the night sky, or paddling across tranquil waters, Mammoth Cave National Park offers endless opportunities to create unforgettable memories with your pet.

Pet-Specifics At Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave has a few policies that are specific to the park:

  • Horses: Many hiking trails in Mammoth Cave are also open to horseback riding. When encountering a horse on the trail, move you and your dog off to the side and allow the horse and rider to pass.
  • Heat & Humidity: As with most areas in the South, summers can be hot and humid. Make sure to bring plenty of water for your puppo and watch out for signs of heat stress and dehydration.
  • Ticks: Ticks are present in Mammoth Cave National Park. Carefully check your dog after your hiking adventures and remove any eight-legged hitchhikers. 

Being one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South, Mammoth Cave even has accommodations for you if you want to take a cave tour.

If you want to bring your dog and go on a cave tour, there is a boarding kennel on site—The Lodge at Mammoth Cave. It costs $3.50 for the first hour and $1 for every subsequent hour. It’s a safe place for your dog to stay while you are on a cave tour.

5. Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Combine relaxation with adventure by visiting Hot Springs with your furry friend, where you can explore historic bathhouses and scenic trails. This National Park is uniquely centered around the town of Hot Springs, making it a blend of natural and urban exploration.

Hot Springs has 26 miles of hiking trails dotted with thermal springs, mountain views, and numerous babbling creeks, making for a serene hike with your canine companion. 

Like the other National Parks on our list, Hot Springs is free to enter and is one of the top five dog-friendly National Parks in the South!

Hot Springs Pet Policy

The pet policy at Hot Springs is very typical of the other National Parks on our list. Your dog must always be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Pets are prohibited in federal buildings such as the visitor center and other park buildings, and pets cannot be left unattended.

Regarding hiking, pets are allowed on all trails in the park! This includes 26 miles of hiking trails that offer views of the forest, mountains, and beautiful thermal springs. Check out the National Park website for a detailed Hot Springs Map.

If you’re craving a brew and some grub after your adventures, the Superior Bathhouse Restaurant and Brewery welcomes pets.

Activities For You And Your Dog At Hot Springs

Since Hot Spring is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the South, there is plenty to do with your furry companion at this lovely park. From trotting down historic bathhouse row to trodding on scenic hiking trails, you and your pup will have a tail-wagging good time!

🐾Discovering Scenic Trails Together

The park’s trails are a treasure trove of natural beauty, perfect for adventurers of all levels. Whether a gentle stroll along the Grand Promenade or an invigorating hike up to the Mountain Tower, each step is an opportunity to make memories with your four-legged companion.

Some of the best hikes in the park include:

  • Goat Rock Trail
  • Peak Trail
  • Hot Springs Mountain Trail

Check them out with your pup for a pawsome adventure!

🐕Relaxing in Pet-Friendly Spaces

After a day of exploration, finding a cozy spot to relax with your pet is essential. Hot Springs National Park offers several pet-friendly areas where you and your leashed pet can kick back and enjoy each other’s company. 

Superior Bathhouse Restaurant and Brewery is one such place where you can kick back with your pup and reminisce about the day’s adventures. There are also several picnic areas that you and your furry pal can enjoy throughout the park. 

Just remember to bring their snacks as well as yours!

🥾Strolling Through Historic Bathhouse Row

Transport yourselves back in time with a leisurely walk along the historic Bathhouse Row. While pets may not be allowed inside the bathhouses, the architecture and history you’ll encounter on your walk are simply fascinating. 

It’s a great way to enjoy the park’s unique cultural heritage, all while giving your pup a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise.

🗺️Take A Scenic Drive

Hot Springs has six scenic overlooks along its picturesque roads, waiting for you and your pup to experience them. Roll down the windows and let your pet take in all the smells as you drive from one scenic overlook to the next. Enjoy the road, take in the views, the sunrise or sunset, or hit them in the fall to see colorful foliage!

Pet Specifics At Hot Springs

If you decide to bring your canine companion along for the adventure, there are a few Hot Springs-specific things to consider.

  • Ticks, Chiggers, and Mosquitoes*: In Arkansas, ticks and mosquitoes are an annoyance year-round. Ensure your pet is up to date on their flea, tick, and heartworm medications. 
  • Wildlife: There are a few hazardous wildlife species to look out for in Hot Springs, including the venomous Texas red-headed centipede, black widow, brown recluse, copperheads, rattlesnakes, coral snakes, cottonmouth snakes, and black bears.
  • Weather: Severe weather can happen year-round in Arkansas. Spring and Summer typically have the most severe weather, including the potential for tornados.

*We use Interceptor for heartworms and Nexgard for fleas and ticks, and it has worked tremendously well for our dog Pawdrick. Always ensure you buy the correct medication for your dog’s specific weight.

Parks to Paw-se and Consider: The South’s Least Pet-Friendly National Parks

No Dogs Allowed Sign

We’ve reviewed the top five dog-friendly National Parks in the South. However, there are more than just five national parks in this beautiful region of the United States, and some of them are less dog-friendly than the ones on our list.

Here are the least dog-friendly National Parks in the South:

  • Big Bend – Texas
  • Guadalupe – Texas
  • Everglades – Florida

National Parks That Didn’t Make The List

Plenty of parks are moderately dog-friendly but didn’t quite make our top five list. These are still excellent parks, but there may be restrictions when bringing your furry pal along for the adventure.

  • Great Smoky Mountains: This park is located in two states: North Carolina and Tennessee. It is moderately pet-friendly, allowing pets in all campgrounds and picnic areas. However, pets are only allowed on two short walking trails.
  • Biscayne & Dry Tortugas: Both of these parks are located in Florida. They are both very pet-friendly, but there are no hiking trails in these parks. Biscayne’s park is mostly in the water, and Dry Tortugas is located 70 miles off the Key West islands. This makes it more difficult to get pets to the park.

It’s worth taking a trip to these National Parks with your dog. Although they may not be as pet-friendly as our top-five list, your pet will still love the experience.

Concluding The Top Dog-Friendly National Parks In The South

The dog-friendly National Parks in the South offer a unique experience. The weather is mild for most of the year, the landscapes are unique, and there are new things to experience that you just can’t find in the west, midwest, or northeast.

To recap, the top five dog-friendly National Parks in the South include:

  1. New River Gorge
  2. Congaree
  3. Shenandoah
  4. Mammoth Cave
  5. Hot Springs

While traveling with your furry copilot, you may want to skip Big Bend, Guadalupe, and the Everglades National Parks. These are not very dog-friendly. However, if you are okay with some restrictions, the Great Smoky Mountains, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas could be a potential stop.

Do you have a favorite dog-friendly National Park in the South? Let us know about your adventures in the comments below! Until next time, keep adventuring and give your canine companion an extra pet from the Dirtbags with Furbags!

If you’re curious about more than just the dog-friendly National Parks in the South, check out our article on dog-friendly National Parks in all 50 states.

Pancake Falls At Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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