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The 10 Best US National Forests to Visit With a Dog

United States Pets National Parks
by Amanda Readman Jan 21, 2020

Taking in the sunrise at the top of a mountain, feeling the success of a hike well done, or even rounding yet another turn in a forest trail; all of these experiences are more enjoyable with company. It’s no surprise then that it is becoming more popular for outdoor enthusiasts to bring their dogs along on treks. Unfortunately, if you want to enjoy some of the landscape celebrated in the US national parks you might find that their regulations make it difficult to enjoy the environment with your dog. And that’s where national forests step in. Commonly overlooked, but equally as beautiful, US national forests became protected areas in 1891. The rules and regulations within these spaces are much more pet-friendly in comparison to national parks and are encouraging dog owners to bring along their pets.

National forest rules and regulations regarding dogs

When you set out to visit a national forest with your dog, these are the rules you should know.

Dogs are allowed in all 154 US national forests; however, they must be kept on a leash that isn’t any longer than six feet long on all the trails and in the recreation areas. In other areas, they aren’t required to be on a leash, but should always be under vocal control.

They aren’t allowed in swimming areas at all. Although these regulations are less strict than in national parks, they should still be upheld to ensure the continuation of healthy forest environments.

These are the top 10 national forests in the US, compiled for those who pride themselves on being a dog lover as well as a tree hugger.

1. Bridger-Teton National Forest — close to Grand Teton National Park

Little Wind River and Buffalo Head Peak

Photo: Sierralara/Shutterstock

Grand Teton National Park is known as one of the country’s geographic wonders. That said, if you find the park limiting at all for your dog, head to nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s known for many similar views of the wondrous mountains of the national park as well as having a lot of gorgeous lake hikes. The most well-known trail that provides one of the best views is Snow King Mountain. There are several ways to ascend, depending on the length and level that you prefer. If you’re looking for more of a backpacking adventure, Titcomb Basin via Pole Creek Trail is gorgeous and will give you and your dog a good look at the iconic Tetons.

2. Flathead National Forest — close to Glacier National Park

Middle Fork Flathead River in Glacier National Park, Montana

Photo: Maks Ershov/Shutterstock

Although Glacier National Park is arguably one of the most beautiful in the country, Flathead National Forest rivals it. This forest is filled with beautiful pines, snow-covered mountains, and stunning blue lakes, views that both you and your dog will enjoy. When visiting this forest, there are an incredible number of hikes, picnic areas, and summit views to pick from. One of the most popular is that of Mount Aeneas. But if hiking to the top of a mountain isn’t quite the level you or your dog are at, then consider opting for a casual hike around the lakes such as the Strawberry Lake Trail or around Crater Lake. Just remember that the swimming areas are the only areas dogs aren’t allowed in.

3. Dixie National Forest — close to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks


Photo: Sahani Photography/Shutterstock

Dixie National Forest is conveniently located between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, so if you’re set on visiting these areas, but want to let your dog out of the car, this beautiful rock and pine forest is an ideal option. In this national forest, there are trails that match all fitness levels. For a short hike that leads to breathtaking views, try the Yant Flat Trail or the scenic loop of the Birdseye Trail. If backpacking is more your style, try your hand at the Red Canyon Campground loop, one of the more famous areas in Dixie.

4. Black Hills National Forest — close to Badlands and Wind Cave national parks

Trail at Black Hills

Photo: Zack Frank/Shutterstock

This famous forest is well-known to many Midwesterners as being the most beautiful woodland in the center of the country. It’s a vast area of ponderosa pine and juniper between Badlands and Wind Cave national parks. It’s also known for housing Mount Rushmore inside of its stately borders and for its beautiful granite rock formations. One of the most well-known trails leads up to Harney Peak, recently renamed Black Elk Peak. It’s the highest area in the Midwest and on a clear day, you can see into the next state, many miles away. Also within the forest are the rocky spires of the Needles, which provide not only some of the best rock climbing routes in the world but also many fun and twisty hiking trails.

5. Tongass National Forest — close to Glacier Bay National Park

Aerial view of the mist hanging in the Tongass temperate rain forest

Photo: Lee Prince/Shutterstock

Known to be the largest national forest in the US, this forest has 16.7 million acres of wilderness to explore, all of it open to you and your dog. It’s classified as a temperate rainforest and offers unique opportunities for spotting wildlife such as eagles, bears, and spawning salmon — and because of that, it’s recommended that you keep your dog on a leash. Due to the forest’s size, you’ll need to really plan out your trip. Some of the best hiking routes include West Glacier Trail, a one-of-a-kind ice cave trail, and Nugget Falls Trail for those that may be looking for something easier.

6. Gifford Pinchot National Forest — close to Mount Rainier National Park

Near the head of the Kalama River

Photo: Dee Browning/Shutterstock

Mount Rainier National Park is well-known for its beautiful views and famous mountains but this park is pretty restrictive about where you can take your dog. If you’re visiting with your dog, we recommend heading to nearby Gifford Pinchot National Forest instead. If hiking along a crest trail is your thing, then opt for the Silver Star and Ed’s Trail Loop. Just be sure to keep an eye on your dog and make sure they’re comfortable walking along a ridge. For more low-key options, this forest is loaded with incredible waterfalls treks. To get some spectacular waterfall pictures, head to the Lewis River Falls Trail.

7. Coconino National Forest — close to Red Rock State Park

Bell Rock

Photo: Harry Beugelink/Shutterstock

For red rock canyons, worn-out rock formations, and a warmer climate, head to Coconino National Forest in Arizona. A different type of forest, it has just as many red rock formations as trees. When visiting this national forest, check out the top trail, Devil’s Bridge. It’s rated as a moderate hike, despite the foreboding name. For valley views, check out a shorter hike known as Soldier Pass Trail. But note, it’s well-loved by mountain bikers and trail runners, so it’s best to keep your dog on a leash. And depending on the time of year you visit, be sure to pack plenty of water for your dog — keep in mind, they can do some of the carrying as well.

8. Superior National Forest — close to the Great Lakes

Boundary Waters

Photo: s.tomas/Shutterstock

The state of Minnesota is heavily wooded and full of lakes, making it a perfect backdrop for a getaway with your dog. One spot worth putting on your itinerary is Superior National Forest. Some of the more popular hikes are ideal for all dogs, even those that are new to trekking. The Kadunce River Wayside Trail is accessible to most and the surrounding woodland is peaceful and quite charming. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, the Eagle Mountain Trail is one of the highest points in the forest and offers great views of the lakes.

9. Nantahala National Forest — close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dry Falls, in Nantahala National Forest

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

This area was known to be held in high esteem by the Cherokee, who named the forest Nantahala, meaning “Land of the Noonday Sun.” It’s beloved for its strikingly beautiful fall foliage, great mountain biking courses, and options for backpacking trips. If you’re considering planning a trip to Nantahala it’s recommended you do so during its beautiful fall season. And if you’re into camping, the campgrounds here also welcome dogs and have good facilities.

10. White Mountain National Forest — close to Baxter State Park

Autumn color and waterfall at Rocky Gorge,

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

White Mountain National Forest is another national forest known for its fall beauty and for some of the most picturesque views in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It’s also one of the most well-known national forests in the US, outshining even nearby Baxter State Park. When visiting White Mountain National Forest, you and your dog should be ready for some higher difficulty level hikes. Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail are challenging but they encompass stunning views. And if you’re visiting for the fall colors, hiking Artist’s Bluff Trail is a must.

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