Dogs Hiking on NPS (National Park Service) or USFS (United State Forest Service Land)
Yes, You Can Hike With Your Dog on National Park Service Land if You Follow the Rules
You and your family are going on a hike, can your dog come? That depends on where you are going on a hike. If you are going on a hike in the US National Forest (USFS), there is a good chance that she can come. If you are going on a hike in a National Park (NPS), there is a good chance she can’t come. Keep the following tips in mind when planning a hike with your dog on governmental land.
1. Land Ownership
When planning a hike with your dog, it is very important you know who owns the land you will be hiking on. Whether the land is owned privately, by the federal government, by the city you live in, or by the state you live in, all land has different rules, particularly when it comes to dogs. Avoid unnecessary trouble, and find out who owns the land you want to hike on. If you take a dog on land that does not allow dogs, there is a good chance that you will receive a ticket.
2. In General
While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to where dogs are allowed and where they are not, there are some rules that are generally true. Dogs are usually allowed on Forest Service and BLM land. The exception to this applies to areas designated as Wilderness, where dogs are not allowed. Dogs are usually not allowed on trails in National Parks.
The average American does not know the difference between a National Forest and a National Park. Other than the fact that National Parks and National Forests are run by different branches of the Federal government, they each have different management goals. The objective of the National Park Service is essentially to preserve and protect. The goal of the Forest Service is essentially multi-use management. These objectives are directly responsible for each organization’s outlook on dogs.
4. The National Forest Service: Multi-use Management
Because the National Forest Service’s management goals are that of multi-use management, they will allow a variety of activities on their land. The US Forest Service issues timber permits (they allow private contractors to cut the trees on their land), they issue mining permits, they permit the use of snowmobiles, and ATVs, they allow people to fire guns on their land, and they designate areas as Wilderness, meaning those designated areas cannot be harvested or used in a way that would compromise the land, and last but not least, the allow dogs (except in Wilderness areas). The National Forest Service’s motto is ‘land of many uses’. Excluding dogs from Forest Service land contradicts their management plan.
5. The National Park Service: Preserve and Protect
Unlike the Forest Service, the National Park Service has no interest in multi-use management. The National Park Service was established to preserve and protect the land. The National Park Service does not allow most activities that would compromise the ‘resource’, so to say. This means that if ATVing tears up the land, and kills plants and animals, it is not allowed on National Park Service land. As a result, dogs are not allow on National Park Service trails. Why? Because dogs are not natural to a National Park Service. Dogs dig, they chase animals, they kill animals, they eat plants, they poop. Not only that, but dogs are a great way to introduce invasive plants to an area. Dogs can carry plant seeds from one area to another in their fur. If one of those seeds were to establish itself in a new area, that plant has the potential to overtake the natural plants of the area.
Wait, you’re thinking. My dog doesn’t dig, nor does she chase or kill animals, and I always pick up her poop. Why is not she allowed in the National Park? You have no doubt heard the saying ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’. This is the attitude the National Park Service has to take in regards to dogs in order to guarantee that dogs do not compromise the resource. While you may be a very competent and respectful dog owner, always keeping your dog on a leash and cleaning up after her, there are a dozen more dog owners who could care less. While the National Park Service says that dogs are not allowed, what they should really say is that irresponsible dog owners and their dogs are not allowed. Unfortunately enforcing such a regulation would be impossible, so no dogs are allowed.
6. How Do You Know What Land You Are On?
It is not always easy knowing what kind of land you are on. Not all trail heads are marked and the Forest Service and National Park Service don’t want to mark all trails, as they want to keep the land relatively wild. A good rule of thumb, but it is not always true, is if you go through an entrance booth, and pay a fee, you are most likely on National Park Service land. If that does not work, look around at the trail head. Is there a sign? If there is a sign, look for any mention of dogs. Usually if dogs are allowed, it won’t say anything about dogs. If dogs are not allowed there will probably be a picture of a dog with a line through it.