A Guide to Dog-Friendly National Parks: Pt. Three - The South

Looking for somewhere new to adventure with your dog? Check out these national parks in the south that will be sure to show both you and your pup a good time!

Three dogs standing on leashes with their owner. They are on a beach and there is an ocean in the background.

Photo by Kampus Productions

In part three of this guide, I'm covering dog-friendly national parks in the South. But if you're curious about other national parks you can bring your dogs to in the U.S., read Part One for parks in the West and Part Two for parks in the Midwest and Northeast.

Virginia

A map showing where Shenandoah National Park is in Virginia.
Two dogs in a lake. There are pine trees surrounding the lake.

Photo by Elle Matthews

Shenandoah National Park is considered to be America’s most colorful park. Visit in mid-October for a one-of-a-kind view from Big Meadows. Looking out, you’ll see red oak and chestnut trees and the poplar and maple leaves will paint the landscape in red, orange, and gold. Walking about the park are the densest population of black bears, and the rare Shenandoah salamander — a lungless amphibian that breathes through its skin. Over 200 bird species fly above, but they are better heard than seen because of the dense forest. Bobcats are also commonly around and unseen.

Shenandoah allows dogs on most trails. There are 115 miles of dog-friendly hiking and 105 miles of scenic drive. Travel the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains along Skyline Drive. Be prepared to face a little road sickness; those East-Coast twists and turns are no joke. Spend at least two nights here and go during the autumn season for beautiful landscapes of fall’s color-changing leaves.

Camping / Lodging

Scenic Drive

Recommended Hikes

West Virginia

A map showing where New River Gorge National Park is in West Virginia.
Two people walking their dog on a trail at New River Gorge National Park.

Photo by A.E. Crane

The New River Bridge is the third-largest single-arch bridge in the world. The bridge arches over the second oldest river in the world, dating back 360 million years. The 320-mile-long New River runs south-to-north and it begins in North Carolina, runs through Virginia and into West Virginia until it feeds into the Kanawha River. The New River Gorge bridge is certainly a highlight, but there is adventure everywhere. Endless Wall Trail was voted best national park trail by USA Today, and Backpacker Magazine rated the Greenbrier River Trail among the top 10 in the country.

The best news of all is that you and your dogs are allowed on any trail in America's newest national park. There are endless adventures spanning 70,000 acres — whitewater rafting, standup paddleboarding (SUP), rock climbing, or hiking. Get ideas from NPS for half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips.

Camping / Lodging

Scenic Drive

  • Diamond Point Overlook

Hiking

Explore Surrounding Areas

Kentucky

A map showing where Mammoth Cave National Park is in Kentucky.
A view inside Kentucky's Mammoth Cave.

Photo by Niagara

Native Americans discovered, explored, and mined Mammoth Cave for minerals between 5,000 and 2,000 B.C. For many years in the early 1800s, the mine was purchased and commonly used to make gunpowder from the cave’s dirt. Many prehistoric findings of indigenous people were found, the very first was “Mammoth Cave Mummy.” After she was found, she was moved to the cave entrance, the upper-level passage, then taken and put on display at world fairs until she was finally taken to safekeeping at the Smithsonian.

The cave has been known to contain Ice-Age fossils and researchers are thrilled about their most recent discovery — in 2020, 40 different species of shark fossils were uncovered. Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is also the only place you’ll find the endangered cave shrimp. These shrimp live in the lowest levels of the cave in the darkness, and they rely on the roaring river as part of their survival.

Mammoth Cave National Park has free admission for all, including animal lovers. Bring your doggo on any of the 80+ acres of trails available above ground. The only place you can't bring Fido is inside the caves.

Camping / Lodging

Explore Surrounding Areas

Find a Dog-Sitter

  • Mammoth Cave Lodge

Hiking

North Carolina

A map showing where Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in North Carolina

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (North Carolina and Tennessee)

A view of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Cherokee Indians served a monumental role in the area where Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now found. For more than 1,000 years among the Smoky Mountains, they developed agriculture, government, and trade throughout the land. A sacred home to them, they named it “Shaconge,” meaning land of blue smoke. There is a fog that is well-known to the area that comes from the plants. Plants release volatile organic compounds that have a high vapor pressure. When the vegetation releases these vapors into the air, the molecules scatter blue light from the sky, creating a blue hue to the area. The Cherokee called it “blue smoke.”

You can see nature’s work and creation best from Newfound Gap and Cades Cove Loop. The park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States for black bears and Cades Cove Loop is a popular area to look for them. There are around 1,500 black bears throughout — approximately two per square mile.

Entrance is completely free year-round. The scenic drives and numerous overlooks are well worth the trip. There are two trails for puppers and plenty to explore around the national park itself. Camping

Hiking

Scenic Drive

Explore Surrounding Areas

South Carolina

A map showing where Congaree National Park is in South Carolina.
A dog walking in a river in Congaree National Park.

Photo by Hunter Desportes

“Home of the Champions,” the loblolly pines, hickories, and bald cypress are praised for their record sizes in Congaree National Park. These trees are literally flooded with love from the Congaree and Wateree rivers. The 14,000 square miles of floodwaters fill these wetlands from heavy rains. Sycamores, cottonwoods, hackberry’s cherrybark, oak, water oak, sweetgum, holly, you get the point — this is one of the most diverse forest communities.

South Carolina’s only national park is free to enter and dogs may join you on any of its trails. All camping within the national park is tent or hammock only and requires a permit. Always check weather and closure information before you go.

Camping

Hiking

Fishing

  • Congaree River
  • Cedar Creek
  • Oxbow Lakes

Boating

  • Cedar Creek Canoe Trail (15 mi)

Explore Surrounding Areas

  • River Bottom Farms Family Campground
  • Comfort Inn and Suites Jackson Maingate

Florida

A map showing where the national parks are in Florida.
Two happy dogs running on a beach.

Photo by Elle Matthews

Not much of a loss here. There are no dog-friendly hikes at Biscayne National Park, so there’s not much to do with your dog on this island. You may bring your dog to the developed areas of Elliot Key and on the grounds of Convoy Point. Mosquitos get really bad from May to September, causing the campgrounds to close during that time.

2. Dry Tortugas National Park

A white beach with blue water and a red building.

Photo by Jack Cui

Greeted by sea turtles upon its discovery in the 1500s, “tortugas” literally means turtles in Spanish. “Dry” came later on, as a message to travelers of the sea about the island's lack of freshwater. Enveloped with lively coral reefs and deep waters, the highest concentration of shipwrecks in North America is here at Dry Tortugas National Park. The only way to get to the campgrounds is by using your own private boat to get to the island.

Camping

3. Everglades National Park

A view overlooking some marshes in Everglades National Park.

Photo by Domenico Convertini

Continuous over-development and invasive species are wreaking havoc on Florida’s ecosystem. Over the past 20 years, the non-native Burmese python has been suspected to severely threaten the mammals in Everglades National Park. Deer, rabbits, foxes, and opossums have declined in population by 85 to 99%. The Atlantic Coastal Plain’s Everglades is the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in the U.S. Its center features sawgrass marsh, the oldest green plant on Earth.

Pets are not allowed on any trail, paved or unpaved, or unpaved roads, as well as the Shark Valley Tram Trail/Road. Surrounding areas are certainly interesting and there are dog-friendly campgrounds within the Everglades. If you take a drive through the Big Cypress National Preserve, you may be able to spot bears or a Florida panther.

Camping

Explore Surrounding Areas

Arkansas

A map showing where Hot Springs National Park is in Arkansas.
A waterfall and some springs at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Photo by James St. John

Arkansas’ Bathhouse row are eight buildings that were used for therapeutic and medicinal hot spring baths in the early 1900s. These architecturally stylish buildings were renovated after the great fire of 1878, and many considered it a blessing. Ever since, Hot Springs National Park has long been considered a place for bettering health and well-being.

Outside of the downtown atmosphere, there are 25 miles of dog-friendly hikes. You’ll find eroded bluffs, forested canyons, waterfalls, swimming holes, and rock bridges.

Camping / Lodging

Hiking

Explore Surrounding Areas

Texas

A map showing where the national parks are in Texas.
A dog looks over a viewpoint at Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Photo by Robert Hensley

Big Bend National Park was first an ocean, then a boggy marsh where dinosaurs roamed. Volcanic activity uplifted the area to be the landscape it is today. Its 800,000 acres make up one of America’s largest and least-visited national parks. The name derives from the Rio Grande river. Its southeast flow changes abruptly toward the northeast, creating a “big bend.” Paleontologists and geologists love exploring Big Bend for its diverse collection of fossils. This is one of the only parks to offer complete views of a prehistoric ecosystem.

Dogs are not allowed on any other trail than the two listed below. If you’d like to see more of the 150 miles of available hikes to you, consider a dog-sitter or Rover.

Hiking

Lodging

Scenic Drive

  • Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
  • Tuff Canyon
  • Santa Elena Canyon Overlook
  • Mule Ears Viewpoint
  • Sotol Vista
  • Chisos Basin

Explore Surrounding Areas

Find a Dog-Sitter

2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

A sleepy dog on laying on the center console of a car as someone drives.

Photo by Elle Matthews

Guadalupe Peak is the highest in Texas at 8,751 feet. These mountains have told stories of hunter-gatherers inhabiting caves in the area, and also Mescalero Apaches who utilized the area's hunting and gathering resources. The diverse ecosystem is home to a lengthy list of critters. The desert has western diamondback rattlesnakes, bullsnakes, and coachwhip snakes. The canyons have ringtails, rock squirrels, and more snakes. Then up 3,000 feet in the mountains are elk, black bears, mountain lions, foxes, skunks, and porcupines. Creatures of the night, such as coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, will have their eyes on you.

Dogs are not allowed on the trails here and there are no scenic drives. The nearest kennels are in Carlsbad National Park. Your dog might get jealous of you hanging out with all those other animals without them, though.

Camping

Hiking

Explore Surrounding Areas

I hope this guide helps you out during the planning process! If you have any further questions regarding the parks, the doggos, the journey, or the gear, feel free to reach out to me or another Camping & Hiking Expert any time through Curated!

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Written By
Hello explorers and adventure seekers, my name's Elle (pronounced like the letter 'L') ​ I grew up in the midwest and knew I wanted nothing more than to be outside. So, I sold my car and used all that money to buy my backpacking equipment. I'd go on extended trips, weekend getaways, I'd even pop a t...

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