Pet Connection: Does Fido belong on family trip to national park?

Visiting a national park is a popular pastime, especially during summer. We decided to beat the crowds last month by visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks before the vacationing hordes overtook them. Two of our dogs stayed home with a pet sitter, but Harper – our most experienced traveler– came along for the ride.

I dithered about bringing her until the very last minute. Dogs can enter national parks, but they’re not allowed on most trails or in buildings. National park lodges don’t permit them, although some campgrounds and cabins make allowances for dogs.

And forget about taking Buster to see Old Faithful spout or stroll along the boardwalk at Biscuit Basin checking out the steaming sulfur pools. He’ll be canina non grata.

I knew all this going in, but as it turned out, the off-season was a great time to bring a dog. The rules still applied, but with trails closed by snow and many lodges not yet open, we didn’t feel as if we were missing out on anything by just driving through and seeing the sights.

The driving snowstorm at Old Faithful meant that Harper was more than happy to stay in the car while we waited for the geyser to blow, and, of course, we didn’t have to worry that she would overheat. Harper also stayed in the car when we pulled over to photograph bison grazing or a couple of grizzlies grubbing for grubs after their long winter nap. But when it wasn’t snowing, hailing, sleeting, raining or thundering – all of which we encountered during our two days in Yellowstone – Harper hopped out of the car at the turnouts and walked with us as we appreciated the stunning views.

If a vista required a short hike, we took turns staying with her. At Grand Teton, it was sunnier if still cold, so Harper got more and longer walks at the turnouts and outside the visitor center. At one turnout, we put out some hides (scent) so she could practice her nose work. She found all three in record time – just before it started hailing. We stayed outside the parks in Jackson, Wyo., spending three days at a bare-bones motel and three at a luxury resort offering off-season rates.

Meals included car picnics, brunch at dog-friendly Cafe Genevieve and coffee at Persephone Bakery, which had outdoor seating. Other times she snoozed in her crate in the hotel room. On the two occasions that we needed to go somewhere without her – a hike with a local wildlife biologist and a visit to the National Museum of Wildlife Art – Harper stayed at Happy Tails Pet Resort at Spring Creek Animal Hospital in Jackson, which I had called before our trip to make arrangements.

On the way home, we made a bonus visit to Zion National Park in Utah, where we met other people with dogs in tow. Zion has the same pet rules as other national parks, but it has one trail that permits dogs. The paved Pa’rus Trail follows the Virgin River for almost two miles and is an easy stroll. (Tip: Don’t drive your dog through Zion’s hairpin roads if he’s prone to carsickness.)

For the best national park visit with dogs, make reservations at boarding kennels and pet-friendly hotels well beforehand, and keep your dog’s vaccination record handy in case you decide to park him at a kennel for a day while you hike. Traveling by RV is another good option because your dog will have a safe place to stay if you go somewhere he can’t. If you want to take him hiking, make your way to the nearest national forest, where dogs generally are permitted. Just don’t forget your bear spray.