For those of us with furbabies, bringing man’s best friend along the journey is a must.
Hitting the road and sharing the outdoor adventure with our pets is unquestionably fun, but it also presents its own set of challenges. With a little planning and research, you and your pets can have a pawsitive experience—pun definitely intended!
For the past several years, my husband Chad and I, along with our dog, Maggie and pet goat Frankie have traveled nearly 50,000 miles around North America. From beaches and deserts to snowy mountaintops and forests, we have shared unforgettable memories exploring the country with our four-legged critters. With that being said, this experience comes with a few caveats and plenty of research is required to ensure pets have a safe and enjoyable travel experience. While planning a pet friendly road trip, below are a few tips to consider.
Before embarking on the journey, there are several things you can accomplish that will help prepare you for the trip. For starters, it’s essential to have pets micro chipped and properly tagged on the off chance you become separated. Depending on where you go or stay, or if you plan on crossing the border, some places will ask to see proof of vaccination (especially rabies). Not only are the vet records good to have on hand, it can also help you out in times of emergencies.
Another important way to prep for your trip is taking a test run. For some animals, being confined to small spaces like a car or trailer can come as quite a shock. To help ease them into traveling, it’s a smart idea to take them out for a few spins before you tour the country. Prior to hitting the road, we took Frankie and Maggie on short camping trips that involved one to two hour drives- that way, they were accustomed to car travel and not stressed out by the unfamiliar surroundings when we became fulltime RVers.
Depending on what kind of traveler you are and whether you prefer to stay at RV Parks or boondock on public lands, it’s wise to research rules ahead of time so you aren’t turned away upon arrival. Though many campgrounds are pet friendly, you will also find your fair share of parks with no-pet policies or breed and size restrictions. To avoid this predicament, make sure to call ahead or check the campground’s FAQ page to ensure Fido is allowed. There are also several online resources and Apps that can help you find pet-friendly resorts and campgrounds including:
Many people have asked if we’ve ever been turned away due to our goat Frankie- the answer is no. Though we occasionally stay at paid campgrounds, the majority of places we pick are dispersed camping sites on National Forest or BLM land. If your trailer is outfitted for off-grid camping, we’ve found boondocking to be preferable because it allows you more options, you don’t have to worry about campground restrictions, and your pets have more freedom.
National and State Parks
Make no bones about it; one of the toughest things about traveling with pets is the fact that many places on your bucket list are not pet-friendly. This is especially true for most trails in National and State Parks. In general, pets are only allowed in developed areas, roads, campgrounds, and overlooks. These regulations are in place to keep pets safe and protect the local flora and fauna.
Despite the fact that the majority of the trails are off limits to pups, we have found ways to still enjoy the park while abiding by the rules. Most places have at least one trail that is pet friendly, so typically we’ll do a little research ahead of time or get a recommendation from a ranger. Sometimes, we’ll opt to hike just outside of park boundaries in the National Forest where it’s less regulated. Most pictures we’ve taken of Frankie or Maggie with iconic National Park backdrops have been on scenic roads throughout the park. While driving around the parks, we get out at the overlooks to snap a few pictures and let them walk around on pet friendly sidewalks.
Though most parks do not allow dogs on trails, there are a few exceptions. Here’s a list of some of the country’s most pet friendly parks:
Acadia National Park, ME allows leashed pets full access to 100 miles of trails as well as paved carriage roads.
Valley of Fire State Park, NV permits leashed pets on all of their trails.
Shenandoah National Park, VA allows leashed on 480 out of 500 miles of trails.
Yosemite National Park, CA permits leashed pets in Wawona and Hodgdon Meadows as well as paved roads, sidewalks, and bike paths.
Grand Canyon, AZ allows leashed pets on trails above the south rim of the park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO permits leashed pets on the sand dunes.
Cuyahoga National Park, OH, allows pets on 110 miles of hiking trails as well as 20 miles of the historic Towpath Trail
If you’re looking for places to take your pooch beyond the park system, we’ve encountered pet-friendly beaches, dog parks, and restaurants and bars with outdoor seating that are happy to accommodate pets.
While traveling and hiking around the country, there are several safety factors to take in account. As a furbaby Mama, my biggest fear has been that something could happen and we’d be hours from a vet. With that being said, it’s always good to know ahead of time where the closest veterinary clinic is. To avoid being stuck in a hairy situation, there are a few precautions we take when we are on the road or out exploring. The first thing is to be aware of your surroundings and any potential threats. We research trails and off grid campsites to check for recent bear/ mountain lion activity and while hiking, we carry bear spray which studies have found to be 92% effective at deterring attacks. Hydration is extremely important while hiking, even more so during warm weather, so bringing enough water and knowing a pet’s limitations and body language are key. One of the most vital items to bring on a road trip is a first aid kit and it’s wise to bring a small one on a hike incase of unforeseen emergencies.
Being aware of the weather and temperature is vital to our animals’ well being. Even on comfortable days, it’s not far-fetched for the trailer to heat up to 90+ degrees if left in full sun. If you had planned on leaving your pet unattended in the trailer to go off exploring, know the risks. Even if you leave the A/C on, power failures happen on a regular basis and the result can be deadly.
Lastly, if you plan on spending time on the road, researching the best crate or car harness ahead of time will help keep your pet safe while driving. You can never anticipate a deer jumping out in front of your car or another driver’s mistake so keeping pets restrained gives them a better chance of survival if the worst happens.
Etiquette and Common Faux-Paws
One of the biggest shockers since traveling around the country with our pets is the amount of people who don’t practice common pet courtesy. First and foremost—please, please, please pick up after pets because there is nothing worse than stepping in dog poop and tracking it all over your trailer! (Take it from my experience-it stinks!) If you do decide to stay at an RV park, don’t leave a dog prone to barking alone in the RV because you will return to some unhappy neighbors and you could end up being asked to leave. Another mistake we notice on a regular basis is free range and roaming dogs on trails. No offense to your pooch, but some people prefer to keep their distance to animals and that’s their right. We’ve had several scary experiences while hiking in the woods with massive dogs running up to us with no owner in sight, no one wants to be THAT guy.
Maggie doing what animals doo at Valley of the Gods, Utah. Image: Cate BattlesTop Gear
There are several gadgets, apps, and essential items available to help ensure your pets safety and comfort. Here are some favorites:
- Collapsible water and food bowl
- Ruff Wear Dog Boots
- MarCell Pet Temperature Monitor
- Kong classic chew toy
- LED harness
- Barksbar car seat cover hammock
- Ruffwear quinzee jacket
- Outdoor Shower
Camping World also has a huge selection of pet products for your best friend and RV.
Author, photographer and artist Cate Battles travels the country full time with her husband, Chad, in their renovated, mural-painted 1976 Airstream Argosy. The couple’s travel blog, Argosy Odyssey, chronicles their adventures as they tour North America with their pet goat and dog. You can read more of Cate’s dispatches for Trailer Life here and follow the Battles on Instagram and Facebook.