If you are hoping to hike or walk the boardwalks of Yellowstone National Park, the following information may not be what many want to read: Yellowstone National Park is not the place to take your pet if you want to see any sites beyond the pavement of the park. 

I sincerely apologize for being a buzzkill and possibly hindering your excitement for traveling to the park with your pet. I just want to make sure you have all the information so you know what to expect. 

The National Park Service is friendly toward pet owners, with programs like “B.A.R.K. Rangers” common on social media and other marketing methods. However, it doesn’t take much research to see that the majority of National Parks are overwhelmingly not pet-friendly destinations if you plan on adventuring beyond your car. Nearly all parks do not allow pets, leashed or not, on trails or boardwalks.

Yellowstone is not an exception to this. 

On the Yellowstone National Park website, in the “Pets” section, the park says that bringing a pet to Yellowstone may limit your activities in the park. If you plan on sticking to your car all day and driving around, this is accurate. Your dog will enjoy the smells of the park and will definitely enjoy being with you in this amazing wonderland. You can even have your dog on a leash and watch Old Faithful erupt, from a distance and not at the seats on the boardwalk. 

If you are planning or hoping to do anything besides drive around and stick to the pavement, hiking no trails and wandering zero of the iconic boardwalks of the park, the word “may” in the previous paragraph should be changed to read as “will.” 

The Park’s Rules and Regulations: 

– Pets may only accompany people in developed areas and must remain within 100 feet (30.5 meters) of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds.

– Pets must be physically controlled at all times: they must be in a car, in a crate, or on a leash no more than six feet long.

– Pets are not allowed on boardwalks, hiking trails, in the backcountry, or in thermal areas.

– Pets may not be left unattended or tied to an object.

– Pets may not be left in a situation where food, water, shade, ventilation, and other basic needs are inadequate. Pets may remain in vehicles for short periods of time, but we recommend that someone stay behind to personally ensure the pet’s well-being.

– Owners must bag and dispose of pet waste.

– There are NO EXCEPTIONS to the pet regulations, even for carried pets (in arms, carriers, strollers, backpacks, and so forth) in restricted parts of the park.

The most likely thing that will happen to your dog, if something is to go wrong, is that they could be burned or killed in hot springs. This happens every few years and almost every single time, the dog owner states in one way or another that what happened was completely out of character for their dog. 

The park also states on their website that these policies exist to protect pets from being killed by predators like bears and coyotes. This has happened more often than you think. Furthermore, the park’s pet policies are enacted to to prevent the exchange of diseases between domestic animals and park wildlife, and to allow others to enjoy the park without the disruption of pets. Again, if you don’t like these rules and regulations, either don’t visit the park or be sure to understand and follow all the rules when taking your dog into Yellowstone. 

So What About Service Animals, You Ask?

Here is what the park’s website has to say: Qualified service animals assisting people with disabilities are allowed and must be leashed. A service animal is defined as a dog that performs some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform such as carrying a pack for persons with mobility impairments, assisting persons with balance, or alerting medically-dependent persons of specific conditions such as oncoming seizures. 

Your Comfort Animal is NOT a Service Animal

Companion dogs that are used only to provide comfort or emotional support or any other pets are not allowed in buildings, the backcountry, on nature trails, or on boardwalks. 

Recently, more people have been trying to falsify that their comfort animal is a Service Animal. Each year, I see dozens of pets wearing a vest their owners bought walking trails and boardwalks. Don’t do this. This is abusing the system, bringing undue scrutiny to those who actually do have a Service Animal, and risking not just the safety of a pet, but also potentially bringing you fines or worse. 

Ok, But What If You Are Traveling With Your Pet?

If you are taking your pet to the park, follow the rules and regulations and have an amazing time. There is absolutely no reason not to travel with your pet if you want. In fact, a ranger may have a treat for your pooch as you enter. The park will never tell you not to have your animal with you in your car, it just wants to make sure that you keep them in designated areas and follow all rules and regulations. Should be simple enough! 

If you are wanting to walk the boardwalks or hike the trails in Yellowstone, there are numerous boarding options outside of the park, typically around the towns of Cody, West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Livingston, and Bozeman. A quick inquiry on a search engine will hook you up with numerous options. 

If you are insisting on hiking with your dog, you are in luck, just not within the park boundaries.  The nearby National Forest lands and state lands are pet friendly and can give you and your animal a much more enjoyable experience. There are literally millions of acres with thousands of miles of trails to wander outside the park boundary that are ideal for you pet-friendly adventure. Need a suggestion?

Just ask me and I’ll happily recommend some awesome spots!

Image Credit: NPS/Neal Herbert