A look at 12 of the most pet-friendly motorhome destinations across the country
Whether you are new to motorhome travel with your pets or have been cruising along with your best friend for years, one thing is certain: pet-friendly attractions, parks and destinations make the trip so much better for everyone.
My husband, Rod, and I recently embarked on a 15,000-mile tour, along with our pups, Ty and Buster, to scout out the top pet-friendly destinations in 48 states and Washington D.C. The result of our travels is compiled in the new book, The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip (available on Amazon, $30).
RVers know it’s always more convenient to stay near the attraction they’re visiting — whether their pets are with them or not. But for the pet lovers out there, we present 12 of the top pet-friendly destinations in the United States that have RV parks in the immediate vicinity.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the nation’s most breathtaking attractions. And, even better, it’s pet-friendly! Pets are welcome on a variety of trails, including the 13-mile South Rim Trail, parts of which are paved.
There are many lodging options for visitors with pets, including campgrounds, RV sites and pet-friendly hotel rooms (for friends who don’t own a motorhome). Of course, for everyone’s safety there are areas that don’t allow pets, but if you want to check those out, no problem. The South Rim Kennel is open daily and accepts dogs and cats for day or overnight boarding.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park encompasses an incredible 71,000 acres of landscape and wildlife — including a herd of 1,450 bison. Pet travelers in the mood for a drive should take the famous Needles Highway (use your dinghy vehicle here), which runs for 38 miles through spectacular rock formations and dense forests, before culminating at Sylvan Lake. The lake is encircled by a pet-friendly trail, with more challenging trailheads splitting off along the way. All told, there are more than 60 miles of pet-friendly trails throughout the park for various ability levels.
Custer State Park offers nine campgrounds, and most have sites with hookups, but they book up fast. The national forest campground at Bismark Lake can also accommodate RVs and is convenient to all the popular attractions, plus, the sites are easier to come by.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Just off the coast of Washington state are the lovely San Juan Islands. Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, the islands are a patchwork of pine forests, stony beaches, lush pastures and fields, and sparkling lakes. Whether you’re planning to paddle, hike, or bike your island of choice, you won’t be disappointed.
Four of the San Juan Islands are accessible by pet-friendly ferries, which also carry RVs of all sizes. However, the roads on the islands are narrow and RV parks are few. Those in smaller motorhomes will find camping options at the county parks on San Juan and Lopez islands, and at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island. Larger RVs can be accommodated at one of eight partial hook-up sites at the County Fairgrounds on San Juan Island. Or choose from the many RV parks and campgrounds on Whidbey and Fidalgo islands, and hop the ferry in Anacortes for day trips to all the San Juans!
Medicine Wheel, Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming
Bighorn National Forest runs south for 80 miles from the Montana/Wyoming border and encompasses more than 1 million acres. With elevations ranging from 5,000 feet to 13,189 at Cloud Peak, the range’s highest point, the terrain is diverse.
Leashed pets are welcome to explore all 32 campgrounds, picnic areas and more than 1,500 miles of trails along with you. One place to be sure not to miss is Medicine Wheel. Made of white limestones laid in a rim-and-spoke pattern, Medicine Wheel is believed to be the work of ancient ancestors and is revered as a sacred place by many. Pets aren’t allowed on the path directly next to the site and should be kept quiet to respect its sacred nature.
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Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska
An active military post from 1874 to 1948, much of the history of Fort Robinson has been preserved, making this historical site in the midst of incredible natural beauty an optimal pet-friendly destination. More than 22,000 acres offer rugged buttes, wild prairies and incredible stargazing at night.
Stay in renovated officers’ quarters (pet friendly!) or pet-friendly campgrounds. On top of the history and terrain, the park offers lots of recreational activities like hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, Jeep tours, kayaking and more. Leashed pets are welcome throughout the park, trails and campgrounds. They aren’t allowed in the lodge, exhibits, pool, or where food is served.
Dixie National Forest, Utah
Southern Utah has so much incredible beauty, but pet-friendly options aren’t as abundant. Luckily, there’s Dixie National Forest. Covering almost 2 million acres, Dixie has more than 1,600 miles of hiking-, horseback-riding and bike trails as well as 500 miles of fishing streams and 90 lakes. And, leashed pets are welcome to explore every inch with you!
The terrain is undeniably gorgeous, with elegant spires and burly hoodoos (tall, surreal rock formations also known as “fairy chimneys” or “earth pyramids”) of red limestone and sandstone. And with elevation ranging from 3,000 to 11,000 feet, there are a variety of fascinating climates and ecosystems within the park.
As with most national forests, Dixie offers a variety of campgrounds to choose from. Our favorite is Red Canyon Campground for its proximity to the paved Red Canyon Bicycle Trail, excellent hiking trails and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Located in southwestern Oklahoma, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one of the few native mixed-grass prairies remaining in the United States. The 20,000-acre refuge provides habitat for bison, Rocky Mountain elk and white-tailed deer as well as more than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish and 806 plant species. The refuge also boasts several lakes and, of course, mountains.
Leashed pets are welcome throughout the refuge on trails and in picnic areas. Campsites at Doris Campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis and most will accommodate RVs. Because of the abundance of wildlife within the park, 10-foot leash laws are strictly enforced.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi
Stretching 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, the Natchez Trace Parkway follows the original Natchez Trace; a trail that was first used by nomadic hunters following bison herds; later by European trappers; and finally by early pioneers who took this route on their way home after bringin g their goods down to New Orleans via the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
In 1937 the trail became a unit of the National Park System. From thick forests to boggy cypress swamps, the parkway offers gorgeous scenery and a peek into the past. Along the way, more than 100 exhibits, interpretative signs and marked trails showcase the trail’s archaeological, cultural, historic and scenic significance. Leashed pets are welcome at all turnouts, picnic areas, trails and in the campgrounds located along the route. Pets are not allowed inside exhibits or structures.
Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
Dark green ridges and pastoral valleys paired with dramatic altitude variations make the Monongahela one of the most biologically diverse forests in the country. With 75 varieties of trees, 225 kinds of birds, 72 fish species, black bear, deer, beaver, fisher, bobcat, river otter, mink and eight federally threatened or endangered species, the forest is teeming with life.
One of the most popular attractions, Seneca Rocks, is comprised of elegant white and gray Tuscarora quartzite formations rising more than 900 feet above the valley floor. Spruce Knob, another popular site, is the highest point in West Virginia.
Leashed pets are allowed in all developed areas, including the forest campgrounds and popular sites, unless otherwise posted or stated. Elsewhere within the national forest, pets may be off leash but under voice control. A word of warning, though: With so much wildlife, it may be better to keep your pets leashed — for his, yours and other animals’ safety.
Indiana Dunes, Indiana
It might surprise those who are unfamiliar with the area, but Indiana is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of lakeshore in the United States. This 15-mile shoreline features sparkling blue water, sandy dunes and 16.5 miles of trails through the dunes, ponds, marshes, creeks, prairie and forests.
Leashed pets are welcome on the national lakeshore beaches east of Indiana Dunes State Park, in the picnic areas, campground and on most trails. At Indiana Dunes State Park, leashed pets are welcome on all trails, in the picnic areas, campground and on the beach east of the lifeguarded area. Pets are not allowed on the swimming beach.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia is one of the most magnificent and pet-friendly national parks in the United States; you could stay for weeks and never run out of places to explore! There are 100 miles of pet-friendly trails with varying degrees of difficulty. And some 45 miles of historic carriage roads (built and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.) offer options for biking or hiking through the valleys and mountains, past lakes and ponds, and along breathtaking cliffs. A 27-mile driving route also showcases Acadia Park’s rugged shoreline.
Pets are welcome on most trails and in the free shuttles that buzz around the park. And having lunch, tea, or dinner on the lawn at Jordan Pond House Restaurant is a favorite of park visitors and their pets.
Acadia offers three campgrounds that will accommodate RVs within the park, and a plethora of private campgrounds are available in the area.
Fort De Soto Park & Dog Beach
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of Tampa, lie five small islands where history and nature combine to provide an enchanting getaway. The Fort De Soto Park campground offers a peaceful retreat, surrounded by more than 1,100 acres of forest and soft, white sandy beaches.
The actual Fort De Soto was built in 1900 to protect Tampa Bay, and today visitors can meander along a trail, stopping at educational stations along the way to learn about the history. Pets are welcome throughout most of the park and on all the trails, but not on the fishing piers or the public beaches. But that’s OK because pets have their own beach — the Fort De Soto Dog Beach, which is a quarter-mile stretch of beach just for the dogs to romp, splash and play then hit the doggy showers on their way out of town.
If motorhome travel with your pet interests you, don’t wait! Now is the perfect time to get on out there and do it. And above all, enjoy yourself. Don’t let the small stuff stress you out. After all, what could be better than an epic road trip adventure with your best friend by your side?