I’ll start off this post with one giant disclaimer: Visiting Yellowstone with a dog is not a good idea. Like most National Parks, it is not pup friendly. Dogs are restricted to pavement and a 6 foot (or shorter) leash at all times. And although service animals are exempt to these rules, they do make it very clear that it is not a good place for a dog, service animal or not. They can upset/be upset by the wildlife, step off trail into dangerous thermal areas, or overheat easily when left in campers/vehicles. If you really want the freedom to see Yellowstone, leave your pup at home.
So what did we do with Thor on our trip to Yellowstone? Took him along, of course. And it worked out great! Below I’ve written up some tips based on my experience traveling in Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) with my dog.
I knew the regulations ahead of time and planned my trip around them. It was my first time in both of these parks so the goal was mostly sight seeing and getting a ‘feel’ for both of them. If Yellowstone and Grand Teton were my only destinations or I planned on long hikes or backpacks, I would have left Thor at home. But as a well loved member of our pack who would have lots of opportunities for fun on the rest of the trip, leaving him behind was never even a possibility.
1. Dog-Friendly Lodging in Yellowstone and Grand Teton
The cabins within the parks are dog friendly (with a fee). So are the campgrounds. We stayed at the Old Faithful Cabins, the Roosevelt Cabins, the Mammoth Cabins, and the Colter Bay (Grand Teton) cabins. I recently reviewed our experience with all four. Some of the rooms were small but all were able to fit Thor’s large crate.
Rules were a bit vague about leaving your dog alone in a cabin while exploring the park. The agreement you will sign covers damage and disturbing of other visitors, but nothing about leaving your dog. Presumably, if you left your pup alone in a room and they destroyed things or barked the whole time, you would be violating the rules and subject to a fine or be removed from the premises.
Thor is crate trained and a non-barker. We brought his crate so that we could leave him for short periods with the peace of mind that he was keeping out of trouble – he is a teenage lab, after all. We never left him for more than a couple of hours and only once every other day or so. Leaving the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door meant he wouldn’t startle any cleaning crew. At Mammoth Hot Springs they even gave us a door hanger to leave to let people know there was a pet inside the cabin. We used these short periods of time to hike nearby trails that were not dog friendly and would require more than ~30 minutes to hike.
There is a paved lakeside trail at Colter Bay in Grand Teton that is one of the few dog friendly places without vehicles. It allowed us to walk Thor in a peaceful environment away from cars, RVs, and buses. He even swam in Jackson Lake a bit!
2. Leaving Your Pup in Your Car
The regulations that we received stated that it was okay to leave your pet for short periods as long as they were left in adequate temperatures and had access to water. They highly recommended someone stay behind with the animal. Dogs should never be left tied up alone due to the wild animals in the park.
We have turned the back cab of our truck into a ‘den’ for Thor. The seats have been removed and a dog bed and toys have been added. It is his happy place, and he is at his most excited when he gets to travel and hang out in his ‘den’. As long as the temperature is okay, he would be happy hanging out there all day if we let him.
Luckily, it was cool enough on our visit that we could leave him and do short interpretive trails and view points without worrying. On days when the temperature creeped up, we planned these kind of activities in the early morning and late evening so that he was comfortable. I doubt anyone even noticed he was there – he’ll curl up and snooze on the floor while we do our thing.
3. Explore Outside the Park!
Adventures don’t have to be restricted to National Park Boundaries! We took one day to explore out of the northeast entrance towards Beartooth Pass and another to hike in the Gallatin National Forest out of the north entrance. National Forest lands are very dog friendly and it gave us an opportunity to get in some energy-burning off leash hiking with the pup. And since we weren’t doing a lot of hiking within the park, us humans appreciated the exercise too!
4. Be Flexible!
Depending on your lodging choices, the weather, and the amount of time you have available you can certainly plan an itinerary that works with your pup. If you have a lazy dog who is happy snoozing in a cabin or the car on a cool day, you have more flexibility to explore. If you have a pup that needs to burn off energy and get in exercise, work in some adventures outside of the park boundaries. Some of the surrounding towns even have doggy daycares – a great option for travelers who can’t leave their pup alone due to behavior or temperature issues.
When we pulled through the park entrance the first day, the ranger looked at Thor (a 75 lb yellow lab) and said “he’d be an appetizer for some of our wildlife.” She wasn’t wrong. The very large wildlife of Yellowstone and Grand Teton do not take kindly to dogs, so keeping them under control when viewing wildlife is essential. If your dog is reactive it may be best to leave them at home.
Thor is generally a very quiet dog and very rarely barks. However, we discovered that if he IS going to bark it’s most likely at a mammal larger than him. It’s easy to quiet him, though, so he mostly kept his grumbles and whines confined to the truck. Even when we were watching and hearing the wolves howl, Thor was happily hanging out in the truck, completely oblivious to his ancestors howling a 1/4 mile away. It’s nice to know he’s happy with his current pack!
Yellowstone with a Dog Recap
Yellowstone and Grand Teton are totally doable with a dog under the right circumstances. Thor has gone on long travels with us since he was a puppy, so he’s a relatively low maintenance, experienced canine traveling companion. We were lucky with the mild weather (a heat wave came through right as we were leaving). Had it been hot, or if I had a reactive and noisy dog, it wouldn’t have worked.
As long as you and your pup are happy and comfortable with the limitations, I say go for it!