The U.S. Government owns 640 million acres of land, or about 28% of the nation’s total surface area. That’s an incomprehensible about of space, spread over diverse landscapes and encompassing our most precious natural treasures. These holdings are concentrated in the West, and most are managed by one of four government agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.
Each government agency operates under their own mandate, with specific goals and objectives for the land, wildlife, and resources in it’s care. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have multi-use directives that include recreation, sustained harvesting of resources, environmental and wildlife protection, and conservation. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are both tasked primarily with the conservation of the land, plants, and animals.
The differing goals of the agencies result in the disparity we see in pet policies they set. The polices set by the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service tend to be very restrictive toward pets — limiting them mostly to developed areas — which maximizes their primary goal of conservation. The National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management tend to balance their directives of recreation and conservation and take a much more pet friendly view, allowing dogs on nearly all trails, and many times allowing them to be off-leash.
There are a handful of national parks that buck this trend, and we’ve gathered everything you’ll need to know about them here:
In general, your best bet for finding off-leash hiking areas on federal land will be to look for areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. Of the total 640 acres of federal lands, a whopping 440.2 million combined acres are managed by these two agencies, which is great news for dog lovers!
It’s important to note that while these areas generally do not require dogs to be leashed in the backcountry, they do need to leash up in developed areas and campgrounds. Also, in areas where predators (like bears) are present, and where hunting is allowed, it’s a good idea to keep your pup leashed for his own safety. Be sure to ask about and follow the rules at each location, and always pick up and pack out your dog’s waste.
People living or traveling out west will likely find BLM land not far from their front door.
Bureau of Land Management Map
Forest Service lands are spread across the country, but again, most of the acreage is located in the western states.
Forest Service Map
The maps above provide a general overview, but here are some other resources to help you locate off-leash federal lands near you:
Fall is the perfect time for a pet friendly road trip to a fantastic, dog friendly off-leash hiking spot! We hope you and your dog have a terrific time. Waggin’ trails!