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Not Just Whistlin’ Dixie

Why are we so entranced with the National Parks? It seems they’ve dominated American family vacations forever. We even measure how well-traveled we are by the number that we’ve visited … so, you’ve been to Europe half a dozen times, but have you seen Yellowstone?

And yet, in all our travels, we’ve only found one national park that we would classify as pet friendly – the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. (Update: Acadia National Park in Maine is also pet friendly.) With all the miles we’ve covered and the places we’ve been with the dogs, you’d think we’d have learned our lesson by now. Well, not quite yet, apparently…

Map of Bryce and Zion

In the southwest corner of Utah you’ll find Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks – two “must-dos” if you’re to be considered a serious traveler. And so, like moths to a flame, we were lured in once again.

Buster and Ty with Bryce Canyon Sign

Bryce Canyon National Park

The scenery was like nothing we’d seen before. These ancient sand dunes solidified into sandstone mountains, and over millions of years have eroded in the most unusual ways. The towers that are left standing are called hoodoos – which is as much fun to say as they are to behold.

Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah

And now comes the part where we pull the rug out from under you. (Don’t act so surprised – you knew this was coming!) According to park information, there is only one pet friendly trail in Bryce Canyon. It runs along the rim from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point and is a whopping 0.5 miles long.

Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah

Adding insult to injury, signs appear to contradict the information provided in the official park brochure. It’s tough to make out, but the sign in the background above says “No Pets or Bicycles on Trails.” Confused? So were we! We tracked down a ranger who said that the “trails” this sign is referring to are the ones below the rim – as far has he knew, leashed pets were welcome on the entire rim trail. Well, not according the the park brochure!

We chose to abide by the printed rules and did not take the boys beyond Sunset Point. That meant we saw a majority of the park by driving along the canyon’s edge and jumping out to take pictures at the turnouts with the rest of the tourists. Pets are welcome to join you for the ride and are allowed to get out to stretch their legs only in the paved parking areas. :-(

Zion National Park

Things were a bit better at Zion. The Pa’rus trail is clearly marked as pet friendly and extends for 1.7 miles along the banks of the Virgin River. Beginning at the visitor’s center, you walk along the edge of the campground though the valley.

Zion National Park - Utah Zion National Park - Utah

At Zion, you have to leave your vehicle and board a shuttle which takes you up the canyon to the popular sights. If you walk the pet friendly trail BEFORE you go see the really good stuff, the views are pretty nice.

Zion National Park - Utah

But the pet friendly trail won’t get you anywhere near this:

Zion National Park - Utah Zion National Park - Utah Zion National Park - Utah

Lessons Learned

The point of this rather long-winded rant is that our national forests are wonderfully pet friendly! Remember the map from above? Did you notice the unmarked patch of green between the two national parks? That’s part of the Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest - Utah

Spread across southwest Utah in four different regions, all the trails in Dixie are free to use and pet friendly. And they have a lot to choose from! We opted for a five-miler in Red Canyon with plenty of ups and downs. It was about the middle of the road between the wheelchair accessible trails and those of the extremely difficult, all-day variety.

Dixie National Forest - Utah Dixie National Forest - Utah Dixie National Forest - Utah

This hoodoo reminds me of a plump grandma in her Sunday hat.

Dixie National Forest - Utah

Just look at how happy the boys are!

Dixie National Forest - Utah Dixie National Forest - Utah

One could argue the landscape in the national parks was more spectacular, but that would be slitting hairs over magnitudes of stunning. And, we got to get out into the scenery, and experience it – with the dogs. To me, that makes all the difference.

The next time you’re thinking of taking a trip to a national park with your pets, dig out the map and find a national forest nearby. You’ll want to plan some time there.

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