From Cody, we drove west to Yellowstone through the Shosone National Forest.
What you’re up against
Most national parks offer limited access to pets, and Yellowstone is no exception. Pets are allowed only within 100 feet of a road, a parking area or a campground – and, when outside your vehicle pets must be crated, in a carrier, or on a leash no longer than six feet at all times.
Normally I get a little ruffled when I encounter pet restrictions I consider overbearing. But, in this case, the reasoning is sound – protecting you and your pet from the wildlife and geothermic dangers in the park. During our visit we saw four grizzlies, three wolves, several herds of buffalo and elk, and numerous springs and pools hot enough to kill.
The challenge, then, is finding a balance between auto-touring (which Ty loves because he can sleep in his bed) and activities that will allow your dog to burn some energy (which Buster needs, or he will drive us all insane).
Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the world’s first national park. Encompassing 2.2 million acres, 96% of the park lies in the northwest corner of Wyoming, with small portions located in Montana (3%) and Idaho (1%).
The park’s most striking aspect is the varied landscape. Elevations range from mountains more than 11,000 feet high to valleys at barely 5,200 feet. There are canyons, lakes, geysers, forests, grasslands, waterfalls, hot springs and rivers. Where else do you find this kind of diversity? No wonder the wildlife thrives.
Boarding your pet may be the way to go if you’re looking to hike some of Yellowstone’s more than 950 miles of trails. However, for the majority of people that simply drive around the park, I think there’s a better answer!
Yellowstone has entrances on all four sides, making it easy to break up your trip. Getting outside the boundaries allows you to enjoy some of the surrounding areas that are more pet friendly! Here’s how we did it:
We came in the east gate, right into the big mountains, and soon were gazing across Yellowstone Lake. Sitting at an elevation of 7,700 feet and with a depth of more than 400 feet, it was the size of the lake that amazed me.
Heading north along the Yellowstone River we passed through the canyon area of the park and were lucky enough to catch site of a mother Grizzly and her two cubs foraging along the road. Though you’d never guess by looking at the map, the drive took several hours due to road construction, unusually heavy tourist traffic, and our leisurely, wildlife-spotting pace.
We exited the north gate in the town of Gardiner and cruised up Hwy 89 toward Livingston and our campsite for the night. The valley drive was blissfully quiet and quite scenic as we skirted the river. Ty and Buster were happy to find a walking trail at the campground, and the stargazing was top-notch!
Rather than heading back to the park, we continued north to Bozeman. The dogs, upon the destruction of many an expensive toy, have heard me mutter, “These things don’t grow on trees, you know.” We figured it was about time for a little paws-on education, so we contacted the folks at West Paw Design and arranged for a tour of their facilities.
Bozeman’s downtown shopping district was an unexpected highlight of the trip. The dogs appreciated the opportunity to explore, and we found it to be quite pet friendly. We settled on The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill for a fantastic lunch and then did a little shopping – Buster was in dire need of a new backpack and we found him a handsome one at Barkenhowell’s.
The city has a nice system of trails, though after our meanderings on Main Street, our boys were ready to head back to the Winnebago!
Side note: This is the kind of place we can see ourselves living some day. The thing that will keep Bozeman off the short list: average mean snowfall of 83.5 inches!
Heading down Hwy 191 through the Gallatin National Forest, we were so taken with the scenery that we had to get out and enjoy it. Pet rules in the national forests are generally more lenient than national parks. In Gallatin, your pet is welcome everywhere except inside buildings, provided they are leashed.
Our second day in the park consisted of circumnavigating the upper loop. We passed through the western gate and headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs. We had light showers most of the day, but we were able to spot three wolves making their way along a distant wood line. We weren’t able to get photos, but it was still my Yellowstone “best moment.”
West Yellowstone is an active tourist town that sits at the western gate to the park. We were excited to visit here, as it gave us the opportunity to meet one of our Twitter friends in person, Chris from Morning Glory Coffee and Tea (@MorningGloryCof on Twitter)!
A coffee shop that allows pets INSIDE is a rare find, and we would have been happy to lounge there all day – basking in the aroma of roasting coffee. But, Buster was anxious to check out the Boundary Trail that we’d heard about from another Twitter friend, @WYellowstoneMT, so we were off.
Running for nearly 5 miles along the western boundary of Yellowstone, this trail is pet friendly – and even allows pets off-leash if they respond to voice commands! It was a great place for Buster to enjoy a little freedom and sniff to his heart’s content. By the end of the walk, he was prancing along in what looked like a perfect “heel” without even being asked.
UPDATE: A rule adopted in 2015 prevents dogs from being on the boardwalk at Old Faithful.
Entering again at the west gate, we made our way south to Old Faithful. We arrived just after the geyser had erupted, so we had about 90 minutes to hang out. While the boardwalks in this area are open to leashed pets, the mid-August crowds would have made navigating difficult – at least with our dogs. The weather was cool and cloudy, so we opted to walk them around the parking lot and then let them rest in the Winnebago while we witnessed the spectacle.
Rod was a tad underwhelmed with the show. Afterward, we made our way out the south gate and headed for Grand Teton National Park. Perhaps it was the contrast between the over-hyped geyser and the relatively unknown Tetons, but when Rod saw them he said he was never leaving. More about that next week!
We found a nice selection of pet friendly hotels in Bozeman and West Yellowstone. The campgrounds in Yellowstone Park and Gallatin National Forest are pet friendly, however if you’re looking for a few more creature comforts, you’ll find a nice selection of pet friendly campgrounds in Livingston/Bozeman and West Yellowstone. You’re going to need to eat, and we also found several pet friendly restaurants in Bozeman and West Yellowstone. On the whole, we’d give the greater Yellowstone area 3 out of 4 paws for pet friendliness.
It took us five years to get back, but we’ve finally done some additional pet friendly research outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Read what we found north of the park here …
… and west of Yellowstone here!
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