With hundreds of millions of acres to explore, our federal lands offer spectacular opportunities for off-leash hiking with your pets. But figuring out where off-leash hiking is allowed can be a challenge. Understanding the goals of the different agencies that manage these spaces will help you makes sense of the wide variety of pet policies they impose.
The U.S. Government’s land holdings cover 640 million acres, or about 28% of the nation’s total surface area. That’s an incomprehensible about of space, covering diverse landscapes and encompassing our most precious natural treasures. And some of these federal lands offer fantastic opportunities for off-leash hiking with your dog.
Locating Pet Friendly Off-Leash Hiking
Concentrated in the western part of the United States, federal lands 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.
When looking for off leash hiking, your best bet is to start with areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. These two agencies manage a whopping 440.2 million combined acres and have the most welcoming pet policies, which is great news for dog lovers!
Why Are Pets Welcome On Only Some Federal Lands?
The four agencies that manage federal lands have different mandates to protect the land, wildlife, and resources. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service have the broadest directives. Their missions include recreation, sustained harvesting of resources, environmental and wildlife protection, and conservation. Whereas the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are both focused only on the conservation of the land, plants, and animals.
The differing goals of the agencies determine the pet policies they set. For example, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service tend to be very restrictive toward pets, limiting them mostly to developed areas. Whereas the National Forest Service and the BLM balance recreation and conservation, leading to much more pet friendly policies. Generally, pets are welcome on all the trails in the national forests and on BLM land. And many allow off-leash hiking!
Off-leash hiking is prohibited at all national parks. But we want to acknowledge that a handful buck the trend and are truly pet friendly. Visiting these national parks is a special treat.
READ MORE ⇒ Best Pet Friendly National Parks In The U.S.
Etiquette For Off-Leash Hiking
While many national forests and BLM lands have areas where off-leash hiking is allowed, be sure to ask about and follow the rules at each location. Keep pets leashed in developed areas and campgrounds, and always pick up and pack out your dog’s waste. Also, keep your pets safely leashed where predators (like bears) are present and during hunting season.
READ MORE ⇒ Tips for Hiking With Pets
Now that you have an understanding of the reasons for the different pet polices, it’s time to find a trail! Here are some additional resources to help you locate off-leash hiking on federal lands near you:
Printable maps highlighting federal lands in each state
Interactive map of BLM sites
Maps and guides to the national forests
We hope this information is helpful and that you and your pup enjoy off-leash hiking! Waggin’ trails!
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