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90 Day Western US Camping Road trip: Preparation

Written by Tori Hanley, owner of @keepinupwiththecollies

One of the highest-ranked items on nearly everyone’s bucket list is getting to experience some of America’s finest National Parks. And for some, hitting all 63 becomes a lifelong goal. But as amazing and awe-inspiring as the national parks can be to visit for us humans, they aren’t all that pet friendly. Most people will recommend leaving your dog behind if you hope to experience all that the parks have to offer.

In many national parks, dogs are restricted to campgrounds, minimal to no hiking trails, and sometimes OHV roads if you’re lucky. And they must always be on a leash! So being someone who couldn’t fathom leaving the dogs behind, and who wants to hit as many national parks as possible and experience each of them to their fullest, how do you possibly plan a road trip to get the best of both worlds?

Choosing your method of travel

Living in the era of van life, there is no shortage of inspiration on how to live life on the road. Hitting the road in a renovated Sprinter van has become the new way to road trip. RVs and camper trailers are also great for traveling. And some people choose to save money and simply car or tent camp along the way.

However, if you’re planning on bringing your dog along with you to the national parks, you may have to ditch the tent and opt for a camper or a van instead. These options will allow for your dog to be safely contained, should you want to hike a trail in the park that isn’t dog friendly and your pup needs to stay behind. Just make sure the area they are in is temperature-controlled to avoid hypothermia or overheating while you are gone!

Where to camp

While camping inside the national parks seems like the obvious choice to be within close proximity to all of the best trails and overlooks, if you are willing to sacrifice this convenience for a little extra driving time, you and your dog may find more freedom camping in dispersed areas outside the park. Many national parks are actually surrounded by national forests, BLM land, and even nearby state parks that are more dog friendly. Consider boondocking (dispersed camping on public land) in these areas to avoid crowds and find a bit more peace and quiet with your dog! These areas also usually have a greater number of dog-friendly hiking trails that you may consider visiting in-between your excursions to the national park. This way, you can check off those national parks without being held back by pet restrictions, and you and your dog can still get out and explore beautiful wilderness areas together. The best part…many of these boondocking locations are free to camp!

Planning your hikes

If you plan on taking your dog into the national parks with you, the hikes you go on may already be chosen for you, as there are usually only a handful that is dog friendly, if any. National forests, BLM land, and state parks will have more options to choose from. When deciding which hikes to plan make sure you are conscious of the shape your dog is in before heading out. Our dogs were born and raised in Texas, so I’d be hesitant to take them on a 14k ft summit hike in Colorado as one of our first treks on our road trip.

A dog used to hiking during Montana winters may also struggle on a mid-summer hike in Arizona. Not to say your dog isn’t capable of hiking these trails, just allow ample time for them to become acclimated to the new climate and altitude before heading out on long hikes in this new environment. Always bring plenty of water and take as many breaks as you need!

Another thing to consider when planning your road trip through the national parks in the season(s) you’ll be traveling in. It’s always a good idea to know the variable temperatures you may be facing at the different parks, even within the same season.

In October, Death Valley may be 93 degrees and Glacier National Park may be 35. The time of year and the subsequent conditions may influence the hikes you choose to embark on with your dog. You may also consider buying your dog a winter coat, hiking booties, dog goggles, and a raincoat before heading out on your trip, so you know your dog will be comfortable in whatever weather you may face along the way.

So far, we have most of our 90-day national park road trip throughout the western United States all planned out. It has been an adventure in and of itself, trying to map out our route, find the perfect campsites and choosing what hikes we want to do with and without our dogs. Hopefully some of these tips I’ve learned along the way can help you too!

Follow along their adventures on their IG @keepingupwiththecollies

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