Can I bring my dog to Rocky Mountain National Park?

We all love the idea of hiking through the mountains with our dog or going on vacation with our pet, but before you do, make sure you know what to expect when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with your pet.

Over 60 percent of families in the United States have dogs. For many families, dogs are not only wonderful companions, but they are also part of the family. They participate in much of our lives and if we are good to them, we take them out into the natural world for regular walks. So, it can come as something of a shock to visit a place where you’ll spend your time walking in the beauty of nature and yet are not allowed to take your dog with you—something you know they would absolutely love. Many find the park’s restrictions on dogs to be either inconvenient or incomprehensible. So, I want to take a minute to explain why these restrictions are in place.

It is important to remember that Rocky Mountain National Park is a wilderness area where coyotes, mountains lions, bobcats, great horned owls, and other creatures live. Any of these could view your pet as prey. On the other side of this coin, dogs are predators. Though domesticated, they still have the instinct to chase and bark at other animals whether they are rabbits, deer, squirrels, etc. The park is meant to be a place where these animals can live at peace without disruption from the outside. Dogs also leave behind a “predator” scent that can linger, disrupting the native animals that this park protects.

The poop from domesticated dogs can transmit diseases to which wild animals are vulnerable. Dogs do not eat food from this ecosystem and so they are leaving non-native bacteria and parasites. Just one gram of poop can contain twenty-three million bacteria and numerous parasites. If even some of the nearly five million visitors brought dogs onto the park trails, the uncollected waste would be significant. It would get into the water systems and spread to park wildlife. If you have time, I recommend this interesting article about the impact of dog waste on the environment.

It's hard to watch your human go hiking without you.

There is also a concern that some pets may dig or trample fragile vegetation. They might scare some who are uncomfortable with dogs, and they might disturb the peace with their barking, joyful though it might be. The park has been set aside as a place where we can see nature in its most natural and undisturbed state. Following the regulations helps to keep it that way.

Service animals that have been individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of persons with disabilities are allowed in the park. Emotional support/therapy animals are not service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act and so are not allowed on park trails.

Where to Go With Your Dog

If you have your dog with you on vacation, there are a number of trails you can take them on just outside of the national park. Here's a list of some of those places:

Although dogs are not allowed on national park trails, you are allowed to walk your dog in picnic areas, campgrounds, and on park roads. During the shoulder season—the time just before or just after peak periods—some of the roads in Rocky Mountain National Park are closed to vehicles but open to pets on a leash. Check with a ranger at one of the visitor centers to find out if you are visiting during such a time.

Boarding Options

If you need to bring your pet with you, there are a number of boarding options in Estes Park for either day or overnight care. Here are a few for you to consider:

  • Elena's Barking Lot: A home-like atmosphere with outdoor play area. Offers both day and overnight boarding.
  • Estes Park Pet Lodge: A 3,500 sq. ft. center able to care for 11 dogs and 13 cats. They offer both day care and overnight boarding.
  • Animal Hospital of the Rockies: Offering dog, cat, and other pet boarding for both day and overnight stays.