Service Dogs in National Parks U.S.
The United States has 63 national parks. These are designated and protected areas operated by the National Park Service.
National parks are designated for their:
- Natural beauty
- Unique geological features
- Diverse ecosystems
- Recreational opportunities
National parks are generally large and treated as a destination. Hunting and extractive activities are prohibited. Dogs as pets may or may not be allowed in National Parks. Let’s talk about service dogs in National Parks. Service dogs are legally permitted anywhere that visitors can go.
Definition of Service Dog for National Parks
Service dogs can be defined by several different governing bodies based on different contexts. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act for public access rights) FHA (Fair Housing Act for housing) and ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act for air travel) all have separate definitions of service dog or service animal. Check out our full ADA general guide for public access rights and information for businesses.
The National Park Service (NPS) policy defines a service animal the same as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
A service animal is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The tasks performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability.” – National Park Service
Your disability does not have to be 100% disability in order to qualify.
Emotional Support, Comfort & Companion Animals in National Parks
Work or tasks
Emotional support animals, well-being animals, comfort animals, and/or companion animals do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of the NPS (National Park Service) policy. Emotional support animals, therapy animals, comfort animals, or companion animals aren’t restricted to being dogs only. They can be any animal.
Not service animals
These types of animals do provide a calming effect for many people. However, because they have not been trained to do “work” or “tasks” for someone with a disability, they don’t qualify as service animals.
ESAs as pets
In other words, ESAs and other comfort animals are not service dogs. A national park can treat an emotional support animal the same as a pet. This is in accordance with the NPS pet policy.
National Park Access Pass
Did you know that you can get a National Park Access Pass? The Access Pass is available free for:
- US citizens with permanent disabilities
- Permanent residents with permanent disabilities
The Access Pass can be issued to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are any age and who have been medically determined to have a permanent disability that severely limits one or more major life activities. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship.
What does the Access Pass cover?
Each pass covers:
- Entrance fees at national parks
- Entrance fees at national wildlife refuges
- Standard amenity fees (day-use fees) at national forests and grasslands
- This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Entrance, standard amenity fees, and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person)
- Children ages 15 or under are admitted free
The disability requirements for the Access Pass are not based on a percentage of disability. To qualify for the Pass, your disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.
How To Get Your National Park Access Pass
You can get your pass in person at a federal recreation site, access pass online application, or through the mail using an application form.
National Park Access Pass Quick Facts
- The pass is free
- Passes last for a lifetime
- There is no age limit (permanently disabled children are eligible)
- The cost of obtaining an Access Pass through the mail is $10 for processing the application
- The National Park Access Pass provides admittance to over 2,000 recreation sites managed by six Federal agencies
- It includes Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Six federal agencies
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
- Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation)
- Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
- USDA Forest Service (USDA FS)
- National Park Service (NPS)
- US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
Applying For the National Park Access Pass
To apply, you’ll need some required documentation
- A copy of ID issued by an authorized U.S. agency. For example your driver’s license, passport, or state-issued ID and documentation that proves permanent disability.
- A statement by a licensed physician (Statement must indicate that the person has a permanent, not temporary disability and that it limits one or more aspects of their daily life, and the nature of the limitations)
- Document issued by Federal agencies such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income
- Document issued by a state agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency
National Park Access Pass Benefits
The pass program is managed by six federal agencies. Each of these operates under different regulations and, of course, they have different fees. Taking this into consideration, the discount program for the Access Pass is not handled in the same way on all federal recreation lands.
In general, discounts are honored as follows:
- Individual Campsites: A discount will only apply to the fee for the campsite that will be physically occupied by the owner of the pass. It does not include any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party or family/friends
- Campsites with Utility Hookups: If utility fees are charged separately, there is no discount. The discount may apply if the utility fee is combined (seamless) with the campsite fee
- Group Campsites and Facilities such as group facilities, picnic areas or pavilions: There is no discount for group campsites. This includes other group facilities that charge a flat fee. If the group campsite has a per-person fee rate, only the pass owner will get a discount
- Guided Tours: The access pass offers discounts on some guided tours. Only the pass owner will get a discount if one is offered
- Transportation Systems: Inquire Locally
- Concessionaire Fees: Inquire Locally
- Special Use Permit Fees: Inquire Locally
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Bring a Service Dog to Yellowstone?
Yes, qualified service animals assisting people with disabilities are allowed in Yellowstone National Park, and they must be leashed. Companion dogs, comfort animals or emotional support animals (ESAs)(“therapy animals”), or pets aren’t allowed in buildings, in the backcountry, on nature trails, or on the boardwalks.
Service Animals in the Yellowstone Backcountry
Qualified Service Dogs are allowed in the Yellowstone backcountry. However, traveling with any kind of dog in the backcountry can still be risky.
If you do take your service animal with you into the backcountry, keep your service dog on a tight leash at all times. In addition, keep your service dog in your tent with you at night if you’re camping.
Possible Risks for Service Dogs in the Yellowstone Backcountry
Having a service animal in the backcountry may put you at increased risk and some of the possible risks may include:
- Confrontations with wolves, bears, and other wildlife
- Thermal features pose a special risk to all animals
- Boiling water in pools and thermal channels can cause severe or fatal burns if an animal takes a drink or goes for a swim
- Your safety and the safety of your service animal are not guaranteed
- Where domestic animals and wildlife overlap, there is a possibility of exchanging diseases
- Domestic dogs can introduce disease into wildlife habitats and the park’s wolves, coyotes, and foxes are vulnerable to domestic diseases such as canine distemper, parvovirus, rabies, and mange. It is also possible for domestic dogs to get diseases from wild animals
To further prevent the spread of disease:
- Service dogs need to be always be leashed or harnessed, under control, and attended at all times
- Pet food is a bear attractant and should be stored accordingly
- Food and food containers must never be left unattended and must be kept out of reach of wildlife.
- Service dog fecal matter must be picked up and disposed of properly. Fecal matter needs to be disposed of in a trash receptacle, toilet, pit toilet, or if none of those are accessible (such as in the backcountry) it should be buried in a small hole, dug a minimum of six inches (15 cm) deep and 200 feet (61 m) from water sources, campsites, or trails
Bear Safety in Yellowstone National Park
All of Yellowstone is a bear habitat. This includes from the deepest backcountry all the way to the boardwalks around Old Faithful. It is wise to prepare for bear encounters no matter where you go.
Here are some tips to promote safety around bears. Keep in mind, safety is never guaranteed.
- Keep at least 100 yards (93 m) from bears at all times and never approach a bear to take a picture
- Never feed bears. Bears that become dependent on human food may become aggressive toward people and have to be killed
- If a bear approaches or touches your car, honk your horn and drive away to discourage the behavior
- Review the best practices before you hike or camp in bear country, and learn what to do if you encounter a bear
- Learn about bear spray, a highly effective, non-lethal bear deterrent.
- Make sure you know what areas are closed for bear management
Bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park
There is an average of one bear attack per year in Yellowstone National Park. In separate incidents in 2011 and 2015, three people were killed by bears inside the park. More people have died in Yellowstone National Park by drowning or suffering thermal burns from hot springs than from aggressive bears.
Are Service Dogs Allowed in Zion National Park?
Yes, service dogs are allowed throughout Zion National Park. They must be on a leash. Leashed pet dogs aren’t allowed on any trails or wilderness areas, except the Pa’rus Trail. You can access this paved trail from Canyon Junction or the visitors center.
Are Service Dogs Allowed in the Grand Canyon?
Pets are never permitted below the rim of Grand Canyon. Yes, service animals are allowed if they are assisting someone who has a disability. It is highly recommended that you check in with the Backcountry Information Center. This is for the safety of you and your service dog. You can learn how to mitigate specific hazards posed by hiking on the park’s Corridor Trails.
- Bright Angel
- South Kaibab
- North Kaibab Trails
Grand Canyon Characteristics to be Aware Of
- The inner canyon trails are narrow, have steep sections, and are well-traveled by humans, mules, as well as wildlife
- Pets can be unpredictable on the trail. Hikers, runners or mules can spook pets and cause an accident
- Pets can harass or harm wild animals by making noise, chasing them or catching them
- Pets can attract predators such as cougars or coyotes looking for easy meals
Is America the Beautiful Pass the Same as The Access Pass?
Yes, basically. The Access Pass is part of the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series. There are other passes available: Annual pass, military pass, 4th grade pass, senior pass, and volunteer pass. The Access Pass is available free for US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
While service dogs are allowed in National Parks in the U.S., it’s always recommended to do some special planning and take special considerations when visiting the beautiful National Parks.
There is a reason that dogs aren’t allowed in certain parks and nature areas. And, in case you weren’t sure, it’s not the same reason they aren’t allowed in restaurants and movie theatres.
National Parks come with unique challenges, including, of course, bears and other wild animals. Not to mention diseases. It’s important to plan ahead, and research the particular park you’ll be visiting so that you can ensure a safe of a trip as possible for yourself, your service dog, and any other family or friends you may be with.
You can always try to speak with a park ranger at a particular park. Those people would probably be the most experienced at that area and know the most about specific locations. They can likely offer you the best valuable advice to stay safe.
- National Park Access Pass
- National Park Access Pass Application Online
- Access Pass Site Locations
- Code of Federal Regulations
Related Articles on our blog:
- ADA Service Dog Laws, General FAQ for Public Access Rights
- Service Dog Laws By State
- Service Dogs in Training (SDiT) Laws By State