Off-leash hiking with dogs on federal lands

With hundreds of millions of acres to explore, our federal lands offer spectacular opportunities for off-leash hiking with your pets. But determining where off-leash hiking is allowed can be a challenge. Understanding the goals of the different agencies that manage these spaces will help you understand the wide variety of pet policies they impose.

Off-Leash Hiking with Dogs on Federal Lands |

The U.S. government’s land holdings cover 640 million acres, or about 28 percent of the country’s total land area. It is an incomprehensible vision of space, spanning 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 a Pet-Friendly Off-Leash Hike

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 hikes, your best bet is to start with areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. These two agencies together manage 440.2 million acres and have the most pet-friendly policies, which is great news for dog lovers!

Federal Lands Map

Why are pets only welcome on certain federal lands?

The four agencies that manage federal lands have different mandates to protect land, wildlife and resources. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service have the broadest guidelines. Their missions include recreation, sustainable resource harvesting, environmental and wildlife protection, and conservation. While the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service both focus solely on the conservation of the land, plants and animals.

The different goals of agencies determine the policies they set regarding pets. For example, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service tend to be very restrictive toward pets, limiting them primarily to developed areas. While the National Forest Service and BLM balance recreation and conservation, leading to much more pet-friendly policies. Generally speaking, pets are welcome on all state forest trails and BLM lands. And many allow off-leash hiking!

Hiking without a leash is prohibited in all national parks. But we want to acknowledge that they are bucking the trend and truly being pet friendly. Visiting these national parks is a treat.

READ MORE ⇒ Best Pet-Friendly National Parks in the United States

Maine's Best Pet-Friendly Attraction: Acadia National Park |

Etiquette for off-leash hiking

Although many national forests and BLM lands have areas where off-leash hiking is permitted, be sure to ask around and follow the rules at each location. Keep your pets on a leash in developed areas and campgrounds, and always pick up and bag up your dog’s waste. Additionally, keep your pets safely leashed where predators (like bears) are present and during hunting season.

READ MORE ⇒ Tips for Hiking with Pets


Additional Resources

Now that you understand the reasons for different pet policies, it’s time to find a clue! Here are some additional resources to help you locate off-leash hikes on federal lands near you:

We hope you find this information helpful and that you and your pup enjoy off-leash hiking! Trails that move!

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