I’ve camped overnight in the woods with my dogs hundreds of times over the years.
Finding a dog friendly campsite has become second nature to me – something I could do in my sleep – so I’ve forgot how much thought and research actually goes into it.
I decided to sit down and do a brain dump of things I’ve learned over the years that I would tell someone new to the car experience or who needs a refresher.
I’m share what I think are the top tips for finding a dog friendly campsite in this article.
How to Pick the Best Campsite for You and Your Dog
1) Research campgrounds that specifically allow dogs
It’s best to research where you will be staying before you go but, if you are like us, sometimes it’s a stop on a road trip or something spontaneous.
Knowing the basics of each campground type can help you decide where to start searching and know what you might expect if it’s a spontaneous stop.
Different land manager entities are responsible for individual campgrounds and those land mangers are responsible for setting rules for the campgrounds they manage.
What’s true for one campground they manage, is generally true for all of them they manage.
For example, almost all National Park campgrounds allow dogs but almost all do not allow dogs on trails surrounding the campgrounds.
Campgrounds managed by the Bureau of Land Management tend to have some of the loosest dog rules (but also tend to have the fewest amenities).
2) Check for the restrictions on dogs
Many campgrounds that allow dogs have specific rules and restrictions around the breed, size, or number of dogs at a campsite.
For example, some do not allow bully-type dog breeds.
Most will have a restriction of the number of dogs at a campsite – usually 2-3.
Some will have weight restrictions and not allow giant-breed sized dogs.
Also, some campgrounds may have restrictions on dogs during peak season.
Before you go, make sure that the campground will suit your needs in that regard.
3) Check for any additional fees for bringing a dog to the campground
In my experience, most campgrounds include your dog in the campground fee.
But, just in case, it’s a good idea to verify this before you go so there are no surprises.
4) Find out if you need reservations
Many campgrounds require reservations.
State Parks and Private campgrounds almost certainly do.
Some Forest Service and National Park campgrounds also require reservations.
Reservations at popular parks can fill up a year in advance.
But some campgrounds set aside some sites that are available on a first-come-first-served basis, meaning that you can just show up and hope that someone didn’t beat you to it.
Some campgrounds will release the reserved sites if campers don’t check in by a certain time in the evening so, f a campground says “full”, you can always check.
5) Check the cancellation fees
There are several reasons you may have to change or cancel the camping trip with your dog, including your dog getting sick.
While most campgrounds do issue refunds, it typically must be done within a specific time window and many only offer a partial refund.
It’s always good to know the cancellation rules before you book a campsite.
6) Check before you leave your dog unattended
Most campgrounds prohibit leaving your dog unattended at a campsite.
This includes leaving your dog alone in an exercise pen or tied to a tree.
Most won’t say anything if you leave your dog in the vehicle but see the next item if you plan to do that.
7) Check the noise rules
Most campgrounds require that your dog not disturb other campers.
This means you can’t let your dog bark at everything, bark all day, or bark constantly if left inside a vehicle.
Check to see if the campground has any rules or regulations regarding noise level and barking dogs, as some campgrounds will ask you to leave without a refund if your dog is noisy and disruptive.
8) Check for any dog-friendly amenities
Most campgrounds don’t offer anything extra in regard to dog friendly amenities.
However, some do have dog washing stations or posts outside the bathroom where you can tie up your friendly, well-behaved dog when you run inside.
A few even have fenced off leash areas.
If two campgrounds are near the area you want to visit and one has some extra amenities for your dog, you may want to choose that one.
9) See what’s kind of activities for your dog are nearby
The best campsites will have something nearby to help entertain your dog and tire them out so they sleep well.
Examples are designated dog walking areas, dog friendly trails, lakes and streams for swimming, or a big field where your dog can play fetch.
10) Read the reviews
If you can find some, it’s always insightful to read reviews of the campground from other dog owners.
Dog lovers evaluate their experience differently than dogless people who camp and may mention things you aren’t aware of, or couldn’t tell, by looking at the campground alone.
11) Visit beforehand if you can
When most people go camping, it’s far away from their home.
But if it’s close, or you visit the area where the campground is located, check it out before you make a reservation.
I often drive the whole campground and make note of specific sites that meet my criteria, including being at least somewhat secluded.
That way, I know what campsites I prefer to make a reservation for.
12) Understand what kind of camp spot you’re getting
A friend, inspired by me camping solo with my dogs, decided to try it on her own for the first time.
She learned the hard way that a the “tent only” campsite she reserved was also a “walk in” campsite, meaning that she had to make several 1/4 mile trips back and forth from her car to the campsite to unload all of her stuff.
While not all ten-only campsites are set away from the road or parking lot and require that you walk in, a lot are so look at the campground map to see where they’re located.
I want to also make a note here regarding “dispersed camping”.
Although dispersed likely camping won’t be listed when looking for specific campsites because, by nature, dispersed campsites are just free, scattered spots where you can cam in the forest, beware that these have no amenities like bathrooms and are often just pullouts along the road.
They’re great because they are free but can also be dangerous for dogs because of the traffic.
Backcountry campsites mean they are located miles away from any road and you have to carry all of your, and your dog’s gear and food, in with a backpack.
13) Go for a secluded campsite if you can
Ironically, as long as you are prepared, walk in campsites can be ideal when camping with dogs.
When you can, pick the most secluded, or sheltered campsite for you and your dog as you can.
If your campsite is very exposed – like on a busy thoroughfare or along the trial to the bathroom – expect your dog to see, and perhaps get upset or bark at, all of the kids, poeple, and other dogs passing by (kids love to ride bikes in campgrounds).
Some campgrounds will have a little description of the campsite that will list if it’s secluded or located in a high-traffic area.
A lot will not though. In those cases, I look up the campsite on CampsitePhotos.com.
14) Consider non-traditional camping
When most people think of camping, they think putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground.
But, if your dog is new to camping, perhaps you want to find a campground that has a dog friendly yurt or cabin you can stay in.
This will offer some extra protection against the elements, wildlife, or strangers passing by but will also allow you to spend time outside during the day (most have an associated picnic table and fire ring).
There are 5 different ways to camp with your dog based on comfort level.
15) Check for nearby veterinary clinics
In the woods, there is a chance your dog could get sick from eating something poisonous (toxic wild plants or food dropped on the ground) or injured.
Before your camping trip, look to see where the nearest emergency veterinary clinic is. Or just a vet clinic in general.
If you are not trained in dog first aid, you might want to stick with a campground closer to emergency help, at least for the first few times.
Types of Dog-Friendly Campgrounds
Private vs Public Campgrounds
There are two primary types of campgrounds you will find – those managed by government entities (often called public campgrounds) and private campsites.
Private campgrounds include those found on Hipcamp and KOA campgrounds.
Public campgrounds include those managed by government entities such as County Parks, State Parks, National Park Service, National Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Among those, amenities, rules about dogs, and fees will vary.
Know that some campground types always allow dogs (The National Forest Service for example) and some have rules that restrict or prohibit dogs.
As a general rule, this chart below applies.
When reviewing campgrounds and associated amenities, there are a few terms to be aware of.
Below are some common examples.
“Rustic amenities” typically means that there at least an outhouse in the campground and a picnic table and fire pit at your campsite.
There may or may not be garbage service at the campsite.
“Moderate amenities” are a step up from that.
These campgrounds usually has flush toilets and will have water and garbage service.
The campsite is usually a little more maintained too – the picnic tables might be in better shape and there might be nicely prepared spot for your tent.
You MAY find electrical and water hookups for an RV.
“Comfort amenities” typically means you will find all of the above stuff plus showers and electrical/water hookups for RVs.
At private campgrounds, you may find WiFi, small convenience stores, and other individual perks like an off-leash dog run, rec center, or pool.
One unique type of camping that doesn’t require a fee is called “dispersed camping”.
I mentioned this in the article above but wanted to provide some additional information.
Dispersed camping means finding a campsite on the side of, or down a short spur road, of a main Forest Service Road (sometimes referred to as a logging road).
Dispersed camping typically means you will be spread out from other campers, sometimes by a long distance, and that you can camp anywhere as long as you follow a few rules.
There is no fee for this kind of camping but there won’t be any services or amenities either like trash removal, restrooms, water, fire pits, or picnic tables.
As a beginner camper I would avoid dispersed camping but it’s good to know about the option.
I’ve pulled into forest service land many times on road trips for a quick, easy overnight place to stay.
Camping with your dog can be one of the best ways to add excitement to their life and build amazing memories together.
Following these tips will help you find the best dog friendly campsite and minimize any surprises or hassle.
Remember though, no matter what campground you choose, it’s important to be a respectful guest by cleaning up after your dog and minimizing any disruption of other campers.