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10 Dog-Friendly Destinations for Van Dwellers


Looking to embark on an epic van life adventure with your four-legged friend? Dogs are perfect candidates for van travel. They provide company, joy, and a sense of security on the road for their two-legged companions. In return, they are treated to an active lifestyle and endless new places to explore. 

With a home on wheels, you won’t need to find pet-friendly hotels every time you change locations. However, any form of travel with a pet can pose unique challenges. There’s nothing more disappointing for a dog owner than not being able to fully enjoy a beautiful spot because your buddy isn’t allowed in. Luckily, there are plenty of places across the U.S. that not only allow dogs but actually welcome them with open arms. 

Ready to plan your next getaway? Get inspired with our list of ten exciting destinations for human and canine van dwellers to enjoy together. From dog-obsessed cities to sprawling national forests, quirky hidden gems to iconic landmarks, there’s something for everyone on this list. Read on for the details.


Garden of the Gods, Colorado

The Centennial State boasts one of our country’s most pet-friendly national landmarks, Garden of the Gods. Investigate the towering red rock formations with your curious pup from a variety of paved and unpaved paths. Man’s best friend is invited not only on the hiking paths but also inside the visitor and nature center. The fact that Garden of the Gods has hosted a series of events called Furbaby Friday in the past is a testament to the location’s love of dogs. On the practical side, the landmark provides dog poop bags, trash cans, and a water fountain to fill up Fido’s bowl. Wide, easy paths mean you can appreciate the breathtaking view and fresh air even if you have a less-active or elderly dog. Plus, the town of Colorado Springs is home to multiple dog parks and pet-friendly breweries.

Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming

Reconnect with nature in the peaceful mountains, meadows, and rolling hills of Bighorn National Forest. Located between Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore, this underrated destination features stunning terrain with fewer crowds. It has even been dubbed Wyoming’s best-kept secret. Pet parents will be pleased to learn that leashed dogs can accompany you everywhere from campgrounds and picnic areas to the forest’s 1,200 miles of hiking trails. Dispersed camping outside of the developed campgrounds is also allowed in many areas so you can carve out your own personal paradise. 


Portland, Oregon

If you’re craving pet-friendly city life, Portland is the place to go. Oregon’s capital is known as both a hub of artsy counter-culture and a nature lover’s dream. You and your fur baby can explore the city’s plentiful parks and nearby Mt. Hood National Forest. With over 30 off-leash dog parks, Portland has one of the highest per capita percentages of this amenity in the nation. Replenish all the calories you’ll burn with this active lifestyle at the Tin Shed Garden Cafe. The cafe goes a step beyond other restaurants with pet-friendly patios by offering a thoughtful menu for dogs–choose between a chicken and sweet potato entree or a banana peanut butter dessert. Suffice it to say that your pal will be ecstatic.

Carmel, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea is every bit the fairytale that its name suggests. Charming shops and cottages are clustered next to picturesque white sand beaches. Luckily for you and your pup, this coastal community has often been called the most dog-friendly town in the USA. Carmel Beach is the major attraction, allowing pets to frolic off-leash. The adjacent Carmel River State Beach is perfect for dogs who do better in leashed environments. After your long walk on the beach, stop by Terry’s Lounge for their “Yappy Hour” to imbibe classic cocktails and socialize with other dogs and owners. The fun doesn’t stop there–you and your canine bff can check out tons of pooch-friendly shops, wineries, and hiking areas including the lovely 35-acre wooded Mission Trail Park.


Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is a must-see. While national parks tend to be tricky to visit with pets, you and your four-legged friend can both cross this iconic destination off of your bucket list thanks to its ample dog-friendly trail options along the rim of the canyon. Dogs are also allowed in developed areas and campgrounds, but cannot venture below the rim. Survey this dramatic landscape from above with your furry friend, then leave them in the care of the kennel at the South Rim while you head into the canyon. The park’s high elevation and sweltering heat can take a toll on both humans and animals, so plan to visit in cooler months and keep everyone well hydrated. 

Shawnee, Kansas

Some of the suggestions on this list are focused more on exciting destinations that are accessible to pets, while others are all about catering to canine companions. If the Grand Canyon is on one end of this spectrum, Shawnee is on the other. Head to this suburb of Kansas City to give your dog the time of its life. Here, you’ll find an impressive 53-acre off-leash dog park with a clean natural swim area for you and Fido to cool off. Take the rare opportunity to let your pup run wild through the natural wooded and grassy areas, sniffing everything and playing with other dogs. Because the Shawnee Mission Off-Leash Dog Park is so huge and not fully enclosed, you should only let well-trained dogs roam off-leash. 


Dixie National Forest, Utah

Speaking of massive pet-friendly wilderness areas, Dixie National Forest stretches across two million acres of Southern Utah. Leashed pets are allowed almost everywhere, including campgrounds and picnic areas. There is much to see across this diverse terrain, from red rock hoodoos to pine and juniper forests. Your fur baby can accompany you on 1,600 miles of trails at all difficulty levels. Whether you’re looking to push a pug in a stroller or trail run with an Australian shepherd, you’ll have no problems finding the perfect route. There are also multiple streams and lakes here that don’t prohibit dogs, unlike many nationally-managed bodies of water. Because the landscape of Dixie National Forest is so sprawling and diverse, you won’t run out of new spots to seek adventure. The options continue when it comes to camping with both boondocking and hookup campsites.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Plan the ultimate vacation with your van life pup in The Sunshine State. St. Petersburg specifically has been ranked one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country. It earned this accolade thanks in large part to its multitude of dog parks, cute pet shops, and dog-friendly restaurants. St. Petersburg is worth a visit for its well-balanced mix of city, beach, and nature attractions. Take a scenic walking tour of downtown with your buddy, then head to the dog park beach at Fort de Soto Park, which made it onto our list of the best dog-friendly beaches in Florida. This standout park features two separate enclosed areas so small and large dogs can both run free and socialize safely. You can also explore the rest of the park–aside from the other beaches–with your leashed pooch.


Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota

Located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, this state park offers miles of attractive shoreline and pet-friendly hiking trails along with an iconic and often-photographed lighthouse from 1910. The area immediately around the lighthouse does not allow dogs, but you can still catch a great view from afar. The state park’s shady hiking paths are ideal for keeping cool while working up a sweat. We recommend the Day Hill Loop for a fairly easy 90-minute hike with a few uphill sections that will have you and your dog panting. Your reward? Endorphins and an amazing view across the lake.

Dog Mountain, Vermont

True dog lovers will be thrilled to learn about Dog Mountain. This former farm in the Columbia River Gorge was transformed into a paradise for pups and their owners by artist Stephen Huneck and his wife Gwen. Huneck loved dogs and made them the central focus of his art and children’s storybooks. The Dog Chapel allows those who have lost a canine companion to leave notes and photos on the walls, forming a touching tribute to the bond between man and man’s best friend. There’s plenty of fun to be had here too, with grassy areas and swimming ponds where dogs can play off-leash. On-leash, check out the strenuous and scenic Dog Mountain Trail. Time your visit for one of Dog Mountain’s “dog parties” in the summer and fall. These events are like heaven on earth for pet parents and their fur babies.

Whichever destination you choose to visit, be sure to practice responsible dog ownership. That means cleaning up after your pal and keeping them out of areas they are not allowed. This will protect the beauty and ecosystem of locations so they can stay open for years to come.

Looking for more itineraries? Check out “California’s Best Dog-Friendly Beaches” and “Top 10 Pet-Friendly Campgrounds Across America.” Our tips on “How to Find Pet-Friendly Campgrounds” will help you know what to look for when scouting out your own spots.

Are you considering making the transition to van travel with a dog? Find out everything you need to know in “Van Life With Man’s Best Friend.” All-around animal lovers might also enjoy “Must-Know Tips for Van Life With a Cat.” 

If you’re in the market for a pet-friendly camper van, we can help. RecVan offers a wide range of new and used vans for every type of adventure. Check out the best Class B vans for pet owners to get started.