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Camping with a dog

The essentials

  • Some dogs love camping…others not so much — Consider your dog’s temperament, health issues, and age before booking a campsite.
  • Campgrounds have rules owners should be aware of — Keeping your dog leashed, disposing of their waste, and curbing their barking are necessary to avoid penalties.
  • Come prepared with all their necessary gear and medications — See our checklist below of all the essential items you’ll need to take your furry friend camping with you.

The sun slowly sets. The campfire flickers. The pines blow in the breeze. Your dog lays beside your chair, curled up with their nose tucked under their tail. Think this sounds idyllic? You’re not wrong. Camping with your dog in the great outdoors has the potential to be one of the greatest joys for a pet owner. But it’s important to prepare for the overnight excursion to keep your best friend safe and comfortable in this new environment.

Should you take your dog camping?

Before you go down a rabbit hole of dog camping gear bundles and Instagrammable campsites, first ask yourself whether camping is the right activity for your furbaby. While it can be a rewarding activity for some dogs, for others it may be an overall uncomfortable experience. Here are some considerations for taking your dog camping:

Consider their personality

Does your dog get anxious when they’re away from home? Are they reactive on walks? Do they bark at every strange noise they hear? If you answered yes to any of these, your dog may not have the right temperament for camping – and that’s okay! But keep in mind everything that a camping trip entails, from long car rides to woodland critters to populated campgrounds. If your dog is uncomfortable, you will be too.

👉 Driving to your campsite? Keep your pooch safe in the backseat with these vet-approved car safety essentials.

Consider their health

Before going camping, owners should consult their vets if their dog has any serious health issues or a weakened immune system. Special needs dogs will require accommodations that might not be possible at standard campgrounds. Make sure you’ll be able to transport all of your dog’s medications and any equipment such as wheelchairs. Owners should also be aware of allergies that can be triggered by the woodland environment, and be careful of heat exhaustion and stroke as camping can be physically demanding. Likewise, camping in winter will require precautions to prevent freezing and hypothermia.

Consider their age

We all want to make the most of our time with our dogs while they’re still with us, but it’s important to be realistic about what they can and can’t handle as they get older. Taking a senior dog camping can have its benefits, such as exercise and fresh air, but owners will want to consider their fitness level and any medical conditions that may hinder their hiking abilities, such as blindness.

On the flipside, owners will also want to be mindful of whether or not their dog is too young for camping. For starters, you’ll want to ensure that they’re fully vaccinated. Campgrounds see new dogs every day (along with other wildlife), and diseases like distemper and leptospirosis can spread through urine and saliva. Housetraining is another consideration. If your puppy is still having accidents in the house, they’ll likely have accidents in the tent, which isn’t as easy to clean up.

Consider whether they’ll enjoy the trip

Some dogs may just simply not enjoy camping. Owners who are unsure how their dog will tolerate the experience can start by taking them on a long hike, or pitching a tent in the backyard and camping there for a night. Monitor how your dog reacts to the new environment. If they seem uneasy, they’ll probably react the same to a camping trip.

“My dog loves nothing more than running through the forest and sleeping on the hard ground, but not every dog thinks that outdoor pursuits are the bee’s knees,” says travel and adventure writer Sara Sheehy. “If your dog prefers couch snuggles to outdoor romps or gets anxious when away from home, camping may not be an enjoyable experience for them.”

Choosing the right campsite

Think your dog is up for an overnight stay at Mother Nature’s casa? Then you’re ready to start looking into the perfect campsite for you and your favorite furball. To find the right fit, you’ll want to keep these factors in mind:

Understanding campsite dog rules and regulations

First off, you’ll want to confirm that dogs are actually allowed at the campground you’re looking into. While your pup will be permitted at most national parks and public forests, some have wildlife protections in place that prohibit dogs. Campground rules may vary from place to place, but generally speaking, all dogs must be leashed and attended by their owners at all times. A lot of campsites also have “quiet hours,” so if your dog starts barking in the middle of the night, you may receive a fine or even get removed from the campground.

Identifying dog-friendly camping areas

You might be wondering how one goes about searching for dog-friendly campsites. Luckily, there are plenty of websites geared towards making it easier to book an outdoor romp with your canine companion: If you’re looking to book a campsite in a national park or forest, is the site for you. The database has over 100,000 reservable sites on federal lands across the country. Each listing includes details on if you can camp with your pet, how far in advance you can make reservations, and which amenities are offered at each campground.

Reserve America. Another go-to spot to find and reserve camp spots in local and state parks across the United States is Reserve America. Begin by searching the area you’d like to visit and then click on individual campgrounds to see the rules and regulations for camping with your pet(s). Once you’ve uncovered the right spot, you can book your campsite directly through the site.

Campendium. For a comprehensive look at public and private campgrounds in the U.S., Canada, and Baja California, check out Campendium. Its extensive database of user-submitted reviews will help you research campgrounds, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management dispersed camping areas, overnight parking options, and RV dump stations. Campendium also shows user-reported cell coverage, which is especially handy if you need to check in with work while you’re away.

Airbnb. Most people associate Airbnb with house and apartment rentals, but did you know that the site lists campsites too? Though more limited in number, campsites can be found by filtering for “unique stays,” then “campsite” or “camper/RV.” Be sure to click the “pets allowed” filter to ensure that your pup is welcome before you book.

Hipcamp. Looking for a more secluded camping experience for you and your little fella? Sometimes referred to as the “Airbnb of camping,” Hipcamp connects campers to private landowners who have room for a pitched tent or parked RV. Read up on any pet rules, and if in doubt, contact the host before making your reservation.

So many members of the Hipcamp community are animal-lovers and we’re happy to offer them experiences that they can enjoy with their pet. We make a point to educate both Hipcampers and hosts on common courtesy rules for pets like picking up after them, and ensuring clear communication on whether a listing has pets of their own.

Alyssa Ravasio

Founder and CEO of Hipcamp

A dog standing in the desert next to a camper

Sara Sheehy's dog Lemhi surveys a HipCamp property in Yucca, Arizona

Tentrr. Similar to Hipcamp, Tentrr lists campsites that are on private properties, but instead of bringing your own gear, a “glamping” setup is available on-site! This is an excellent option for those who want to relax in nature without having to pitch their own tent. Every Tentrr location welcomes well-behaved pets and their owners.

👉 Not in the U.S.? Not a problem. Campspace and HomeCamper both offer camping experiences on private land across the globe.

Essential camping gear for dogs

While your dog’s stuff won’t take up nearly as much space as your own camping gear, you’ll still need it to be easily accessible. The last thing you want is to realize when you’re in the middle of the woods that you forgot something important for your best friend. Here are the essential items for camping with your dog:

  • A durable bag or bin. Pack dog supplies efficiently by purchasing a small bin and storing all your dog’s gear inside. Keep it somewhere that’s easy to access when needed.
  • Dog food, treats, and bowls. Pack enough food and treats for the length of your camping trip, plus at least two extra meals. You can use the extra food to provide additional calories on days when your dog is particularly active. Be sure to also bring separate bowls for food and water, like the Prima Pets collapsible travel bowl.
  • Pet medications. When packing your dog’s regular medicine and supplements, include extra doses so you’re prepared for emergencies. If you’re traveling across an international border, store the medicine in its original container and bring a copy of the prescription from your veterinarian. Flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives should be given to your pup before you leave for your trip.
  • Leash and LED collar. As we mentioned above, public campgrounds require dogs to be confined to a 6-foot leash at all times. An LED collar is also crucial for keeping your four-legged friend visible at night and making it easier to find them in the event they take off. Be sure to move their identification tags to the LED collar.
  • Water bottle. While you’ll want a bowl of water set up at your campsite, you’ll need an efficient bottle for hiking during the day.
  • Poop bags. Stock up on an adequate supply of poop bags to store your dog’s waste. Frisco poop bags are a great eco-friendly option.
  • Dog bed or sleeping bag. Keep your precious pup comfy! You can bring your dog’s bed from home or invest in an insulated sleeping bag.
  • Towels. It should come as no surprise that dogs get dirty on camping trips. “Take as many old towels as you can sensibly manage,” says frequent camper Kate Welch. “A wet, stinky dog isn’t a welcome addition to any tent or RV, and they’re useful for wiping up muddy paw prints, and as backup bedding and blankets in case of accidents or very cold weather.”
  • First aid kit. Accidents happen. Ensure you’re prepared for treating any injuries or wounds to your dog with a pet first aid kit like this one from Kurgo.

👉 If you’re going to be camping in colder climates, keep your dog safe and warm with additional gear like a coat, booties, and paw wax.

cold weather camping

Lemhi helps to set up camp in Yurt at Galena Lodge, Sun Valley, Idaho

Proper etiquette at the campsite

Whether you’ve booked a site at a public campground or a private overnight excursion on somebody’s property, you’ll want to be respectful of the space and other people around you. Here are some tips for being a good campsite neighbor:

Obey the rules. We outlined some of the common campground rules earlier in the article, like keeping your dog leashed and supervised at all times. Whether it’s to protect the natural habitat or to ensure safety, these regulations exist for a reason. Regardless of whether or not your dog is friendly or has good recall, you risk being kicked out of the campgrounds if you don’t follow these policies.

Teach your dog camping manners. Prepare your dog for their first camping trip by training them for the excursion at home. Set your tent up in the house or backyard so they can get used to it in a familiar environment, and place treats inside to incentivize them to enter. You’ll also want to teach your dog basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “down.”

Clean up after your dog. Just because it’s not a sidewalk doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep it clean. Have poop bags on hand to collect their waste, and be prepared to hang onto it until you find a trash receptacle.

Do proper dog introductions. Don’t assume that every person and their dog wants to meet your dog. Bringing your dog right up to strangers or their campsite without asking can lead to aggression between pets or human disputes.

Keep your dog quiet. In addition to keeping everybody up, you could also get fined or kicked out of the campgrounds if your dog is barking too much or late at night. Try teaching your pooch the “quiet” command prior to your trip. If your dog vocalizes due to anxiety, ask your vet about calming supplements.

Campsite safety for dogs

As pet owners, keeping our little ones safe is a top priority. While spending time under the stars with your buddy can be an incredibly rewarding experience, it also comes with risks associated with being outdoors and away from pet stores and clinics should an emergency arise. Here are the best ways to mitigate those risks so you can have a fun and safe trip with your canine companion:

Identifying potential dangers at the campsite

Most owners can agree that there’s a difference between dog-permitted and dog-friendly. Just because a place allows pups doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good environment for them. “Before I arrive at any campground with my dogs, I use the Google Maps satellite view to make sure I know where our site is in relation to other campers and any designated dog parks or potty areas,” says travel writer Kate Morgan.

Bear in mind that if you are staying in a public campground, other people will be inhabiting it as well. Keep an eye out for toxic foods on the ground like grapes, chocolate (a key ingredient for s’mores), or other litter such as cigarettes, over-the-counter medications, and chewing gum. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the terrain such as any cliffs or sharp rocks. Of course, campfires can also pose a risk to dogs, including burning their paws on stray embers.

Microchipping your dog

If your dog isn’t already microchipped, there’s no better time to get that done than before a camping trip. If they get lost, microchipping helps to ensure that a pup can be traced back to its owner by providing rescues and vet clinics with your contact information in the event they’re found.

Protecting plant life

One of the best parts about camping is taking in the natural beauty of the local flora. That’s why it’s important to deter your dog from engaging in destructive behaviors that could damage plants surrounding your campsite. You’ll also want to protect your canine pal as well. Before you go, read up on shrubs, flowers, and mushrooms deemed toxic and non-toxic to dogs, and avoid poison ivy.

Keeping your dog safe from wildlife

If you are camping in a private, secluded area, keep in mind that you are forgoing a lot of the protections populated campgrounds have to offer, particularly exposure to wildlife. Even public campsites are not immune to woodland animals making their way towards your yummy snacks and garbage, putting not only your dog in danger, but you as well.

If you encounter a wild animal on a hike or in the camping area, do not let your dog engage. Even if it is a smaller animal like a racoon that you think your dog can beat in a fight, letting them come into contact with one another exposes your dog to a range of diseases and parasites. Keep your dog leashed in case their prey drive causes them to charge at the animal.

Generally wild animals will try to stay away from humans and pets unless they’re rabid or protecting their young. In the event your dog does get into a scuffle with a wild animal, put a long object like a stick or a shovel between them to break it up. Loud noises like shouting or blowing a horn can also ward off woodland creatures.

What to do in case of an emergency

Adventurous dogs have a way of finding trouble, so preparation is important. Here’s what you should keep in mind regarding pet emergencies that arise on campsites:

Recognizing signs of distress in your dog

Keep a lookout for early stress signals your dog is displaying so you can quickly take measures to calm them down. This includes:

  • Lip or nose lick. Dogs lick their lips to send a message that they are worried and perceive something or someone as a threat. While licking their nose can be their way of sharpening their sense of smell, too much licking might indicate distress.
  • Stress yawn. While letting out a whiny screech during a prolonged yawn can be cute, it is likely your dog’s way of calming themself when they are stressed or agitated.
  • Showing whites of their eyes (also known as “whale eye”). Sometimes your dog may turn their head away from someone while still looking at them, revealing the whites of their eyes. This is an indication they feel threatened or worried.
  • Overgrooming. Dogs naturally scratch and lick themselves to self-groom, but they also do it to self-soothe when anxious. Keep an eye out for excessive grooming and contact your vet before they do damage to their skin or paws.
  • Shaking off. We’re all too familiar with a dog shaking after a bath and spraying water everywhere. But if your dog does it while dry, it is possibly what is known as an “adrenaline flush” in response to stress.
  • Zoomies. The sudden burst of “zoomies” dogs get that sends them racing around the house or yard can come from either excitement or anxiety. If your pooch engages in this behavior after an anxiety-inducing event like thunder or going to the vet, it is possible that they are releasing built-up tension.
  • Freezing or stillness. Dogs abruptly freezing in place are likely experiencing unease. The stillness may be accompanied by raised hackles or their ears moving back.
  • Tucked tail. Perhaps one of the more telling signs of dog stress is having their tails tucked instead of wagging. That said, a wagging tail can also indicate fear and anxiety.

If you suspect your dog is distressed, try giving them a toy for mental stimulation or over-the-counter products like travel sprays and thundershirts.

Dealing with common camping injuries in dogs

Dog owners will also want to be prepared for any injuries that can occur on the camping trip, including:

  • Paw injuries. With sharp rocks and jagged logs, the woods can be rough on a canine’s paws. Even campgrounds can have broken glass and metals that lead to cuts and other injuries. Keep a first aid kit handy with antibacterial ointment and non-stick gauze.
  • Dehydration. Pack a bowl and bottle so your pup has as much water access as they do at home. Bear in mind that even with the right essentials, new environments can cause your dog to stop drinking water, resulting in dehydration. Consider bringing broth or adding moisture to their dry food to ensure water intake.
  • Algae poisoning. On the topic of water, be wary of letting your dog swim in or drink from ponds or lakes that may be contaminated with harmful toxins and bacteria like blue-green algae.
  • Heat stroke or exhaustion. Unless you’re going glamping, remember that your dog won’t be able to take an AC break at your campsite in the warm summer months. Monitor your dog for heavy panting and find shady resting areas to avoid overheating.
  • Insect bites. Anyone who has gone camping knows that when the sun goes down, the bugs come out in full force. While insect bites on dogs typically aren’t life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable for your little one. Be sure to give them flea, tick, and heartworm preventative and consider a dog-friendly bug spray to ward off pests.
  • Wild animal wounds. Visit the nearest emergency clinic immediately if your dog gets wounded by a wild animal like a raccoon, coyote, bear, or snake. Even if it doesn’t seem severe, the bite could contain harmful and possibly even lethal bacteria.

Keep your pet first aid kit on you at all times while camping and have an exit plan. An emergency harness can help you carry your dog back to the trailhead or car if they’re unable to walk on their own.

How to find a nearby veterinarian while camping

Before you embark on a wilderness adventure with your favorite furball, save the name and phone number of the nearest veterinarian’s office to your campground and keep it on you at all times in case of an emergency. “If something goes really wrong, I don’t want to waste time frantically searching the internet,” says Morgan. In some cases you may not have service, so download an offline navigation to the vet’s office on Google Maps ahead of time.

Frequently asked questions

Is camping stressful for dogs?

It depends on the dog! Some pups fare better than others in outdoor environments. If your dog generally doesn’t enjoy long hikes or being away from home, it might not be a good idea to take them camping.

Where do dogs sleep when you take them camping?

You should supervise your dog at all times while camping with them, so they should accompany you in the camp or RV. To make them comfortable, bring a dog bed or sleeping bag.

What should I do if I encounter a wild animal while camping with my dog?

Do everything in your power to avoid letting your dog engage with the wild animal, like holding them back on a leash. If your dog does get into a fight with another animal, wedge a stick or other long object between them and make loud noises to scare the creature away. Seek an emergency vet if your dog sustains injuries.

How should I prepare my dog to go camping?

Get them used to the idea of sleeping in a tent by setting it up at home first. You’ll also want to make sure they’re up to date on their vaccines, as well as flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives.

What rules do campgrounds have for dogs?

While rules may vary from place to place, most pet-friendly campsites require your dog to be confined to a 6-foot leash and attended at all times. If your dog barks during “quiet hours,” you may incur a fine or possible removal from the campground.