Last updated on 21 June, 2023
How do you do national parks and travel with a dog? Is it easier to leave them at home with a pet sitter if you are doing a lap around Australia?
It may be easier for you and better for your dog to leave them with a pet sitter. If you are like us and travelling indefinitely or could not bear to leave them behind, then we can tell you it is possible to travel with a dog and still visit national parks.
Flexibility and knowing your dog is the key. Pet sitters or boarding kennels are available in most places near national parks, but not always. Other options to consider are pet sitting swaps, paying other campers or leaving your dog in your caravan (where allowed and weather permitting).
Below we share some ideas, including what we did with our dog Chika at Australia’s most visited national parks as well as on a handful of tours we have done.
Related Read: What Does a Dog Need When Camping?
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- Tips on how to do National Parks and Travel with a Dog
- Some Additional Tips for Exploring National Parks when you have a Dog
- What We Did with our Dog to See Some of Australia’s Must See National Parks (and Tours)
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Tips on how to do National Parks and Travel with a Dog
Leave Your Dog in your Caravan or at your Campsite
Leaving your dog alone at your campsite is a convenient option if it will work for you and your dog. And if it is permitted where you are staying.
Most caravan parks or paid campgrounds will not allow dogs to be left alone but we have found some exceptions. We have discovered that sometimes pet friendly caravan parks nearest to a national park will allow dogs to be left alone (with some conditions). Alternatively, they may offer onsite pet sitting or kennels.
It is a good idea to contact the pet friendly caravan parks nearest to the national park that you would like to explore to find out their policy on leaving pets or if pet sitting is available. They will also be the best local contact for local pet sitters.
Generally speaking, in our experience, it is privately owned, donation and free camps that are the most likely to allow dogs to be left alone. Sometimes too, we have unhitched our caravan at the entry of national parks, information centres or other suitable places and left Chika in the caravan so we can explore a national park. It depends on what will work for Chika and us at the time.
Leaving Chika in our caravan is usually the most convenient option for us. More importantly, she is comfortable being alone in our caravan (her home) much more than she is in a boarding kennel.
There are some ‘rules’ (I guess you can call them) that we follow when leaving Chika alone in our caravan:
- the weather has to be right – not too hot and no predicted storms
- we go early as possible and return as early as possible
- we usually limit our time in the national park to exploring the highlights only
Leaving your dog alone or not is a personal decision. It is suitable for some dogs and their owners and not for others. While we are comfortable leaving Chika, we have had other dogs (now passed) that no way we would have left them. One would have torn the inside of the caravan apart and another would have barked non-stop the entire time, disturbing the peace.
You know your dog and yourself. Leave your dog alone only if permitted and if you are comfortable doing so.
Dog Sitting Swaps
The advantage of camping somewhere dog friendly, close to the national park you want to visit, is there will very likely be someone else needing dog sitting. A dog-sitting swap is a win-win for you and them.
Dog sitting swaps work well for dogs that cannot be left alone or when a visit to the national park requires many hours, too long to leave a dog alone. Our advice is to make conversation with the other campers and suggest a pet sitting swap.
Pay Another Camper to Dog Sit
Not all dog loving campers have dogs or travel with their dogs. It is not unusual for other travellers to be attracted to Chika because they love dogs or are missing their own. Take note, especially if your dog likes them too because sometimes it is worth the effort of asking if they will pet sit for an agreed fee.
A time we did this was when we were in Cairns. We asked another camper looked after Chika for us while we did a snorkelling tour on the Great Barrier Reef. The day out was 14 hours, too long to leave Chika alone, so we asked another camper who had taken a shine to her. Gratefully, he agreed and we paid him.
Use Professional Dog Sitters or Boarding Kennels
Professional dog sitters and boarding kennels are, for many dogs, the best option. Most dog sitters are wonderful and having your dog looked after in someone’s home is a great option. A well run kennel can be a little holiday for your dog.
Unfortunately, many places have limited or no pet sitters or kennels available, meaning it is not always a reliable option when you want to explore national parks around Australia when you have a dog.
So far, we only used a dog boarding kennel once when we needed Chika to go overnight. That was when we did the Horizontal Falls from our Big Ticket Australia Bucket List. Although Chika suffers some anxiety in boarding kennels, we opted to do it on this occasion because the falls were something we really really wanted to do. Also, we trusted she would be well cared for based on the reviews we had read.
Go to Dog Friendly National Parks
There are only a handful of dog friendly national parks in Australia and all are on a leash (as far as I know). Mostly it is conservation, regional and state recreational parks that allow dogs.
Find Alternatives to National Parks that are Dog Friendly
National Parks are fantastic and have some of Australia’s most unique landscapes and landmarks. Often there is no alternative. There is no substitute for seeing Uluru. Then, sometimes there is an alternative to the national park that is dog friendly and nearly as good.
Here are some great alternatives we have found on our travels:
· South Lefroy Bay Campground is fantastic for those of you like us that want to snorkel Ningaloo Reef and are looking for dog friendly camping
· There are many genuine dog friendly bushwalks in the Blue Mountains and Blue Mountains Dog Friendly Camping Spots
· Southwest Western Australia, where there are lots of national parks, there are also state parks that allow dogs, many with similar landscapes as the national parks
Take Turns Visiting a National Park
It may be that there is no other option but, if you are a couple or family, to see a national park, in turn, so someone can stay with your dog. If you have travelled thousands of kilometres, are unlikely to return in the foreseeable future and it is a national park high on your to do list, then do it.
Some Additional Tips for Exploring National Parks when you have a Dog
Choose Dog Friendly Camping Nearest to National Park
The number one thing we do is find dog friendly camping close to the national park we want to visit. The benefits of doing this are:
- less travel distance from our camp to the national park
- the improved likelihood of:
- pets being allowed to left alone
- meeting other dog owners to do dog sitting swaps with or people who will look after yours (sometimes for a fee)
- there being pet sitters or kennels available
Question Caravan Parks that say they are Dog Friendly
In our experience, there is a world of difference between “dogs allowed” and “dog friendly.” It is worth finding out how dog friendly a campground or caravan park is by asking on social media groups, reading reviews and ringing to speak to the owners or managers.
Prioritise National Parks and What to See
Australia has over 600 national parks and it is highly improbable anyone will ever visit all of them. When you have a dog travelling with you it is even less likely. Instead, be highly selective about which ones you choose to visit and then do or see the highlights only.
Keep Vaccines Up to Date
Boarding kennels and pet sitters will require your dog’s vaccinations to be up to date. Vaccine requirements do vary for different states.
Related read: Vet Care for Your Dog While Travelling Australia
Visit National Parks in the Early Morning
I base this advice on four years of travelling with our dog and having had done many national parks during that time. Get up and do and see what you want in national parks as early as possible. Most of the time, we are up before sunrise and will return by mid-morning, especially if the weather will be warm. We have found it means we still have time in the afternoon to spend with Chika and take her for her daily walk.
If we have someone looking after Chika, we may go for longer because we know she has had company and probably a walk.
What We Did with our Dog to See Some of Australia’s Must See National Parks (and Tours)
Boodjamulla National Park | Boodjamulla National Park in Lawn Hill is a four to six hour drive partly on a dirt road from Mount Isa. The Lawn Hill Gorge is the highlight of the national park and kayaking is an absolute must do. The easiest way to see this national park and its gorge is to camp at Adels Grove Campground. There you can either use their dog sitting or leave your dog at your campsite.
Carnarvon Gorge National Park | Sandstone Park at the time we stayed allowed dogs to be left while you went to the Carnarvon Gorge National Park. They also have kennels available onsite. The park now has new owners and I cannot say for sure what their policy is for leaving dogs alone.
Jardine River National Park | No one should do the epic Cape York Peninsula and not see the stunning Eliott Falls, the Fruit Bat Falls, Twin Falls and the Saucepan in the Jardine River National Park. We stayed at the Sam Creek Campground on the edge of the national park. It was easy to access the national park from there. You can even walk, it is that close.
Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Tour | While in Cairns we of course wanted to snorkel the reef. Luckily for us we were camped at the Rocky Creek free camp on the Atherton Tablelands and there we asked another camper to looked after Chika for us. He agreed and we paid him $50.
K’Gari (Fraser Island) | The only option was to have Chika go to a boarding kennel when we camped on K’Gari for five nights with friends. It was brilliant but it is possible to do the highlights in 2 days for dog owners that do not want to leave their dogs for as long. It was the longest we have ever had Chika in pet boarding. It was expensive!
New South Wales
Blue Mountains National Park | For us, the Blue Mountains is where we are from, meaning we have family and friends to stay with and who will look after Chika for us. Still, we highly encourage you to go as there are numerous dog friendly walks in the Blue Mountains as well as dog friendly camping and boarding kennels.
Grampians National Park | To explore the Grampians National Park we unhitched and parked our caravan in a large park under trees at Halls Gap. It was cool enough to leave Chika in the caravan. We did the stunning Pinnacles Walk and Lookout. There are other walks but we choose to limit ours to just the one.
Port Cambell National Park | Home to the famous Twelve Apostles limestone rock formulations along the Great Ocean Road, Port Campbell National Park was high on our list of sights of national parks to visit. Surprisingly, the car park at the Twelve Apostles and other landmarks are dog friendly with only a short walk to each. Chika drove around with us, we visited the sites and she waited in the car.
Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park | At Cradle Mountain the information centre carpark is dog friendly because technically it is outside the national park. The park runs a shuttle bus up and down the mountain, so we used it and left Chika in our car. Over about five hours, we walked the Dove Lake track, then up to Marions Lookout and back down via the Wombat Pool track. The scenery was breathtaking. We chose not to do the Lake St Clair area of the park.
Freycinet National Park | River Rocks Campground at Coles Bay is where we camped and left Chika in the care of other campers when we explored Freycinet National Park. We decided that given Chika was being watched, to do the Wineglass Bay track to the beach and back again. A shorter option is to walk to the lookout only.
Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park | Ayers Rock Campground at Yulara allowed us to leave Chika at our campsite. It was February, there were few other campers. We also got lucky with the weather as it was cool overnight and in the early morning, so we visited Uluru one day and Kata Tjuta the next from 5.30 am to about 10.30 am. We did the Uluru Base Walk and Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds Walk. We also got to see the spectacular sunrise at each and we did the brilliant Field of Lights art installation one evening, leaving Chika at our campsite.
Related read: Visit Uluru with a Dog
Watarrka National Park | Watarrka National Park is home to the famous King Canyon’s Rim Walk. Conveniently for us, the car park at the rim walk is dog friendly on a lead. We again left Chika in our caravan and did the rim walk taking about 3.5 hours, starting at 6 am.
West McDonnell National Park | The West and East McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs, admittedly, were not high on our list until we checked into the Temple Bar Caravan Park and the manager gave us a rundown on the area. The manager also told us we could leave Chika at our campsite (if she would not disturb others) to explore the ranges, so we did, over two half days.
Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) | Nitmiluk National Park is a large park, so we did it in two sections. Firstly, we stayed at Manbulloo Homestead Caravan Park in Katherine where they offer pet sitting. We, however, got permission to leave Chika at our campsite while we went and did the sunrise Katherine Gorge cruise. The cruise was brilliant, we highly recommend it.
Nitmiluk National Park (Leliyn Falls) | Leliyn Falls also known as Edith Falls is a two hour loop walk with gorgeous waterholes and cascades. We camped at a free camp nearby, only a few minutes drive from the falls walk. We left Chika in our caravan and did the walk at 6 am in the morning and were back at our caravan well before 9 am.
Kakadu National Park | Mary River Roadhouse was the closest dog friendly camping option we could find. We camped at the roadhouse for five days in August and with few other campers around, the caretakers allowed us to leave Chika at our campsite. On the day we did the Jim Jim Falls Walk, another traveller looked after Chika for us at no cost. All up we visited Kakadu National Park over three days and while there was still much more to see, we felt it was enough for Chika. You could, instead arrange pet sitting for your dog in Darwin and possibly do a tour.
Litchfield National Park | Zebra Stone Litchfield is a basic campground with no power but toilets, that allow you to leave your dog. The weather was very mild when we went, so we opted to do the park in one day. It took us several hours, but we got to see all the highlights and for Chika, it was just one day.
Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park | In August 2021, we did an epic Flinders Ranges road trip with our dog Chika. The area is dog friendly with many great alternatives to the national park. That said, we still did the Arkaroo Rock Walk with Chika sleeping in our car near the start of the walk. We also drove the national park trails Bunyeroo Gorge, Brachina Gorge and Geological Trails over a few hours by leaving Chika in our caravan at a free camp near Blinman.
Flinders Chase National Park | Kangaroo Island national park, Flinders Chase was one we could not miss. We visited over a few hours by leaving Chika in our caravan at the dog friendly council campground Vivionne Bay.
Related read: The Incredible Dog Friendly Kangaroo Island
Cape Range National Park | As avid snorkellers, it was high on our list to go to Cape Range National Park in Exmouth and snorkel Ningaloo Reef. It was not to be as neither dog friendly caravan park would allow us to leave Chika and we were unable to find any pet sitter available. Instead, we found dog friendly camping on Ningaloo Reef at South Leroy Bay Campground and it was a fantastic alternative for Chika and us.
Related read: 18 Exceptional Dog Friendly Snorkelling Spots in WA
Karijini National Park | Since Chika is okay staying alone in our caravan, we opted to stay at the nearby Albert Tognolini Rest Area with its spectacular views. On the afternoon we arrived, we did Fortescue Falls at Dales Gorge. The next day we did Handrail Pool at Weano Gorge and Kermits Pool at Hancocks Gorge. Note, the alternative to the free camp is Tom Price Caravan Park where there are kennels available.
Kalbarri National Park | Dog sitting was non-existence in Kalbarri when we travelled through. The size of the national park meant we saw it over two short days. On day one, we did the brilliant Skywalk and the walk to Natures Window by leaving Chika in our caravan at a free camp 40 minutes drive away (the closest one we could find). On day two, we moved our caravan to the information centre in town, left Chika inside and drove the coastal section of the park. We only did the lookouts and non of the longer walks, so we were only gone about two hours.
Nambung National Park | Pinnacles Desert is a unique natural landmark with its limestone pillars and takes an hour by doing the Pinnacles Desert drive. Chika remained in our caravan at a free camp.
Horizontal Falls Tour | The Horizontal Falls is a natural phenomena that we had see and experience on our travels. We had put aside the money to do it long before we reached Western Australia. We had also decided that the best option was to put Chika into a boarding kennel and decided to go with Broome Veterinary Hospital based on their reviews and location. Note that there is no vet in Derby or dog sitting meaning if you book a Horizontal Falls Tour book one that departs from Broome not Derby.
Hopefully you have some ideas of how you too can see many of Australia’s national parks and still travel with your dog. Dogs love a road trip just as much as we do!