We are Natalie & Marc – a couple of Quebecers travelling through North and Central America with Walter, our 70-lb adventure mutt and best furry friend. 

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series about Vanlife with a dog so if you haven’t already read Part 1, check it out here first.

Finding dog-friendly campsites and activities is a huge priority for us. It’s always a key part of our trip planning.  To us, dog-friendly means not just permission to enter but also a place or activity that is Walter approved. 

Can I bring my dog?

If you haven’t travelled with your dog, you may be surprised by how many campsites and outdoor activities prohibit dogs. Places may also have a lot of rules about where dogs can and can’t go. For this reason, it’s really important to do some advance research before driving off into the wild blue yonder with your best furry friend. 

Some of our favourite sources of information about accommodations and activities that allow dogs are:

  • The website for specific destinations, e.g. campsites, activities or restaurants;
  • Traveller apps like iOverlander, freecamping.net, All Stays, Etc.;
  • Blog posts or magazine articles about dog-friendly businesses in a specific city or town; and
  • The Visitor’s Centre for the destination you’re visiting.

We use all of these sources of information on a regular basis, with iOverlander and Visitor’s Centres being our favourite. 

Shout out to two of the friendliest Visitor’s Centre hosts we met in Montgomery, Alabama and Durango, Colorado. Both had such detailed information about best area hikes for dogs as well as dog-friendly patios and campgrounds.  Nothing beats local knowledge and the best place to find it is at a Visitor’s Centre!

When we first started travelling with Walter, we learned a lot. We assumed that dogs were allowed in all campgrounds and on all trails, as long as they were leashed.  Unfortunately, we learned the hard way (i.e. being turned away) that some parks and campgrounds have very strict rules about where dogs are allowed and in some cases, dogs aren’t allowed at all.  We were surprised to discover that US National Parks and Quebec Provincial Parks have some of the strictest pet policies in North America.  We’ve also learned through our travels that campgrounds and activities in Mexico and Central America tend to be the most dog-friendly.  However, no matter where you plan to camp or visit, avoid disappointment by first checking for pet policies. 

Will My Dog Enjoy Our Next Stop?

Just because your dog is allowed to go somewhere, doesn’t mean he’ll enjoy it.  Choosing accommodations and activities that your dog will enjoy depends completely on his personality, likes, dislikes, and limitations.  Here are some examples of things you’ll want to consider:

  • Is your dog friendly with people and other dogs? 
  • Does he get easily cold or hot? 
  • Is he scared of loud noises or busy environments? 
  • Does he walk well on a leash? 
  • Is he healthy enough to manage long hikes?
  • Can he swim and does he enjoy the water? 

Of course, the adventure isn’t all about your dog. But trust me, if he isn’t enjoying the trip, you won’t either! 

Walter’s pretty easy going. Although his favourite activities are hiking, remote camping and beach walking, he’s quite happy with the basics. He likes to explore cities and hang out on patios while we eat and drink coffee. 

However, his limitation is that as a husky. He doesn’t do well in hot climates so we plan our activities and destinations accordingly.  In warmer places like Southern US, Mexico and Guatemala, we tend to avoid the hot beaches and seek out high elevation destinations with cooler temperatures.  If we’re planning a big hike, we give preference to routes with access to a stream, beach or waterfall. 

We’ve found that one of the best ways to choose campsites and activities for your dog is by word of mouth.  Chatting and connecting with other people travelling with dogs really comes in handy.  So many of our campsites, boondocking choices, and destinations in 2019 were chosen based on recommendations from other travellers with dogs.  Here are 3 real-life examples that led to beautiful destinations that were perfect for us and Walter.

Sierra Gorda, Queretaro MEX

In Sierra Gorda, Mexico, we connected with Walter’s Instagram friend @tashi_thegolden (yes – dogs have Instagram friends too!) and ended up meeting with him and his family in person.  They had just moved to the area and had awesome advice for activities in the Sierra Gorda that would be fun for Walter.  We ended up spending a full day exploring the area with Tashi and our new friends – visiting waterfalls, exploring ancient ruins and eating lunch at a dog-friendly restaurant. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado USA

Although National Parks aren’t typically very dog-friendly, we learned through a vlog by Mike and Jennifer Wendland on their “RV Lifestyle” channel that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks; they had spent some time there with their dog Bo.  The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a hidden gem as far as US National Parks go and we were so glad we took the time to visit it.  Walter was allowed on a few of the hikes and more importantly, along all of the little trails to the spectacular lookout points.

Acatenango Volcano, Antigua, GUATEMALA

One of the most popular hikes in Guatemala is up the Acatenango Volcano.  It’s an arduous two-day hike with amazing early-morning views to the neighbouring, active “El Fuego” volcano.  We’ve had a couple of opportunities to do the hike in the past but we’ve been hesitant because we were worried about whether Walter could handle the heat and distance.  A number of other travellers that we spent time with on the road last year have since hiked Acatenango with their dog and have assured us that Walter could handle it.  This information from fellow Vanlifers is the most valuable feedback we could ask for and has given us the confidence to try the hike with Walter when we’re back in Guatemala next year. 

Stay Tuned for Part 3!

Finding dog-friendly activities is key to a great adventure. However, the health and safety of your best furry friend is without a doubt the most important consideration.  Stay tuned for part 3 in the series, where we’ll be sharing our advice on keeping your dog safe and healthy on the road.