Each year, more and more people are choosing to include their dogs in their family vacations. But in exchange for the fun that comes with traveling with the whole family, there is the challenge of finding dog-friendly places that the four-legged members of the family can enjoy just as much as the two-legged.
It was with this in mind that we began to search for the best dog-friendly destinations in the Midwest. To narrow our list down to only 30 great places, we considered only those destinations in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
We also considered:
Places to Stay: Every destination on our list has pet-friendly accommodations, or safe places to park an RV.
Things To Do: We searched for places with things you can actually do with your pets, as opposed to places that simply allow you to bring your pet. Our list is full of great walks and hikes, canoe trips, and dog-friendly beaches.
Everyone’s Included: No Breed Specific Legislation on this list! We included only those places that (as far as we can tell) allow any and every type of well-behaved dog, including your beloved bully breed.
Bow Wow Beach
The city of Stow, Ohio has all kinds of great things, but for dog lovers, the highlight is most definitely Bow Wow Beach. The beach is 7.5 acres of fenced in play area for dogs both large and small. The terrain varies from sand beach to grassy knolls, and even includes a three-acre lake for dogs to swim in (sorry, no human swimming).
Dog owners living in or visiting Indianapolis won’t regret stopping by the extremely dog-friendly Broad Ripple neighborhood. Start your day on the Monon Trail, a pretty urban trail that will lead you through various neighborhoods, parks, and even under bridges and through industrial zones. Don’t worry if the walking tires you out, because Broad Ripple is well known for its many dog-friendly eateries like Petite Chou, the Monon Food Company, Plump’s Last Shot, and Flatware. Come evening, you and your dog can hang out on the deck of The Monkey’s Tale and listen to live music.
Ingleside, Illinois and Lake Delton, Wisconsin
Camp Dogwood literally makes dreams come true as an all-inclusive vacation camp for dogs and their owners. At each of the camp’s two locations, dogs and humans can participate in fun training sessions, relax, play, and enjoy the outdoors together. Activities include everything from lessons on herding and tracking, to classes on making dog treats, to nature hikes and puppy yoga.
It might seem odd that we’ve included a city on our list of dog-friendly destinations — and a large city at that — but Chicago, Illinois is easily one of the most dog-friendly places in the country. The city offers dozens of dog parks, and even has a few dog beaches along the shores of Lake Michigan. Quite a few local hotels allow dogs, including Hotel Monaco, which donates 10% of all dog-related proceeds to a local rescue group. Finally, check the calendar before your trek to Chicago, as the city is almost always throwing some kind of festival, many of which are pet-friendly or even pet-themed!
Crazy Horse, South Dakota
Near Mount Rushmore (which is not so pet friendly), Crazy Horse is most famous for the massive and impressive Crazy Horse Memorial. Dogs aren’t allowed on the bus ride, but if you’re okay with walking, you’re allowed to bring your leashed pet all the way to the outdoor exhibit and viewing veranda. If your dog is small enough to be carried, you can even bring her into the interesting museum that is on site.
Custer State Park
Nestled in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota is the dog-friendly Custer State Park. Choose from any number of trails ranging from short and easy to multi-day challenges. But however you choose to enjoy Custer State Park, be sure to check out Sylvan Lake. There is an easy one-mile loop around the water that yields nice views of some cool rock formations. Before you hike, we recommend outfitting your dog in a bell. You likely won’t meet any bears here, but there are more than 1,500 bison living in the park that probably won’t enjoy being disturbed.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley is full of beautiful places to hike and enjoy. This includes Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre park that offers dog-friendly hiking, cycling, birdwatching, and picnicking. The hiking trails are numerous and varied, and guide you through ravines, lush forests, steep valley walls, and rolling floodplain. Just note that dogs aren’t allowed in any of the buildings, and should be leashed at all times.
Known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” Door County in Wisconsin is a great dog-friendly vacation destination. The small towns dotting the shores of Lake Michigan are all clean and quaint, and ooze historic charm. Walk your dog down the main streets of towns like Algoma, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, and Ephraim, and find some dog-friendly restaurants or cafes where you can enjoy a nice lunch or dinner. There are a few dog-friendly beaches around, or you can take the ferry over to Washington Island, where all but one public beach is dog friendly.
East Harbor State Park
Located along the shores of Lake Erie, East Harbor State Park is 1,800 acres of dog-friendly recreation. There are more than 500 campsites, plus places to park an RV, so don’t hesitate to spend multiple days here — you’ll find plenty to do! There are 11 dog-friendly trails ranging from moderate to intense, including the most popular trail that leads to the beach. Though pets aren’t allowed on the sand beach, there is a separate picnic area on the shore that allows your dog to join you.
There’s no need to leave your dog behind on your trip to Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri because this place is dog friendly! The 50-minute tours of the cave are on a Jeep tram, and each tour allows one well-behaved leashed dog. If you have to wait a tour or two for a place for your dog, take advantage of the interesting hiking trails or comfortable picnic spots the caverns have to offer.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Mandan, North Dakota
North Dakota is full of naturally stunning places that are both dog-friendly and interesting to humans. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is the last place Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was stationed before heading to the Battle of Little Bighorn. You can visit his re-created house, as well as nearby On-A-Slant, the re-created Mandan Indian village. There are a few trails to choose from when it comes to exploring the 1,000-acre park, including the paved Bismarck-Mandan-Fort Lincoln Bike Trail.
Fort Stevenson State Park
Garrison, North Dakota
You’ll find dog-friendly cabins and campsites at Fort Stevenson State Park in Garrison, North Dakota. The views here are pretty, especially of the lake, and you can enjoy the natural surroundings on any of the hiking trails. The park also includes Fort Stevenson, one of the most important historical forts in the state. There is another trail here, plus plenty of neat photo ops with things like cannons and wagons.
Grand Mere State Park
Grand Mere State Park, located in Stevensville, Michigan, has it all! The park offers its guests nearly 1,000 acres of dog-friendly hiking trails, plus a mile of beach for you and your pet to relax on the shores of Lake Michigan. Just about every area of the park allows dogs, as long as they are leashed and with you at all times.
Nearly 3/4 of the county in which Grayling, Michigan is located is owned by the government — a good thing when it comes to pet owners looking for dog-friendly destinations. In Grayling alone, there are acres upon acres of fields and other open-spaces that dogs can enjoy. The town is especially popular during the winter months, when dog owners bring their pets to Grayling to partake in snowshoeing or backcountry skiing.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Gunflint Lodge located just north of Grand Marais, Minnesota is the perfect weekend getaway for the dog (and human!) that likes to be pampered. There is always plenty to do, including the nearby Gunflint Trail, but we recommend checking the calendar for the lodge’s many special “dog lover’s weekends.” The themes of these weekends vary, but all include fun activities like dog sledding, skijoring, doggie socials, and even trick training sessions. At the end of a long day, you can book one of the lodge’s canine massage therapists.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
If the name of this dog-friendly destination is any indication, you and your dog are sure to have a good time at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Located near Lake of the Ozarks (which also makes our list), Ha Ha Tonka offers visitors 15 miles of different pet-friendly trails, each of which has a ton of cool things to see along the way. Grab a map and check out the trails to the massive sinkhole called The Coliseum, the Whispering Dell sink basin, Ha Ha Tonka Spring and its 250-foot bluffs, a 100-foot-high natural bridge, and the remains of a stone mansion that once overlooked the lake.
Hocking Hills State Park
Hocking Hills State Park, located in southeastern Ohio near the town of Logan, offers hikers and their dogs 26 miles of trails through stunning wooded areas and vistas. Check out Old Man’s Cave, which yields amazing views of cliffs, rushing rivers, waterfalls, meandering streams, and lots of other photo-worthy sights. We also recommend the popular Cedar Falls trail, which leads to a secluded rock-walled chasm complete with grottos and waterfalls. As you’re exploring, keep your eyes peeled for hummingbirds, foxes, groundhogs, raccoons, deer, turkeys, and other wildlife that call Hocking Hill home.
This fun little town known for its rich Dutch history is a great place to make a weekend getaway. Best of all, it’s pet friendly! Take your leashed dog with you to window shop Holland’s adorable downtown, then head out to Lake Michigan to hike along the shores of Lake Michigan. Climb the sand dunes for a killer view, or just relax on the sandy shores of Kirk Park.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs National Park is interesting, stunning, and best of all, dog friendly! The park covers the land that was once famous for its “healing waters.” Take your leashed dog on the half-mile walk to Bathhouse Row, from which you can choose any of the inter-connected, 26 miles of trails. The trails lead through some gorgeous scenery, and their varying lengths make them an ideal hiking experience for any hiking level.
Itasca State Park
Park Rapids, Minnesota
Love birds and dogs? Look no further than Itasca State Park, where you’re sure to see (and hear) a few members of the largest group of loons in the continental U.S. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails here, and there are plenty to choose from. We recommend the Deer Park Trail for its views of the lakes (note that dogs are not allowed on the beach areas) and the Ozawindib Trail.
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Wisconsin is a must-see place for people and dogs who love the outdoors. The state has 99 state parks and recreational areas, including Kettle Moraine State Forest. Most people come here to camp, and dogs are allowed in all but two of the park’s campsites. There are special places along Ottawa Lake where dogs are allowed. There is even the Oak Hollow pet swim area, where dogs can play, or where some locals bring their dogs to train in water skills.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Stanton, North Dakota
Sacajawea (or Sakakawea in these parts) and her husband lived in this village at the time they were hired by Lewis and Clark as translators. Today, the village has been restored into a fascinating (and dog-friendly!) historical site. There are replicas of the tribe’s earth dwellings, as well as a giant statue of Seaman (Meriwether Lewis’ favorite dog), both of which make for great photo ops. When it comes to to trails, dogs are sure to enjoy the beautiful scenery, while humans will find the informative plaques very interesting.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
There are few places in the United States as naturally beautiful as the Ozarks, so it’s a bonus that Lake of the Ozarks State Park is dog-friendly! The park includes picnic areas, camp sites, and hiking trails that allow well-behaved dogs on leashes no longer than 10-feet long. And while dogs are not allowed on the beaches or in any of the swim areas, you are allowed to bring your four-legged family members with you on boats.
Lake Sakakawea State Park
Located in central North Dakota is Lake Sakakawea, the third largest man-made reservoir in the U.S. The state park is very dog friendly, and covers almost 1,300 acres of woods and meadows, a marina, a beach, camping and picnicking spots, and dozens of trails. Your dog will love exploring the various sights the trails yield. There is also a healthy wildlife population in the park, so keep your eyes peeled.
Lake Superior Hiking Trail
Though Duluth is where the Lake Superior Hiking Trail actually begins, the trail runs all the way to the Canadian border, and hikers and their dogs can join at any trailhead. The trail is both gorgeous and quiet, and thanks to its length, you aren’t likely to find any crowds (if you even see another person). Dogs are required to be leashed at each trailhead, but are allowed to run free once you’ve reached a quarter-mile.
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Madeline Island is just one of the 21 natural islands known as the Apostle Islands, but it’s especially dog friendly. Dogs are welcome at a number of local resorts, hotels, and restaurants, and are even allowed on the Madeline Island Ferry Line and private water taxis. Such dog-friendly transportation means you’re freer to do the things you really want to do, without having to worry about leaving your dog behind. Dog-friendly activities vary from seasons-to-season here. In summer and fall, take your dog to pick apples or berries at any of the local orchards. And if you’re in the Apostle Islands in February, don’t miss out on the famous Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Traverse City, Michigan
The Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore, located near the pet-friendly town of Traverse City, is mile upon mile of sand bluffs. Some are more than 450 feet tall, and everyone big and small, two feet or four, are sure to have a blast climbing them for stunning views overlooking Lake Michigan. Just past the sand dunes are acres of explorable forest, complete with local flora and fauna, and even some crystal-clear inland lakes.
Superior National Forest
At 3,900,000 acres, Superior National Forest is the largest designated wilderness in the eastern United States. It’s also a popular place for Midwesterners to vacation with their families (including the dog!) because of its seemingly endless amount of activities. Indeed, there are more than 2,000 campsites within the park, and over 1,000 lakes! Your dog is sure to have a blast wherever he goes, but if he enjoys swimming or boating, check out Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a one million-acre section in the northernmost region of the park.
Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area
There is a ton of things for dogs and their families to do in Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area. The nearly 19,000-acre park offers camping, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and skiing, plus dozens of areas to just sit back and relax while enjoying nature. Most of the campsites and hiking trails allow dogs, as long as they are on a leash that is no longer than six feet long. You really can’t go wrong with any trail you may choose, as every one leads you through the stunning nature that is the Midwest’s largest and oldest old-growth forest.
Twin Lakes Recreation Area
Your dog is sure to have a blast while visiting Twin Lakes Recreation Area in Columbia, Missouri. The 73-acre park is home to a huge lakeside dog park, complete with a 16-acre fishing lake in which dogs can jump, swim, and play. Smaller dogs even have their own area, the Paws Pond Dog Park, where a small pond can keep them cool on a hot summer day. The recreation area is a great place to spend the day, as it also includes a fishing and boating lake, picnic tables, and a half-mile trail.