Time for the whole family to be together is one of the very best things about traveling, and if you’re like us, then by “whole family” we mean the dog, too. That’s why we went on the hunt for the most dog-friendly destinations in the South.
To narrow our list down to the 30 best dog-friendly destinations in the South, we considered only those destinations in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. 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 allow any and every type of well-behaved dog, including your beloved bully breed.
Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park
While historic Assateague Island actually covers parts of both Virginia and Maryland, only the two-thirds that are in Maryland are pet friendly. At the Assateague Island National Seashore, pets are allowed on the beaches (without lifeguards) as long as they’re leashed, as well as most campsites. While you’re in the area, keep an eye out for the island’s famous wild ponies, then head over to Berlin, a small town with a dog-friendly and fun-to-stroll historic downtown.
Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest
Located just 20 miles from Louisville is the beautiful Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest, a private reserve that offers a lake, picnic grounds, and more than 35 miles of hiking trails in a wide variety of geographic settings. Bernheim is free to enter on weekdays, and a reasonable $5 per car on weekends and holidays. Dogs are welcome anywhere in the forest, but should remain leashed at all times.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Topping out at more than 300,000 acres, Big Ben Ranch State Park it’s the largest state park in Texas, and is dog-friendly. Leashed dogs are allowed on two trails– Closed Canyon and Hoodoos– the former of which makes for a fun walk through narrow canyons. The park also has lots of campsites and places to park an RV.
Big Bone Lick State Park
Yet another great dog-friendly destination in Kentucky is Big Bone Lick State Park, so named for the many mammoth and mastodon fossils that were once found here. This is a great place to bring your dog for a hike, as the park offers several cleared dog-friendly trails. If you only have time for one trail, ask the visitor center to point you in the direction of the one that will lead you to the meadow. At the end you’ll find a herd of grazing American buffalo. Yep, in Kentucky. The herd is the amazing result of the park’s efforts to re-establish buffalo in the state.
Asheville, North Carolina
This massive French-style chateau sits on hundreds of acres of beautiful, Frederick Law Olmstead-deisgned grounds, and makes for a perfect pet-friendly destination. Your dog won’t be allowed in the mansion, of course, but grab the leash and head out on the Deer Park Trail, a 2.4-mile walk around lakes and through colorful forest areas. If you and your fellow human travelers are set on visiting the mansion’s interior (highly recommended), there are clean and friendly dog kennels available near the parking lot where your dog can relax while you tour.
The Buffalo National River
If you’ve never gone canoeing with your dog, The Buffalo National River in Arkansas is the place to do it! The river runs through the Ozarks for 153 miles, but we suggest starting at the small town of Gilbert. This dog-friendly small town doesn’t have any leash laws, and is a great place for exploring. When you’re ready, rent a canoe and some life jackets (dogs too!) and head on in. You’ll paddle past stunning scenery, and have the chance to stop, rest, and play at any number of shallow inlets and “beaches”.
Fort Davis, Texas
This tiny little town is only a mile wide from one end to the other, but it’s chock-full of historic charm and dog-friendly spots. Grab the leash and take your dog with you on a walking tour of the downtown where you’ll see lots of historic architecture dating from the town’s days as a stage coach stop. Then grab some lunch in the beautiful courtyard of the pet-friendly Blue Mountain Bistro before heading to the town’s main attraction: the fort. Your dog is welcome to join you as you explore the fort’s restored structures, as well as the many nearby hiking trails.
Fort De Soto Park & Beach
St. Petersburg, Florida
Fort De Soto Park and Beach, located just outside of St. Petersburg where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay, consists of five connected islands and more than 1,100 acres. There are a ton of things to do here, making it just as good of a weekend getaway as it does a day trip. And best of all, it’s totally pet friendly! Seven miles of paved trails will take you to or near all of the major historical sites, including the fort. Just make sure you leave time for a visit to the 2.5-acre fenced in dog park (with separate areas for differently sized dogs) and the amazing quarter mile of dog-friendly white-sand beach.
To experience one of our very favorite dog-friendly destinations, hop in the car and head to Galveston, a small and historic city that is both extremely inviting to dogs and chock-full of Victorian charm. Leashed dogs will love strolling through the downtown and along the seawall, both of which offer plenty to see, do, and smell. But the real gem here is the beach — 32 dog-friendly miles of it, to be exact! And unlike most other popular beaches, dogs are allowed here year round.
Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
When the whole family is in need of a beach getaway, Hilton Head Island is a great dog-friendly destination. This historic coastal destination tends to be jam-packed during school holidays, but we recommend taking your dog during the off-season, when he’ll be allowed to play on the beach with you. Dogs are not allowed on the public beaches during summer months. The pet-friendly community includes:
- more than 50 miles of public bike and nature trails
- a pet-friendly mall at Shelter Cove Harbor
- lots of restaurants and hotels that allow dogs
- the stunning beaches.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island, one of the four barrier islands that make up Georgia’s “Golden Isles,” is a popular destination for families who will be happy to know that it is also one of the south’s best dog-friendly destinations. Nearly all of the island’s beaches welcome leashed dogs, including the popular Driftwood Beach and the beach at Great Dunes. You can also take your dog with you as you explore the entire island via pedestrian walkways and bike paths.
This big lake located in Texas Hill Country is a great place to stop while traveling with dogs. The lake is surrounded by inviting small towns like Kingsland, Marble Falls, Spicewood, and others where you will find dog-friendly campsites and hotels, plus dozens of restaurants that will allow four-legged family members to eat on the patio, too. In terms of activities, the options are nearly endless. Each small town has something special to offer in addition to the usual: swimming, biking, fishing, canoeing, hiking, and just about anything else you can think of.
Land Between the Lakes
The 170,000 acres situated between the paths of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers is known as Land Between the Lakes, and it’s a great place to bring your dog for the day, weekend, or even a whole week (you’ll certainly find plenty to do!). More than 200 trails meander their way through the region, all of which allow dogs. The same can be said for The Homeplace, a unique living museum of an 1850s homestead. Birdwatching, fishing, camping, and canoeing are other popular adventures for both man and dog. If you’re staying overnight, there are plenty of places to park your RV, or choose any of the pet-friendly resorts alongside the shores of Lake Barkley.
Landsford Canal State Park
Catawba, South Carolina
Located just an hour south of Charlotte is Landsford Canal State Park, a unique hiking destination that is just likely to thrill humans as it will dogs. The park is actually a well-preserved section of a lock-and-canal system that ran along the Catawba River back in the 1800s. Be sure to bring your camera with you, because the canal’s stonemasonry is a work of art, and makes for a great backdrop for snapping pictures of your pet. The park offers two different trails, the Nature Trail and the Canal Trail, which link to form a loop. Though the park is a worthy stop for anyone looking for a dog-friendly destination at any time of year, it’s especially inviting in late May and early June when the country’s largest colony of Rocky Shoals Spider Lillies are in full bloom.
Lost River Cave
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Bowling Green, Kentucky’s Lost River Cave is the perfect place to go for some exercise in nature. Hike any of the many trails, watch for birds and butterflies in the designated bird-watching area, and marvel at the park’s natural spring and waterfall. Then, allow both yourself and your dog to cool down on the cave tour. Lost River Cave is Kentucky’s only underground boat tour, and dogs are invited aboard the boats!
Louisiana State Capitol
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
With or without pets, Louisiana’s state capitol building in Baton Rouge is well worth visiting. Pets are not allowed inside the tallest capitol building in the country, but you can take your leashed dog all around the beautiful capitol grounds, which include some stunning garden areas. If you really want proof that your dogs visited the Louisiana capitol, park them on the 48-step staircase that leads to the capitol’s front doors and snap a photo. Then head behind the building to Capitol Lake, where a paved and dog-friendly path will lead you past beautiful water views, sunbathing turtles, nesting ducks, and shady trees.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park is 53,000 acres surrounding the longest known cave system in the world. Though dogs aren’t allowed on the cave tours themselves, they are welcome to join their humans on the trails and in the campgrounds. Indeed, dogs are sure to love the more than 70 miles of hiking trails that include a wide variety of hills, valley, rivers, lakes, and even waterfalls.
McKinney Falls State Park
Located just outside of Austin, Texas is the dog-friendly destination of McKinney Falls State Park. You’ll forget you’re just 13 miles from a major city as you and your best four-legged friend explore the park’s 700 acres. Dogs aren’t allowed in the popular swimming hole, but that’s okay. There are plenty of other things to occupy your time. Leashed dogs are welcome on either of the 2.8-mile hiking trails, the unpaved Homestead Trail and the paved Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail. Find yourself in Texas at the right time of year, and you’ll find yourself in a meadow of Bluebonnets, the perfect spot for a photo op.
While you may not be able to bring your dog into the actual home which Thomas Jefferson built and in which he retired, your dog is more than welcome on the beautiful grounds, making this World Heritage Site a great dog-friendly destination. Your dog will be able to go with you to see:
- the “dependencies” (buildings used for domestic work)
- the various terraces and pavilions (check out those views!)
- the flower and vegetable gardens
- and the south orchard
If there are more than two humans on the trip, and you’re set on seeing Monticello’s interior, simply stagger your ticket times for the tour of the house. And while you’re in the area, nearby downtown Charlottesville is incredibly dog friendly, and a great place to wander and window shop.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
This massive, 15,000-acre preserve includes rocks, forests, waterfalls, rivers — essentially anything and everything that makes for a great dog-friendly destination. Pets are welcome everywhere here, including the visitor center, where the whole family can enjoy a 20-minute movie about the history and nature of the park. Then, take your pick from the preserve’s long list of dog-friendly activities, including:
There’s even an 11-mile scenic drive that ends in stunning views of canyons and cliffs.
The Natural Bridge
Located near Roanoke is The Natural Bridge, a 20-story arch that was formed when a cavern collapsed into the “bridge” that you can see today. Once owned by Thomas Jefferson, The Natural Bridge is now a great place to take your well-behaved dog. Take the 2.5-mile Cedar Creek Trail, on which you’ll see the Bridge, Lace Waterfalls, and the restored Monacan Indian village.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Mississippi and Tennessee
This 440-mile trail is more of a road trip than a single destination, but it’s dog-friendly the whole way. The road begins in Natchez, Mississippi and historically speaking, has been used by prehistoric hunters, Native Americans, French and Spanish trappers, pioneers, and now travelers desperate to get off the main roads and see some of the South’s beautiful back country. There are frequent stops along the way for dogs and humans to stretch their legs, including:
- historic sites
- scenic overlooks
- picnic spots
- small trails
Just bring your camera, as there are lots of dog-friendly photo spots!
Port St. Joe
Port St. Joe, Florida
This small town on Florida’s Forgotten Coast was named the Best City for Pet Travelers a couple years ago, and it’s easy to see why. This dog-friendly city has tons to enjoy with the four-legged members of the family. Start at the BayWalk, a gravel trail that will guide you past stunning bays of the view to the marina, where pet-friendly restaurants make for a tasty lunch spot. After exploring the cute downtown, head to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, located just a little more than a half hour away. Here, you can enjoy dog-friendly campgrounds, picnic spots, and nature trails.
Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Rock City, located about six miles from downtown Chattanooga is an amazing roadside attraction and one of the best dog-friendly destinations in the South. A collection of trails wind their way up and around the mountain, and if you’re set on hiking, we recommend the pet-friendly flagstone trail. Have your cameras ready: all of the cool geographical features here make for some awesome photo ops! You’ll probably be hungry after your hike, so stop in at Big Rock Grill, where your dog will be allowed to sit with you while you eat.
San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio makes our list of dog-friendly destinations thanks to its completely dog-friendly River Walk, 13 miles of paved riverside paths that run alongside the city’s u-shaped downtown. You can trek the entire 13 miles, or choose a part of the walk that will guide you through a particular park or district. Of the latter, we like the historic King William District where some of San Antonio’s oldest homes still stand, the popular Downtown Loop, and the hip and extremely dog-friendly Pearl District. The latter makes for a great stop for food at a patio restaurant.
Shelby Farms Park
There are dog parks, and then there are places like Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. This urban park is one of the largest in the U.S. and includes both a massive off-leash dog area as well as dozens of miles of dog-friendly walking and hiking trails. The former, known as The Outback, is more than a hundred acres of meadowlands, wooded areas, and ponds that dogs can enjoy without their leash. Just make sure your dog responds to voice commands, as The Outback is not completely fenced.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park sits on a long, narrow patch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is one of the few national parks that allows dogs on the trails. That makes Shenandoah a great destination for families who want to both hike and camp with their four-legged family members. The park includes various campgrounds, but also offers pet-friendly lodgings. Keep in mind that dogs are required to be on leashes no longer than six feet at all times.
St. Augustine, Florida
The oldest town in the United States is also one of the best dog-friendly destinations! Dogs are welcome at St. Augustine’s most popular site, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, though we can’t guarantee it takes away either the human years or dog years. St. Augustine Lighthouse is also pet friendly. After all of the historical stops, check out Anastasia State Park. While dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, the park is a great place to stretch your legs on a hike.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is some 20,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie land that was too rocky to be settled by pioneers moving west. Today, it serves as grazing land for:
- more than 50 mammal species,
- 240 types of birds
- 36 fish types
- 64 different kinds of reptiles
- more than 800 species of plants
There are dozens of trails you can explore, the most popular being Mt. Scott Service Road, the Kite Trail, and Bison Trail. On each, keep your eyes out for American bison, white-tail deer, Rocky Mountain elk, and even some Texas Longhorn cattle. Several lakes even offer nice spots for canoeing, kayaking, camping, and picnicking. Dogs are sure to love all of the various sights and smells the refuge has to offer, but please remember: safety first. Coyotes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and other animals that can be dangerous to dogs also call the refuge home. We recommend outfitting your dog with a bear bell so he doesn’t accidentally sneak up on a wild animal and provoke attack. And, of course, mind the leash laws and keep your dog close at all times.
Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach
These two small towns are part of North Carolina’s “Outer Banks,” and both are exceptionally pet friendly. As you reach town, stop in for lunch at The Trolley Stop, a dog-friendly restaurant famous for its hot dogs. They’ll even give you a bun-less dog for your pet! Then head to Wrightsville Beach, where leashed dogs are allowed on the beach from October through March. At any time of the year, your dog is sure to enjoy a stroll along “The Loop,” the 2.5-mile circular paved walking trail that guides you past:
- a public park
- sports fields
- the Inter-Coastal Waterway.