America’s heartland is filled with an abundance of opportunities for outdoor adventure with man’s best friend. From beautiful freshwater lakes and sand dunes to rolling hills and woodlands, these dog-friendly state parks in the Midwest should be on every pup’s travel itinerary.
Posted by Lauren Barker
Table Rock State Park
Located in Branson, MO, one of the most popular tourist towns in the Midwest, Table Rock State Park features miles of pet-friendly nature trails to explore with your adventure hound. Take an easy stroll along the paved Lakeshore Trail and admire views of the water while keeping an eye out for bald eagles, loons and osprey. Pups looking for a more challenging hike will enjoy hopping on the 11.2-mile White River Valley Trail System. After exploring on land, Fido can cool off in the water as long as he’s leashed and not in the public swimming areas. Water-loving dogs can also enjoy the lake from one of the marina’s kayak, SUP or pontoon rentals.
Set up camp with your canine at Table Rock State Park Campground, or kick back at the nearby Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing and explore the pet-friendly shopping and dining options at Branson Landing.
Warren Dunes State Park
Let Fido get his paws sandy on the beaches of Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, MI. This park, nestled along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, features 2.5 miles of pet-friendly beach where leashed pups can play and splash in the water. Furry visitors are also invited to explore six miles of forested trails and boardwalks over wetlands. The park’s dune formations rise 260 feet above the shoreline, offering spectacular vantage points of Lake Michigan and the perfect spot for viewing a wide variety of birds along their migration route.
Hocking Hills State Park
With miles of hiking trails, on-site dog runs and canine swimming areas, Ohio is home to some of the most pet-friendly state parks in the country. Hocking Hills State Park in Logan is no exception. Occupying 2,330 acres in the middle of the state, the park welcomes four-legged visitors to traverse nearly 16 miles of trails. Start off on the 4.5-mile Whispering Cave Trail which features the second largest cave in the region and a 105-foot seasonal waterfall. Then, Fido can dip his paws in the water to cool off before stopping off at one of the picnic areas for lunch. Pups can also join you while fishing or boating on 17-acre Rose Lake.
Cuddle up around the campfire with Fido at one of the full-hookup or hike-in campsites at Hocking Hills State Park Campground, or book a pet-friendly cabin at Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, just outside of the park.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, MN is home to 20 miles of pet-friendly trails along the Gooseberry River, and Fido is welcome to join you on all of them. The 3-mile Fifth Falls and Superior Hiking Trail Loop leads hikers and their pups to the park’s namesake waterfall and offers beautiful views of Lake Superior. For pups that prefer a more leisurely stroll, take the paved section of the Gitchi Gami State Trail which passes through the park, connecting it to the town of Silver Bay and providing access to the Gooseberry Visitor Center, campground and the shores of Lake Superior.
Pups are permitted in tent sites at Gooseberry Falls State Park Campground, but after all that hiking Fido might want to rest his paws in a lake view condo at Knife River Gooseberry Suites located on the edge of the park.
Fort Harrison State Park
Escape the fast-paced life of Indiana’s capital city with your four-legged park enthusiast at Fort Harrison State Park. Leashed pups are welcome on all walking and jogging trails in the 1700-acre park including the 3-mile paved Harrison Trace Trail which winds through woodlands past Delaware Lake and a pet-friendly picnic area and ends at Duck Pond. After his walk, let Fido off leash in one of the three separate play areas of the state park’s dog park. Each section features different attractions like a dog pond, beach, a shelter with a fireplace, agility equipment, and more. A pass is required to visit the dog park, and weekly and annual options are available.
Starved Rock State Park
Named after a Native American legend, Starved Rock State Park is rich with history dating back to the 1700s. Today, the park’s more than 2,600 acres are home to 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons that you can explore with your leashed pup year-round. Waterfalls from snowmelt and heavy rains are viewable in spring, and migrating bald eagles are abundant in winter. Summer is the perfect time to take your dog fishing or boating on the Illinois River. In the fall, don’t miss views of the autumn foliage from the canyon overlooks. After hiking, grab a bite to eat at one of the outdoor tables at The Veranda at the park’s Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center. Fido can order something delicious from the Doggie Delights menu.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park in Sturgeon Bay is located in the center of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula. Start your visit with a beautiful, shaded .75-mile hike to the designated dog beach on the shore of Lake Michigan. Bring your hiking gear along as well, as many of the park’s 14 miles of trails allow tail-wagging trekkers. The cool, clear water of the lake can also be enjoyed when you rent a pontoon, fishing boat or personal watercraft with Door County Boat Rental. Strap on Fido’s lifejacket and get him out on the bay for some fun in the sun.
Book a room at the Beach Harbor Resort, nestled right on the beach of Sturgeon Bay. Fido might even meet the resort’s family dog, Samantha. If you need to make a dash to buy dog food, a pet sitter can be arranged by the hotel.
Custer State Park
Roll through the Black Hills of South Dakota on a road trip to Custer State Park. As you hike with your pup along trails carved out by early pioneers, you might spot prairie dogs, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and deer. But the park is most famous for being home to one of the nation’s largest free-roaming bison herds. The best way to see them is by driving the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the early morning or late evening, just before sunset. The drive usually takes about 45 minutes, but visitors should allow plenty of time for traffic delays due to wildlife crossings. If you do encounter a herd of the 2,000-pound animals on the road, it is important for everyone, including Fido, to remain in the vehicle.
Pitch your tent beneath the ponderosa pines at one of the Custer State Park Campgrounds or book a cabin at the State Game Lodge, which once served as the ‘Summer White House’ during President Calvin Coolidge’s administration.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
If Fido just can’t get enough of the gorgeous sand dune beaches surrounding the Great Lakes, visit Saugatuck Dunes State Park in Holland, MI. This pet-friendly day-use park on Lake Michigan includes a pet swim area and 13 miles of pet-friendly trails through forests, along the shoreline and over sand dunes. Some dunes are over 200 feet tall, giving hikers unparalleled views of Lake Michigan. To get to the pup beach follow the Beach Trail from the parking lot for a half mile. Remember to bring waste bags and plenty of water and keep Fido on a leash at all times.
Tuttle Creek State Park
Tuttle Creek State Park is a canine’s dream come true. The park is split into five units totaling 1,200 acres, and your outbound hound is permitted in each one. Bring Fido along for hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching, or take advantage of the park’s Stretch Dog Park, which features two sections for large and small dogs. Each one offers shade trees, agility equipment, and benches. Your doggie paddler is also welcome to join you on a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board, available to rent on a first-come, first-served basis.