Whether you’re looking for a snowy adventure with Fido or seeking a break from the cold, these state parks are perfect for a winter visit. Before you set out, make sure your pooch is prepared for the elements with his own essential winter gear.
Dog-Friendly State Parks to Visit in Winter
Posted by Lauren Barker
Lake Wenatchee State Park
At Lake Wenatchee State Park, the glacier-fed, five-mile-long lake is surrounded by mountains, providing exceptional views and crystal-clear water. From November to April, the park becomes Chiwawa Sno-Park, a winter wonderland ideal for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing with your pooch along 30 miles of groomed, dog-friendly trails. You can also venture with your hound on a hike through the highland forest, including a trek up the nine-mile Dirtyface Peak that rises 3,950 feet and provides unparalleled snowy vistas.
Lake Wenatchee State Park allows year-round camping. In winter, pitch your tent next to a fire ring along the lake’s shoreline and enjoy amenities like heated restrooms and warming shelters. If a hotel is more Fido’s style, book a room at Bavarian Ritz Hotel in nearby Leavenworth.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
Lace up your snow boots and grab Fido’s leash before you head to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Minnesota. Your pooch can join you on 11 miles of snowy hiking trails as well as ungroomed snowshoeing trails and snowmobile routes. Admire sweeping views of the Big Woods from the 1.7-mile Fawn Trail Loop, or venture one mile round trip to one of the park’s most recognizable geological features, Hidden Falls. This 20-foot waterfall is beautiful any time of year, but freezes over in winter, providing an incredible icy backdrop for photos of your pup.
Warm up after a day on the trails at the nearby Comfort Inn Owatonna where Fido will receive treats at check-in.
Fort Stevenson State Park
Located on the bluffs of the north shore of Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota’s Fort Stevenson State Park provides breathtaking views in winter. Bring your history “ruff” to learn about the park’s military past, let him loose at the on-site dog park, or allow him to join you for skijoring, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing on nearly 10 miles of trails. Snowshoes, nordic skis and kicksleds are available for rent at the park. For more snowy fun, take a 30-minute drive south to Lake Sakakawea State Park, located directly across the water from Fort Stevenson, and you can ski and frolic together along the shoreline. Snowshoers, hikers and pets must stay off the groomed portions of the state parks’ ski trails but can blaze their own path through the undisturbed snow.
Friendly dogs are allowed to join you around the campfire any time at the Fort Stevenson State Park Campground, but check with the park for comfort station status before making your reservation, as availability is limited in winter. If you prefer a dog-friendly Airbnb, this Early Bird Retreat in nearby Coleharbor has a fenced backyard.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Temperatures in Southwest Texas can reach 130 degrees in the sun during summer and remain high even in spring and fall, so it’s best to plan your desert adventure with Fido in winter when daytime temperatures average in the 60s. Big Bend Ranch State Park in Presidio welcomes dogs on two hiking trails including Closed Canyon, a 1.4-mile out-and-back trail that leads visitors between the walls of a millions-of-years-old slot canyon. Big Bend Ranch State Park is also one of the darkest places in the country and has been designated a gold-tier Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent spot for stargazing with Fido.
Pets are welcome at primitive campsites at Big Bend Ranch State Park Campground, but pups requiring creature comforts will prefer this ranch guesthouse in nearby Los Alamos Ranch instead.
Cooney State Park
While Cooney State Park in Roberts, MT is usually bustling with people and pups in summer, it’s a quiet destination for winter adventure-seekers. Bring your pup along to the 730-acre Cooney Reservoir and enjoy ice fishing for walleye and rainbow trout. Revel in the beauty of the reservoir with the snow-capped Beartooth Mountains as a backdrop. Once you’ve reeled in a good amount, take your catch to the Red Lodge Arm cleaning station and prepare it for the fire pit at the state park campground. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular activities at this south-central Montana park.
Although comfort stations and showers are closed throughout winter, you can still reserve one of 19 campsites with electricity at Cooney State Park Campground. But, if camping in the cold isn’t for Fido, book Kelly’s Rock Creek Cabin and he can sleep soundly by the fireplace while you warm up in the hot tub.
Starved Rock State Park
Named after a Native American legend, Starved Rock State Park is home to more than 2,600 acres with 13 miles of pet-friendly trails and 18 canyons that you can explore with your leashed pup year-round. Bring your binoculars along to catch migrating bald eagles which are abundant in winter. When temperatures dip below freezing, the eagles tend to perch in trees below Starved Rock and Lovers’ Leap, giving spectators an up-close look. The cold temperatures also cause waterfalls within the canyons to freeze, creating a unique feature along many trails. Leashed pups are also invited on guided hikes promoted by the Lodge.
Reserve a scenic site at the pet-friendly Starved Rock State Park Campground, book a Pioneer Cabin at the cozy Lodge, or stay nearby at Hampton Inn Ottawa Starved Rock.
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area
If your winter state park adventure includes snuggling up with Fido and watching the snow fall, book one of the four pet-friendly cabins at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area in Meacham, OR. The rustic cabins are equipped with a small refrigerator, table with chairs, lights and heating, and a shared campground restroom with hot showers is situated nearby. On the covered front porch, you’ll find a propane stove and oven for cooking up a delicious meal to share with your pup. The park is open year-round, and while you’ll probably want to stay cuddled up in your cozy cabin, Emigrant Springs is also an ideal spot for snowshoeing with your pooch.
Hueston Woods State Park
Snow in the Midwest doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors. In fact, winter precipitation at Hueston Woods State Park in Ohio creates a plethora of additional outdoor activities you and your pooch can participate in. Take a hike on one of the eight dog-friendly trails running through the nearly 3,500-acre park, let Fido play in the powder inside the park’s three-acre, fenced dog run, or best of all, allow him to try his paw at sledding, cross-country skiing or ice fishing for bass on Acton Lake. There’s also a good chance you’ll spot wildlife like bald eagles during your winter visit.
With so much to see and do, you’ll want to spend a night (or more!) in the state park. The Hueston Woods Lodge & Conference Center provides dog-friendly efficiency cabins with beautiful views of the lake.