There are more than 6,600 state parks preserving nature, history and recreational opportunities across 14 million acres of land in the U.S., and many welcome four-legged adventurers. With so many to choose from, finding the perfect destination might seem “impawsible.” To help you hit the highway on your summer road trip, we’re highlighting some of the best pet-friendly state parks to visit with your pup.
Posted by Lauren Barker
Fort Robinson State Park
Take a road trip through the American midwest to reach Fort Robinson State Park. Featured in the 2021 edition of our Ruff Guide to the United States, the park invites two- and four-legged tourists to unearth a treasure trove of local history and beauty. For much of its existence, Fort Robinson served as an active military post. It was the site of Chief Crazy Horse’s death in 1879, and operated as a POW camp and K-9 training facility during World War II. Today, the park offers more than 60 miles of pristine pine ridge trails, crystal-blue lakes teeming with bass, and scenic drives through 22,000 acres of prairies. Leashed dogs are welcome on all trails, including the popular Red Cloud Butte Trail, which offers scenic views of Lovers Leap Butte.
You and Fido won’t have to look far for a place to lay your head after exploring Fort Robinson. The Old West buildings that once served as housing for officers and enlisted soldiers now welcome tourists. Fort Robinson State Park Cabins have been renovated to accommodate modern traveler needs without sacrificing their rustic charm. Each unit comes equipped with a stove, refrigerator, cooking utensils, blankets and towels. Dogs of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $15 per stay.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Touring the Great Lakes this summer? Be sure to include Whitefish Dunes State Park in Sturgeon Bay, located in the center of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula. Start your day 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 trails throughout the park 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.
Swim with Fido in Sturgeon Bay or lounge in the sun while he digs his paws in the sand at Beach Harbor Resort. Dogs can also join you on one of the resort’s kayaks or stand up paddle boards. When you’re hungry, dine on the patio of the resort restaurant, Waterfront Mary’s Bar and Grill. Wind down the evening around the fire pit overlooking Sturgeon Bay. Two dogs of any size are permitted for an additional fee of $10 per pet, per night.
Chimney Rock State Park
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a wildly popular destination for road trippers on two legs and four. Take "America's Favorite Drive" to Chimney Rock State Park for some outdoor adventure with your hound. Panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure await those who ascend the 499 steps of the Outcroppings Trail to the top of the rock. For another vantage point, climb the Exclamation Point Trail to an elevation of 2,480 feet. And don’t miss Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. After your climb, stop for lunch at the Old Rock Café, where you and your pooch can enjoy a delicious meal on the back deck overlooking the Rocky Broad River. Then, head to Lake Lure and explore the water in a pontoon boat rental from Lake Lure Adventure Company.
After a fun day in Chimney Rock, make your way to Mills River for a restful night’s sleep at Barkwells, a canine-centric retreat in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With more than 8 acres of fenced-in meadows and a pond, your best friend will have plenty of room to run, swim and play. Two dogs of any size are welcome for no extra fee. Add $25 for a third pet. During your stay, be sure to visit Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which has a dog-friendly beer garden and a nature trail that leads to the French Broad River.
Letchworth State Park
If you can't make it to the Grand Canyon this summer, consider driving to the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Letchworth State Park is renowned for its natural beauty, with the Genesee River flowing through the gorge and plunging over three towering waterfalls as high as 600 feet in some places. Hike with Fido along 66 miles of trails through lush forests, stopping at some of the most scenic viewpoints in the eastern U.S. At the southern end of the park you’ll find the famed Upper, Middle and Lower Genesee Falls. Hike the Gorge Trail to get a close-up view of all three. If you’re not up for a trek, drive the 17-mile Park Road, stopping at overlooks along the way including Inspiration Point, where you can view the Genesee Arch Bridge and enjoy a picnic lunch with your pup.
Dog-friendly campsites are available at Letchworth State Park Campground for no additional fee, but if you’d prefer more creature comforts, spend a weekend at Allegiance Bed and Breakfast in Mount Morris. The mansion is rich in history (including participation in the Underground Railway system during the Civil War era) and includes a “hidden garden” among the property’s arbor. Two dogs up to 70 lbs are accepted for an additional fee of $15 per pet, per night.
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 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. Afterward, strap on the old feed bag for some hearty eats on the Blue Bell Lodge dining patio.
Tucked among the ponderosa pines beside Grace Coolidge Creek, you’ll find the State Game Lodge, which once served as the ‘Summer White House’ during President Calvin Coolidge’s administration. Now, you and your pup can be a guest of the lodge in one of the property’s 19 pet-friendly cabins. After a restful night’s sleep, take Fido for a morning walk on the adjacent Creekside Trail, then feast on Buffalo Benedict in the lodge’s main dining room. Dogs of any size are permitted for an additional fee of $10 per pet, per night.
Fort McAllister State Park
Located on the banks of the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Fort McAllister State Park offers a charming glimpse into the past. Fido is welcome to join you on a tour through the Civil War museum to view artifacts, explore the grounds of the historic fort, and hike along the Redbird Creek trail. This scenic park nestled among live oaks and a salt marsh showcases the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. While exploring with your pup, you’ll observe cannons, a hot shot furnace, bombproof barracks, palisades and more. Before you call it a day, grab a delicious seafood dinner overlooking the water at Fish Tales, located just outside the park.
Book a stay at Best Western Plus Richmond Hill Inn. After a day of exploring, take a soak in the heated saltwater-mineral indoor pool and spa, or order a midnight snack from the 24-hour ice cream room service. Just don’t forget to order some for Fido, too! Three pets of any size are accepted in standard rooms for an additional fee of $20 per pet, per night.
Valley of Fire State Park
On your road trip across the American southwest, bring Fido to Valley of Fire State Park, located in the Mojave Desert just northeast of Las Vegas. Hike among 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops and keep your eyes peeled for petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years. You may also spot wildlife like roadrunners, kit fox or black-tailed jackrabbit, and if you’re lucky, a rare desert tortoise. Shaded picnic areas are located throughout the park for a quick lunch and break from the heat. Valley of Fire State Park abuts Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where leashed pets are also welcome to join you on additional hiking trails and along many beaches.
After a day in the desert, put your pup’s posh paws up at the Delano Las Vegas. The hotel’s Doggie Butler Service can provide in-room treat delivery, fresh bowls of water, daily brushings, and trips to the on-site AstroTurf dog run. Fido will also want to order dinner from the Doggie Delights room service menu. Two dogs with a combined weight of up to 100 lbs are permitted for an additional fee of $100 per pet, per night.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Southwest Arkansas might not be top of mind as a road trip destination, but many travelers (and their dogs) make the journey every year for the chance to strike it rich at Crater of Diamonds State Park. You and your "fur-ocious" digger are invited to scour a 37-acre field, the site of an ancient volcanic crater, and hunt for diamonds, minerals and gemstones. The largest diamond ever unearthed in the U.S. was discovered here, and more than 33,000 have been found since the park opened in 1972. The park has a unique ‘finders, keepers’ policy, so any diamond or gem Fido sniffs out is his to keep. When you get tired of digging, explore the walking trails together and enjoy a packed lunch in one of the picnic spots.
After Fido has bagged the jewels for his new diamond-studded collar, retreat to the Codex Cabin at Parker Creek Bend Cabins. Your pup will feel right at home with the Beagle-themed decor, covered deck, and fire pit. Dogs of any size are welcome for an extra fee of $15 per pet, per night. If you came up empty on your diamond hunt, you and your pooch can stay at a tree-shaded campsite at Crater of Diamonds State Park Campground. Dogs of any size sleep there for free.
Wolf's Neck Woods State Park
Plan your summer road trip up the coast of New England and stop to explore Wolf's Neck Woods State Park. This coastal park is established on 200 acres of climax white pine and hemlock forests, a salt marsh estuary, and the rocky shorelines of Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. Hike with Fido along the Casco Bay Trail to viewpoints of Eagle and Cousin Islands, and let him dip his paws in the water at points along the path. Interpretive signs along the trails point out important features, and picnic areas under a canopy of oak trees make the perfect spot for a lunch break. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, particularly osprey who nest on nearby Googins Island and spend their summer in the park.
Book a night in The Carriage House at Harraseeket Inn. Visiting canines will enjoy a dog bed, bowls, and a can of dog food while humans will appreciate all the townhouse amenities, including a wood-burning fireplace in some units. You might even meet Rodger Dodger, the official spokesdog for the Inn. Before you hit the hay, grab dinner with your pup on the patio of Broad Arrow Tavern. Pets of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $25 per pet, per night.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Route 66 crosses the Texas Panhandle, which gives road trippers along America's most iconic road the chance to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Start your adventure at Palo Duro Creek Ranch, a working cattle ranch that allows you and your pooch to tour the nation’s second-largest canyon. Travel back in time to the Old West as your guide regales you with the vivid history and folklore of the area. Enjoy spectacular views of Palo Duro Canyon as you travel over rugged terrain in a customized Jeep that’s well-equipped for the trip. Dogs of any size are allowed on the one- or two-hour tours, which are offered daily. While you're in the area, visit the world-famous Cadillac Ranch. At this public art installation, Fido can pose for a photo next to 10 graffiti-covered Cadillacs that have been half-buried into the ground. The public is invited to leave their mark on the vehicles, so be sure to bring a can of spray paint!
If you and your canine companion need a nice place to crash after a long day of exploring Palo Duro Canyon State Park, stay in the conveniently located Holiday Inn Express Canyon. The hotel offers many amenities including complimentary daily breakfast and evening snacks, a fitness center, indoor pool, and hot tub. Two dogs of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $25 per pet, per night.
De Leon Springs State Park
On a road trip through the Sunshine State, spend a day away from the dog beaches and experience Florida’s wild beauty at De Leon Springs State Park. Start your morning with a tranquil hike along the 4.2-mile Wild Persimmon Trail. After working up an appetite, stop by the park’s on-site restaurant, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, for a hearty breakfast of pancakes and other treats served at their pup-approved walk-up window. Afterwards, head to the boat dock and sail away with Captain Frank's Fountain of Youth Eco/History Tours on a 50-minute pontoon ride through the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Keep an eye out for alligators, osprey and other wildlife from the comfort of the boat.
Spend the night in nearby Orange City at Alling House, a charming bed & breakfast that welcomes furry guests in its five cottages. Each unit includes a kitchenette and is decorated in a unique theme, including the western Frontier Cottage and the elegant Victorian Cottage. A continental breakfast is included in the rate, but a full breakfast in the main house is also available. Two dogs of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $20 per stay.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Drive across some of the most unique landscapes in the country on a road trip to Moab and Dead Horse Point State Park. Encompassing more than 5,000 acres of high desert and rigid canyons formed over millions of years by ice and wind, Dead Horse is one of Utah's most scenic natural treasures. Stroll with your pooch along the .8-mile Visitor Center Nature Trail, which is lined with interpretive signs pointing to plants and unique features. In the summer, grab a snack, beverage or lunch from the Pony Expresso Coffee Shop located just outside the Visitor Center. You can also take Fido on one of four additional trails ranging from 1 mile to 3.5 miles each way. You’ll see desert potholes (seasonal pools of water), wildlife and incredible overlooks. If time allows, join Moab Rafting & Canoe Company for a float down the Green River.
Try out luxury glamping during your trip through Utah and stay in a Safari Tent at Under Canvas Moab. You'll enjoy desert views overlooking deep canyons and towering plateaus during the day, catch dramatic sunsets in the evening, and gaze up at the Milky Way at night. Join other campers around the fire pit to roast s’mores, or plan a picnic and make something tasty at one of the on-site grills. Three dogs of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $25 per pet, per night.
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