BringFido’s Guide to The Ozarks

Posted by Billy Francis

The Ozarks are the largest U.S. mountain range between the Rockies and the Appalachians. This heavily forested range, also known as the Ozark Plateau, sprawls across Southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois. People and pups looking for adventure in the Ozarks will discover mesmerizing mountains, enticing manmade lakes, tumbling waterfalls, an enormous network of caves, and charming towns full of pet-friendly attractions, restaurants and places to stay along the way.

Things to Do

"I'm the king of this castle." Photo by @iwroux

Hike with your hound to epic crags that offer breathtaking views, doggy paddle across famous waters, and creep carefully through incredible caves with your canine on a vacation to the Ozarks.

Live the Lake Life

Built as a source of hydroelectric power in 1929, The Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest manmade lakes in the country. Soon after construction, the body of water with more than more than 1,100 miles of shoreline became a tourist destination, and it continues to draw big crowds to this day. If you want to get out on the lake, River Monkey Kayak Rentals will arrange for a kayak drop-off at your location. After a picturesque paddle, hang out in the quiet cove of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, then hike the winding trails at nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park to the ruins of a turn-of-the-century stone castle.

Take an Artistic Amble

The bustling town of Bentonville is famous for being the home of Walmart. Modeled on hip tech hubs of the West Coast, the town has a bounty of restaurants and activities that help attract the brightest and best to work for the company. Meet the locals and get a taste for the city at Bentonville Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning. After shopping, head to Crystal Bridges Trails and Grounds, an impressive art gallery funded by Alice Walton, one of the Walmart heirs. Four-legged visitors aren’t allowed inside, but are welcome on 4 miles of trails surrounded by 120 acres of native Ozark forest, showcasing natural springs, streams, a host of native plants and animals, and incredible outdoor art installations. Fido will find a work of art created just for him at the nearby Bark Park.

Shop Until You Drop in Branson

Spend a weekend with your best bud in the heart of the Ozarks with a trip to pet-friendly Branson, MO. The city known as the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” always has something going on. Branson Landing is a pet-friendly shopping and dining destination that features a 1.5-mile scenic boardwalk along Lake Taneycomo that you can explore together. Catch a live band in the center square and find a souvenir for Fido at Don’t 4 Get About Me. Before retiring for the night, step into the Wild West, Southern Belle or Victorian era for a fun photoshoot with Fido. Buster's Old Time Photos at the Landing has a wide variety of vintage costumes for you and your dog.

Share a Eureka! Moment

Pay a visit to Eureka Springs, home to the only downtown in the U.S. that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sniff out boutique shops like Blackie's Backyard, a gift store that sells unique toys, clothing and more for pups. Escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountain Range on an overground train journey with Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway. Now you’ve seen what lies above, check out what lies beneath in the quiet underground world of War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake. Join them for guided cavern tours, gemstone panning and other mysterious marvels.

“I want to brag about this crag.” Photo by @lunabienz

Hike to Hawksbill Crag

High above the Buffalo River lies one of Arkansas’ greatest natural sights, Hawksbill Crag. To reach this picture “pawfect” spot, you’ll need to hike along the pet-friendly Whitaker Point Trail, a popular 3 mile out-and-back trail. The payoff is a magnificent slice of sandstone that juts out high above the trees and offers incredible views of the Ozark National Forest for miles around.

Take a Dip in Fayetteville

There are few towns in the Ozarks with more places to plunge with your pooch than Fayetteville. The Off-Leash Dog Park at Lake Wilson Park is around 320 acres on land and a further 28 acres of water. Walk on the nature trail through the woods and stop along the way to play fetch in the water. For a quieter dip, head to Gulley Park, which offers access to Niokaska Creek and a pretty pond.

Cave With Your Canine

Discovered by a farmer’s dog in 1862, Fantastic Caverns was first explored by a dozen local women who answered a Springfield newspaper ad seeking explorers. During Prohibition, the massive cave was used by bootleggers as a speakeasy and casino. In the 1950’s, it was transformed into an underground auditorium where people came to see country music greats like Buck Owens. Today, your dog can "mark his territory" on America’s only Jeep-drawn cave tour. During the one-hour tour, you’ll hear more fascinating tales about this Springfield landmark and see stunning stalactites and stalagmites at every turn. With a natural temperature of 60 degrees year-round, Fantastic Caverns is a perfect spot to visit with your pooch in any season.

Drive to Dizzy New Heights

If you’d rather stay buckled up to see the wonders of the Ozarks, set off on a scenic drive along Sugar Camp Scenic Byway. This 28-mile jaunt offers views across miles of mountains before meandering down forested valleys and alongside pretty pastures. You and your pooch can see it all in under two hours, unless you decide to stop at Sugar Camp Tower, an impressive fire tower that rises high into the sky, or Onyx Cave, which features an overlook.

Places to Stay

A room with a view. Photo by BringFido/Hiland

Share a unique stay in a former nuclear missile complex, huddle up in a haunted hotel, or wind down in a dome home in the Ozarks.

Stay With Your Springer in Springfield

After a day of spelunking with your canine companion, spend a night in downtown Springfield at the Hotel Vandivort. This industrial-chic urban retreat offers Fido treats and toys upon arrival. Contemporary rooms and suites come outfitted with luxury bedding, hardwood floors, minibars, and spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers. Relax by the fireplace in the cozy lobby sitting area and gaze at the cityscape from the rooftop lounge.

Hunker Down in a Nuclear Missile Complex

You may have seen Fido “go nuclear” when the mail carrier walks up to the house, but has he ever stayed in a nuclear missile complex? This former Titan II Nuclear Missile Complex has been converted into a luxury Vilonia vacation rental, complete with a huge entertainment room where you can screen your pup’s favorite flicks. Guests have the entire 3,500-square-foot Launch Control Center to themselves during their stay.

“There's no place like dome.” Photo by Airbnb

Check Into a Dome Away From Home

Spend the night within rock-skipping distance of one of Arkansas’ most picturesque manmade lakes at Beaver Dome. Take your morning cup of coffee on the upper balcony that overlooks Beaver Lake, then head to nearby Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area for a hike on the 52-mile trail system or explore the water in a kayak from Beaver Lake Outdoor Center in Rogers.

Treat Fido to Downtown Digs With Perks

The Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing is ideally situated in downtown’s premier lakefront entertainment, dining and shopping complex. Fido will love the pet package, which includes food and water bowls and a pet bed for use during his stay. When nature calls, your pup can use the hotel’s grassy designated pet relief area at the Landing.

Get Far Out at The Moonshack

Switch off at The Moonshack, an off-grid vacation rental that invites you to tune into your natural surroundings. Listen to the water trickling down a creek from a gently swaying hammock, take a paddle in the pond, or put on your favorite vinyl and relax inside the beautifully decorated wooden home.

Check into a Haunted Hotel

1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the world. The building once housed a “cancer curing hospital.” Unfortunately, the hospital was responsible for false hope and worse thanks to a useless cure of watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol, and carbolic acid developed by known charlatan Norman Baker. Mediums suggest that the current hotel may house a portal to the “other side” where the former hospital’s morgue used to be. The epic views of the Ozarks and impeccable grounds make the possibility of meeting a ghostly guest worth it.

Retreat to a Cabin in the Woods

This Ozark gem near Fayetteville is a relaxing retreat with easy access to some of the region’s most popular pet-friendly attractions. After a day exploring the caves and bluffs hidden along the trails at Devil’s Den State Park, smoke a steak on the barbecue pit for dinner and watch the sunset together over the treetops.

Dog-Friendly Restaurants

Come for the coffee, stay for the dog park. Photo by

Experience the best of both worlds at a Bentonville brewery with a dog park, shuck oysters with the locals in a historic town and visit a cafe named after your best friend on a culinary adventure through The Ozarks.

Who’s a Good Dog?

Brunch with your bestie at Good Dog Cafe in Fayetteville. The simple menu includes specialty coffees, grilled breakfast and lunch sandwiches, plus scrumptious snacks for canine guests. Fido can join the other “pawtrons” in the fenced dog play area after lunch. There’s even a section for teacup pups to play safely.

Sample the Taste of the Ozarks

Local Flavor Cafe is a four-legged foody favorite in Eureka Springs. Serving salads, sandwiches, specials and more, there’s something for everyone on the eclectic menu. The shady pet-friendly patio that overlooks Main Street is a prime location to enjoy some people (and pup) watching. Fresh bowls of water are provided for doggy diners.

Food With a View

Family owned and operated since 1978, Janssen's Lakefront Restaurant is synonymous with Greers Ferry. Located on the shore of Greers Ferry Lake, the popular eatery welcomes guests to dine with their dogs on the outdoor tables. Fido can soak in the views across the water while you tuck into comfort food, fresh seafood and steaks on the lake.

Find Fido’s Pot O’ Gold

Dig into pub grub like fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie at Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub. Dogs are treated to a bowl of water while you chow down.

Beers and best friends, what more could you ask for? Photo by @zeppelin.the.viz

Grab a Brew in Bentonville

Head to Bentonville Brewing Company in downtown for a flight made up of a variety of beer, hard seltzer and cider. Peckish pups may try to persuade you to give up a bite of your German pub fare with a High South twist from the on-site Burg der Gustropub. If you want to finish off your burger and beer in peace, unleash Fido in the on-site dog park.

Open Up an Oyster

Go for a dip in the pond at Fort Smith Dog Park, then cruise through historic downtown Fort Smith and dine under the twinkling lights on the pet-friendly patio of AJ’s Oyster House. With a menu that includes fresh oysters on the half shell, steaks, and a variety of Cajun dishes, make sure you bring a big appetite. The patio frequently hosts local bands.

Go Big or Go Home

Take a much-needed break from a Route 66 road trip and enjoy all-American classics at Big Whiskeys in Springfield, MO. Dogs are welcome on the pet-friendly covered patio.

What are your favorite things to do with your dog in the Ozarks? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

Banner photo by BringFido/April Turner.