Dog Trips

Discover the Best Dog-Friendly Vacation Destinations in the US

As more Americans strive for a work-life balance, those weekend getaways or hard-earned vacation time can’t come soon enough. For millions of dog owners like me, getting away just isn’t the same without my golden retrievers.

The separation anxiety is awful — the crying, the sad looks, and the feeling of abandonment — and that’s just me! I can’t imagine how the dogs feel.

Studies show as many as 53% of dog owners travel with their four-legged friends. Thankfully, what used to be a frustrating Google rabbit hole to find pet-friendly accommodations has now turned into a doggone gold mine.

I’ve taken road trips with my pups from the West Coast to Florida and many stops in between. My rankings don’t come lightly as I want a place that doesn’t just “allow” my dogs — I want them treated like family, not animals.

Dog City USA -Ashville, North Carolina
Dog City USA – Ashville, North Carolina | photo via ashevilledogacademy

Asheville, North Carolina

This eastern North Carolina city is as trendy for humans as it is for dogs, which has earned it the nickname Dog City USA. There’s even a Dog Welcome Center for new visitors and a list of restaurants vying to win over your dog with specialized menus.

The city has no less than three dog parks, hundreds of miles of regional hiking trails, and an abundance of doggy daycare options so your pet can socialize.

Aloft Hotel ranks as the most dog-friendly in the state.

Plus, no pet fee, and you’re close to plenty of local restaurants and breweries that cater to dogs. Menu items include beefy brews, burgers, and doggy ice cream desserts.

Great Smoky Mountains

While you’re in Ashville, head to the Great Smoky Mountains and explore the North Carolina and Tennessee sides. Here’s my detailed advice for a pet-friendly Smoky Mountains trip, but let me break it down quickly for you:

As an outdoor hack that helps nationwide – national forests, by and large, offer more places for dogs to access than national parks. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just two trails are designated for dogs, but your buddy can ride in the car, visit picnic areas, and stay at campgrounds.

Your dog can earn a B.A.R.K Ranger honor by following the rules.

Beyond that, Cherokee, Nantahala, and Pisgag National Forests welcome leashed dogs on most trails. Outfitters even allow dogs to go on some float trips, jeep adventures, and other guided tours.

From Gatlinburg to Bryson City, you’ll find restaurants, spas, and attractions that are pet-inclusive.

Old Orchard Beach-Maine-Dog-SS
Old Orchard Beach Maine I photo credit: Enrico Della Pietra / Shutterstock

Maine Coast

A trip to Vacationland encourages you to bring your pet, with plenty of dog-friendly lodging in Maine. Options range from rustic cabins to upscale inns.

Each community sets its own rules about where and when dogs are allowed on beaches, but you’ll find an overwhelming number of options from Kittery to Eastport. From fall through spring, off-leash time is allowed at about half of the spots.

Plus, when you see a patio in Maine, you can assume it’s dog-friendly (but always ask). My two favorite dog-welcoming cities are Bar Harbor and Portland. Plus, more dog menus await at places like Testa’s Bar & Grill.

Acadia National Park is one of the most dog-friendly in the entire park system, with the only trails off-limits being the ones that are too dangerous anyway. Tours and ferries usually welcome well-behaved dogs.

As a travel hack in Maine — look up the Land Trust in the region where you’ll be staying. These are generally the most dog-friendly access points I’ve found.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The sweet spot for traveling with dogs in Michigan is right between the peninsulas at Mackinac Island. It’s also a car-free island where your dog can take you for many walks.

A dog-friendly visit to Mackinac Island is made easy with special “Dogs Are Welcome” stickers on various shops and restaurants. Dogs can accompany you on carriage rides, bicycle adventures, and kayak tours. Just be sure your dog is cool being around horses.

Even the state parks and historic sites welcome your pup and even provide water bowls. Dogs who love to swim will bask in the freshwater of Lake Huron. As for lodging, Mission Point even offers dog specials, a luxury dog bed, and a gift shop with all kinds of treats.

Buster’s Old Time Photos Branson, Missouri
Buster’s Old Time Photos Branson, Missouri | photo via levi_happy_dog

Branson, Missouri

The Live Entertainment Capital of the World plays a special tune for all the dogs traveling with visitors on vacation. From the Parkway of Branson to the pathways of Table Rock Lake, this Ozark oasis gets two paws up.

Take the guesswork out by staying at a place like Chateau on the Lake, where dogs are greeted with treats, and you get a list of all the pet-friendly possibilities nearby. Cherish the memory with an old-fashioned pet photo shoot at Buster’s Old Time Photos. Pups can also burn energy at the pay-to-play Elmo & Rosalea Marrs Dog Park.

Bransons really ups the dog-friendly ante with leashed, well-behaved dogs allowed at the National Tiger Sanctuary. My dogs certainly would not be calm enough to stare a white tiger in the eye.

Boulder, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t the most dog-friendly, but that still leaves plenty of outdoor areas near Boulder for your pet to explore. Plus, the community caters to dogs in some of the most creative ways, like “Dog Communicators” and “Doga,” which is yoga with your dog.

A big selling point for me was the Canine & Conditioning Rehabilitation Group, which sounds formal but also has a huge heated pool and open swims for dogs. Boulder also offers four city dog parks as large as three acres.

In Boulder County, Twin Lakes has a trail and a dog swimming area. Reynolds Ranch allows off-leash dogs to explore the trails that lead to stunning mountain views.

Even more adventures await at Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks (OSMP), where nearly 140 miles of trails are open to dogs. If yours is well-behaved, consider the Voice and Sight Control Program to let dogs explore off-leash.

Mt. Charleston-Nevada
Mt. Charleston Las Vegas, Nevada I photo credit: Jennifer Hardy

Las Vegas, Nevada

Whether you’re staying on The Strip or in the suburbs, Las Vegas takes a winning gamble on pet-friendly accommodations and amenities. Even resorts like the Cosmopolitan welcome dogs with a treat box and offer two outdoor areas for dogs to run. The Bellagio goes as far as to offer a dog-sitting concierge.

Get off Las Vegas Boulevard and explore Downtown Summerlin or The District at Green Valley Ranch for pet-friendly shops and patios. As a former Las Vegan, I spent many Saturdays at The District, and my golden got a lot of attention and even made a few new friends.

Two dog-friendly outdoor recreation areas flank Las Vegas. Lake Mead National Recreation Area has beaches, trails, and floating options. My dogs particularly liked the Railroad Trail to Hoover Dam.

On the other side of the valley, the stunning Red Rock Conservation Area only requires that pets be kept on a leash. In between those two, Clark County has 10 dog parks. I would recommend Dog Fanciers Park on the east side, Spring Valley on the west side, and Silverado Ranch down south.

TRAVEL TIP: Skip the outdoor spots between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. with your pet in Las Vegas from late May through early September, as temperatures will regularly get above 100°F.

lake tahoe-garwoods-dog
Carnelian West Beach Lake Tahoe I photo credit: Jennifer Hardy

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

If my oldest dog could talk, he would tell you the best days of his life were at Lake Tahoe. North America’s largest alpine lake is smack dab in the Sierra Nevadas. The California/Nevada state lines split the lake, with California’s North/West Shores being more laid back and Nevada’s East and South Shore offering a more lively atmosphere. Choose based on your dog’s personality.

Lake Tahoe also has not-so-secret dog beaches, like Kiva Beach on the South Shore, part of the National Forest. On the North Shore, we loved Carnelian Beach (aka “Garwoods Beach”), where dogs can go off-leash and swim. Near Tahoe City, enjoy the designated dog area of Lake Forest Beach and be sure to catch the sunrise here.

Please note that Lake Tahoe is all snow run-off, so even on hot summer days, the water is cold. My dog Donner never seemed to mind. I never made it more than knee-deep.

Hiking options will blow your mind, but anywhere along the Tahoe Rim Trail will give you great views and your dog plenty of things to sniff. Palisades Tahoe sells pet passes to ride the scenic tram. Winter guests will find five dog paths at Tahoe X/C. Most ski resorts won’t let dogs on the ski lift or trails.

For pet-friendly accommodations in Lake Tahoe, consider Tahoe Cedar Glen, which is ranked as one of the best in the region. The Hyatt Regency welcomes dogs with no size limit. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how dog-friendly the rentals are across the Tahoe basin.

El Portal Sedona, Arizona
El Portal Sedona, Arizona | photo via ford_explores

Sedona, Arizona

I loved the Sierra Mountains so much that I named one of my dogs Sierra, but I’m pretty sure her favorite “head out the window” moment was the winding road leading to Sedona.

Sedona Real Inn & Suites had me at “Enthusiastically Pet-Friendly,” but won me over with a dog park/picnic on-site and a list of all the dog-friendly options nearby. Then there’s El Portal, designed more for dogs than humans, it seems, but humans love it too.

Grab a meal among the roses at The Secret Garden Cafe, then take your pup on a journey through Wine Tours of Sedona. One of the best dining views is Creekside Sedona, with a bougie dog menu. This place loves dogs so much that the chef wants to hear from you if your bestie isn’t treated like a VIP.

Plenty of easy-to-expert hiking trails welcome leashed dogs in Sedona. All of the vortex site trails are dog-friendly, but respect the sacred nature of these locations.

Dog Mountain, Vermont | photo via followingfive

Dog Mountain, Vermont

The name says it all – it’s a mountain dedicated to dogs, and you’re expected to tag along. Dog Mountain covers 150 acres.

What particularly creates a lump in my throat as I write this is the Dog Chapel, where people whose dogs have crossed the Rainbow Bridge can post a photo on the Remembrance Wall while cherishing the memories in a chapel designed just for pups.

“I had envisioned maybe someday having the foyer filled top to bottom with dog pictures. I never anticipated the whole building – every single space – covered with photos and words of remembrance, as the chapel is today.” – Stephen Huneck, Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven – More From the Dog Chapel, 2010

Dog Mountain is a haven for dogs and families, with four seasons of trails, obstacle courses, and dog parties throughout the year.

Key West Dog Beach Key West, Florida
Key West Dog Beach Key West, Florida | photo via wafflesinflorida

Key West, Florida

Dog-friendly cities always have one or two features that stand out. In Key West, it’s the dog-friendly Key West Aquarium. Guided tours cover everything from sharks to sea turtles, and your (well-behaved) dog is welcome on all of them.

You and your furry friend can take a paddle tour through Lazy Dog (psst – there are treats for sale, too!). If yours is truly a lazy dog, maybe just meander through the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. They can also cool off at the Key West Dog Beach.

The day ends with a barking good time at Mallory Square, where the Sunset Celebration happens nightly. Don’t forget dinner and drinks at Hank’s Hair of the Dog, where dogs wander and wag their way into the Key West vibe.

Stay at Ambrosia Key West for that laid-back chill you both need. Plus, your pup might make the Dog of the Month! Old Town Manor breaks the dog-friendly mold with no size limits and up to three dogs per room!

Bend, Oregon

Known as Dog Town USA, your dog might not want to leave this accommodating cluster of over 40 dog-friendly restaurants, hundreds of miles of trails, and award-winning pet accommodations like the Oxford Hotel.

To make this trip planning even easier, Dogpac is a group hyper-focused on responsible off-leash pet behavior in the region and has grouped so many things to do on one website, including maps of winter, summer, and off-leash areas.

If you want to support local, check out Ruffwear for new accessories dogs need on the robust hiking trails. Speaking of, take your bestest buddy on the Good Dog Trail (aka Rimrock Trail) in Deschutes National Forest. Swimming dogs will love the river. Winter brings dog-friendly terrain at both Wanoga and Edison Sno-Parks.

Bend also knows how to make great batches of beer, and most breweries welcome dogs on patios. For a delicious dog menu, add J-DUB to your Bend, Oregon, dog-friendly itinerary.

Cades Cove-Great Smoky Mountains-Dog-SS
Cades Cove Great Smoky Mountains I photo credit: Yiwenz / Shutterstock

More Dog-Friendly Vacation Advice

It’s important to remember that just because your dog CAN go somewhere, it doesn’t mean they should. Choose a location that fits your pet’s temperament and anxiety levels. Places like Tahoe and the Smokies have bears in the woods. Key West will be noisy and crowded at times. Extremely hot locations aren’t ideal for brachycephalic dogs.

If you’re on a road trip, look for Love’s Gas Stations along the way that have dog parks. More than 350 are available nationwide.

A few other tips:

  • Always bring a copy of your pet’s vaccination records and pet license from your community.
  • Whenever possible, check the water quality of a river, lake, or saltwater beach. Dogs who ingest saltwater can have upset bellies and projectile fluids from both ends (if you know what I mean). I wish someone had told me that before I moved to Florida.
  • Remember that even though your dog is the center of your world, not everyone feels the same way.
  • If you want to paddle with your pup, make sure you practice at home first until your dog is comfortable with the rocking motion and remains sitting on your feet.

Most hotels won’t allow dogs to be left in a room unattended and also expect your dog to stay off the furniture (GASP!). Look for doggy daycares or pet sitters nearby so your pet can play if you go somewhere without them.

Finally, Hawaii visitors might leave pets at home because of the quarantine restrictions on dogs. However, some animal shelters there let you borrow a dog for the day, which is the next best thing to having your own dog there.

With so many dog-friendly options all over the country, it’s never been easier to travel with your four-legged friends. So whether you want to explore the bright lights of Las Vegas, the incredible scenery of Mackinac Island, or the tranquility of Dog Mountain, bring your dogs along for an unforgettable adventure. 

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