By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 11/18/2020, edited: 10/26/2022
Road trips with dogs are a great way to bond as a family. Beautiful scenery, adventurous new foods, and conversation make trips with dogs special, but having a great itinerary certainly helps! Planning your route ahead of time will reduce confusion and make sure you get to see all the sites you hope to.
We'll cover the best dog-friendly parks, attractions, and places to stay along 5 of our most favorite routes. Let the adventures begin!
Would it be a road trip guide without covering the most legendary road in America? The Mother Road, aka Route 66, covers a huge expanse from Chicago to Santa Monica with tons of roadside attractions, national parks, and good eatin' along the way. Let’s dive in to just a few places you “pawsitively” must see with your mutt!
Before hopping on historic Route 66, make sure you check out the Magnificent Mile, a dog-friendly strip of road in the Michigan Avenue District. Here, you'll find taverns, clothing stores, restaurants, and hotels that welcome pups. No trip through Chicago is complete without a visit to Montrose Dog Beach, a leash-free "pawadise" on Lake Michigan's shore. Need more inspo? We’ve rounded up even more fun road trip ideas for dogs in Chicago in a separate article.
St. Louis, Missouri
After the 4-hour drive from Chicago, your pack will probably be rarin' to stretch their legs, and the St. Louis Riverfront Trail is just the place to do it! This path starts at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and meanders alongside the Mississippi until it reaches its end at S. Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd. in downtown. You’ll find a wonderful mix of simplicity and urban development as you walk alongside wooded areas, riverside ecosystems, the Gateway Arch, and various historical monuments.
Laumeier Sculpture Park is top dog when it comes to the best dog-friendly parks in St. Louis. The sculpture park offers a unique and immersive experience for family members of all ages and species. Since the exhibits rotate constantly, there's no telling what kind of artwork you'll see on the 105-acre property. You may stumble upon a giant eyeball, colossal stick person, or a mammoth flower bouquet! Talk about conversation pieces!
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Our next Route 66 stop is in Oklahoma City, home to Myriad Botanical Gardens Dog Park. This dog park is part of the larger botanical gardens and offers pups a leash-free respite when exploring the outdoor specimens and aquatic features. Don't forget to let Fido stop and sniff the roses!
Huge grassy fields, fun water features, and obstacle equipment make Fred Quin Happy Tails Dog Park the place to be in OKC. Your pup will find plenty of locals to befriend here, but make sure you bring a towel — playtime here can get muddy.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
You can't travel through the southwest without paying a visit to the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. Here, ancient rocks bear some of the oldest artwork in the country, with designs both abstract and historical made by natives and early settlers. There are tons of paths for pups to explore, but our faves are the Painted Desert Rim and Crystal Forest trails.
Santa Monica, California
Your Route 66 road trip may come to an end in Santa Monica, but that doesn't mean the fun has to! Rosie's Dog Beach in Santa Monica is one of the most dog-friendly beaches in California. Here, your pup will find 4 seaside acres to run, swim, and play off-leash. Locals love this spot since it's open year-round and allows dogs more freedom than other nearby parks and beaches.
State Route 1 is one of the best scenic drives in California, boasting unequivocal coastal views, tons of wildlife, and lots — and we mean lots — of dog-friendly things to do! Route 1 is part of 4 scenic byways, including the famous Pacific Coast Highway, offering drivers a glimpse at some of the prettiest coastline in all of America.
Your journey will begin on the San Diego end of Hwy 1, at The Original Dog Beach. As the name implies, this is the OG dog spot and still one of the most "pawpular" places for San Diego doggos to hang. Besides being a beautifully kept off-leash beach, it’s a great place to spend an hour or the whole day. Beachin' with a Beagle is a messy business. Take advantage of the nearby self-service dog wash to clean off before heading on the next leg of your journey.
LA is "pawsitively" bursting with things to see and do. We'll skip the typical tourist traps and tell you about the more unusual attractions, like the La Brea Tar Pits. This is the only prehistoric urban excavation site still in operation. Walk alongside paleontologists and gurgling tar pits as you get a glimpse of LA's vastly different past. This unique educational experience is both dog- and kid-friendly and will surely be the pinnacle of your pack's LA adventures!
Local guides offer a host of unique dog-friendly activities like doggy meditation, dip art classes, celebrity-guided nature hikes, and ghost tours! There are loads of dog-friendly parks in Los Angeles, too. Check out some of our favorites.
Next, head to beautiful Malibu, where the mountains and Pacific collide. Corral Canyon Trail is a great way to explore all the wonders this diverse ecosystem has to offer. This Santa Monica Mountain trail runs parallel to the coastline, offering stunning bird's-eye views of the ocean and canyon. This path is as natural as it gets. Wear protective pants to avoid scratches from the brush and keep Fido leashed for the trek. Afterwards, chill out with a trip to Leo Carrillo State Park & Beach, one of the most "pawpular” dog-friendly beaches in Malibu.
St. Luis Obispo
St. Luis Obispo, named the happiest town in the US by TV icon Opra Winfrey, will surely delight the most dubious doggos! Bob Jones City to the Sea Trail is a great place to start. This 2.5 mile follows a stream and passes two dog-friendly beaches in St. Luis Obispo — great views are guaranteed!
When hunger strikes, stop into one of St. Luis Obispo's 25+ pup-friendly eateries, boasting everything from homemade cinnamon rolls and burgers to sushi and Singaporean cuisine.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a tiny village on the Monterey Peninsula that's as sweet as the name implies. This tiny stretch of coast boasts postcard-worthy scenery, but it's the local business owners’ dog-friendly attitude that makes it one of the best road trip stops for dogs!
Within the village's one-square-mile radius, you'll find pet boutiques, dog-friendly restaurants and wineries, and bark parks with beach access. Your pup will want to relocate permanently after a few hours in this "pawadise"!
The Overseas Highway is one of the most beautiful strips of road in America, with a 7-mile bridge straight across the Atlantic. If you look down while crossing, you'll see huge colonies of coral in the clear blue water, and likely schools of fish and jellies, too. The drive is half the fun, but there are tons of cool sites to see when you're back on solid ground.
Theatre of the Sea in Islamorada offers pups an opportunity they won't get anywhere else in the US — the chance to explore a marine animal park! Leashed and well-mannered pups can check out the marine exhibits alongside paying pet parents for no charge. Fido will get to meet sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, sea lions, and stingrays, to name a few. The parakeet exhibit is the only display off-limits to pups, so make sure to steer clear of that one.
Big Pine Key
You won't want to miss the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key. This tiny island is doing big things in the name of conservation. It’s also the only place on earth where Key Deer, an endangered species of whitetail, are found. The unique mix of fresh and saltwater makes this preserve a haven for animals and insects that face the threat of extinction, including the Lower Keys marsh rabbit and the Bartram's scrub-hairstreak butterfly.
Key West will be the creme de la creme for Fido's Overseas Highway adventure. See the island in style with a ride on the Conch Train. This adorable mini locomotive is not only dog-friendly, but a portion of proceeds sponsor service dogs for veterans during certain times of the year. A cool ride for a good cause? We're all about it!
Wind down from your trip with a visit to Dog Beach. This small stretch of shore is the only Key West beach with no leash regulations. For more room to run, check out Higgs Beach Dog Park on Atlantic Boulevard.
End your tropical adventures on a high note with a trip to the Key West Aquarium. Pups may join owners while viewing (and even touching) native sharks, fish, and other oceanic life forms. Where else can your pet do that?!
Are you thinking of staying in Florida a while? Check out some fun mainland activities in our Florida dog-friendly road trip guide.
Highway 101 from Oregon to Washington is our shortest route, but what this road lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. Hwy 101 starts in LA and runs north through Oregon, creating a large loop at Washington state's northern edge. Since we've already covered Cali, we'll focus on the best attractions from Oregon to Washington.
If you don't visit any other dog-friendly park in the Northwest, at least stop by Minto Brown Island Park in Salem, Oregon. Minto Brown Island is colossal, with 30 acres dedicated just for off-leash doggy activities! The park is a refuge for many native species and offers nature lovers nearly 30 miles of trails and countless viewing platforms to observe the inhabitants.
After a day of exploring, you'll surely find yourself on the hunt for food, and Salem has nearly 50 restaurants and breweries with pup-friendly patios. No matter if you're in the mood for pizza, pasta, salad, Asian, or seafood, Salem will satiate your cravings!
The Olympic National Forest is a "furrific" spot to satisfy your pup's need for adventure! Your pup can weave between the redwoods, sniff out local wildlife, and splash in the waterways, all while off-leash. Just make sure Fido is under voice control because it's easy to get turned around in this massive preserve.
Keep in mind that Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest are two different entities, though they're in the same vicinity. Most of Olympic National Park is off-limits to dogs; however, pups can roam the forest trails as they please.
Tucked on the outskirts of the city, away from the high rises, you'll find one of Seattle's best-hidden gems: Seward Park. This expansive preserve has your typical park findings, gardens, trees, and trails, plus some not-so-common features like an art studio and gallery. Parkgoers can be seen paddling around on canoes and kayaks, but motorized watercraft aren't allowed. Keep your ears open for the national bird while exploring. Seward Park is a common breeding ground for eagles.
Next, get wet and wild in the lake at the Warren G. Magnuson Park off-leash area. This park is home to the only designated doggy beach in the state — now that's something to bark about! Afterward, Bring Fido along for some refreshments and a chemistry lesson with a tour at one of Seattle's many dog-friendly craft breweries.
Want to extend your stay in Washington state? We’ve got you and Callie covered with even more dog-friendly road trip ideas in Washington State.
There's no better spot for a scenic drive in the Southeast than the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. This highway runs through the Carolinas and Virginia, passing through several national parks and the Cherokee Nation.
Chimney Rock, North Carolina
North Carolina is home to several of the best (and oldest!) national parks in the nation. Start your adventures at Chimney Rock in the Pisgah National Forest for the best view around. The observation platform is wheelchair-accessible, but the trails are not. The Hickory Nut Trail offers spectacular views of the falls, and the mostly level surface makes it "pawfect" for novice hikers and families. For tougher treks, check out the Four Seasons or Exclamation Point trails.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Blowing Rock is a peculiar (and pet-friendly) natural landmark 91 miles north of Chimney Rock. This mysterious rock is the subject of much local lore, stemming from the wind that blows straight up the canyon walls. Ripley's declared Blowing Rock, "the only place where snow falls upside down." You don't want to miss this natural oddity!
Linville, North Carolina
Searching for more dog-friendly parks in North Carolina? Grandfather Mountain State Park is the place to be for adventure-seekers. Besides amazing views and challenging trails, you'll get to traverse the infamous mile-high bridge, which is, as its name suggests, suspended over a mile above the ground! Don't be surprised if you encounter bears, eagles, deer, and other furry folks along your journey — this park is absolutely teeming with wildlife!
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