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The Ultimutt Guide to a Midwest Road Trip with Your Dog


Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/13/2020, edited: 10/26/2022

From major cities to secluded forests, stunning lakes to picture-perfect cornfields, the Midwest offers some of the most diverse attractions and scenery anywhere in the United States. Whether you’re chowing down on deep-dish pizza in Chicago or marveling at the Northern Lights in Minnesota, the region offers a wonderfully varied array of travel experiences.

Even better, you’ll find stacks that you can see, do, explore, and enjoy with your pup by your side. Keep reading for our guide to the “ultimutt” dog-friendly road trip in the Midwest.

Where to play

From off-leash parks and dog-friendly walking trails to swimming beaches and much more, your pup can enjoy all manner of adventures in the Midwest. Here’s just a sample of the experiences that await your four-legged friend.

Chicago, IL

Chicago is practically bursting at the seams with fun activities you can enjoy when traveling with a dog. Noethling Playlot Dog Park, better known as Wiggly Field, is a highlight for lovers of off-leash fun, while Montrose Dog Beach is the place to go for a refreshing swim. A walk around the Chicago Lakefront Trail lets you stretch your legs against a backdrop of some spectacular scenery, while there’s no shortage of restaurants and bars that welcome dogs on patios and in outdoor areas.

Check out our dog-friendly road trip ideas in Chicago guide for more information.

Minneapolis, MN

Dog lovers in Minneapolis are spoiled for choice when looking for ways to entertain their pups. The Minnehaha Falls Off-Leash Dog Park is a must-visit, offering both a walking trail and a great little swimming area. Many of the cities breweries and restaurants are pet-friendly, with some even welcoming dogs inside — a very welcome feature in chilly conditions. And if you’re looking for more of a wilderness escape, Fort Snelling State Park is within easy reach.

Madison, WI

The next stop on our Midwest dog-friendly road trip is the capital of Wisconsin, which also boasts more than its fair share of pup attractions. For example, your pooch might want to follow their nose to Lake Kegonsa State Park, where you’ll find a popular dog swimming area and even a jetty where pups can practice their diving skills. The Capital Springs Dog Exercise Area is ideal for socializing, while several of the city’s bars and breweries welcome dogs in outdoor areas. Some even offer complimentary treats for four-legged guests.

Columbus, OH

If Columbus finds its way onto your dog-friendly Midwest road trip itinerary, you and your pup will find much to enjoy. For off-leash fun, check out the Godown Road Dog Park or the Scioto Audubon Dog Park, while water-loving dogs will want to check out the fenced doggy swimming area in Walnut Woods. You’ll also find stacks of dog-friendly accommodation options in and around the city, while there are plenty of breweries, bakeries, and restaurants that welcome dogs with open paws.

Where to stay

There’s an abundance of pet-friendly campgrounds and RV parks throughout the Midwest. Here are a few venues you might like to consider.

Chicago Northwest KOA, IL

Located in Union, IL, roughly 50 miles outside of Chicago, this popular campground has lots to offer pets and humans alike. Your pup will love the freedom of an on-site dog park, while human guests will be thrilled with the swimming pool, mini-golf course, and free Wi-Fi. Dogs are even welcome in deluxe cabins for a nightly fee, so there’s no need to “ruff” it if you don’t want to.

Swan Lake Campground and Resort, MN

If you’re searching for a family campground in northern Minnesota, this is one venue worth considering. This lakeside campground has its own sandy beach, and is quite popular for fishing and a range of other water-based recreational activities. Leashed dogs are welcome in the campground, and in cabins for a nightly fee.

Mohican Adventures, OH

Located in Loudonville, OH, this family-friendly campground offers everything from primitive camping and RV sites to log cabins. Canoeing, mini-golf, and go-karting are all popular activities here, while the aerial adventure course offers a high-altitude challenge. Dogs are permitted in the campground but not in most cabins, and you’re allowed to go camping with dogs for no extra charge.

Warren Dunes State Park, MI

If you find yourself in Michigan exploring the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, be sure to pay a visit to Warren Dunes State Park. This popular park offers access to 2.5 miles of dog-friendly shoreline on Lake Michigan, allowing you and your (leashed) pup to take a scenic stroll and get your feet wet. Rustic campsites are available here, while your dog will also love the opportunity to check out 6 miles of hiking trails.

Where to eat

While you and your pooch are touring around the Midwest, be sure to stop off and sample some of the best local food along the way. Happily, there’s a huge range of different cuisines and fresh produce just waiting to be enjoyed.

In Chicago, be sure to treat yourself to the local pizza and a Chicago-style hot dog or two. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars that welcome pups in their outdoor areas, so shop around to sniff out the ideal venue. Or, check out our guide to the best dog-friendly restaurants in Chicago.

You’ll probably want to fill up on breaded pork tenderloin and sugar cream pie in Indiana, while the BBQ and the St Louis-style pizza in Missouri will have you licking your lips. And if you get the chance to try some of the local corn, you’re sure to go home happy.

No matter where you’re visiting, you’ll typically be able to find dog-friendly eateries if you know where to look. These establishments put out water bowls and offer dog-friendly areas, while some even offer special menu items for your furry friend.

Where to roam

If you’re searching for more great trips with dogs, why not tackle one of the best scenic drives in the Midwest? Whether you’re craving winding country roads or highway cruising, there’s much to enjoy around every corner. Here are a couple of options well worth a closer look.

Route 66 — Chicago, IL to St Louis, MO

This is one dog-friendly road trip that needs no introduction, so why not tackle the start of this iconic route? Starting in Chicago, the 300-mile trek to St Louis offers photo opportunities galore and leads you past attractions like the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum, the famous Muffler Men statues, and the Chain of Rocks Bridge. And if you get the taste for adventure, you can always just keep on driving until you reach the West Coast.

Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, IA

If you loved The Bridges of Madison County, this route has your name written all over it. The Covered Bridges Scenic Byway takes in several sites featured in the film, so you’ll want to have your camera at the ready and take plenty of time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Best of all, the 82-mile route doesn’t just lead you to covered bridges but also past wineries, the Iowa Quilt Museum, and the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum.

Where to learn

Regardless of where you go when traveling with a dog, chances are some of the must-see attractions won’t allow dogs. That’s also true when you take a dog-friendly road trip to the Midwest, so it’s worth booking a Wag! dog walker near you so that your dog is kept occupied while you explore on your own.

Mount Rushmore, SD

Mount Rushmore is one of those attractions many of us have on our bucket lists. And while leashed dogs are welcome in the parking garages at this famous destination and also in nearby pet exercise areas, you may find it’s easier to get the full Mount Rushmore experience without your dog in tow.

This massive sculpture is certainly a sight to behold, and those 60-foot-high faces are quite impressive. But there’s also a half-mile walking trail to let you soak in the sculpture from different angles, plus a museum for those keen to brush up on their knowledge of history.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, MI

The city of Detroit is synonymous with the automotive industry. Regardless of whether you’re a gearhead or a history buff, you’ll have a great time wandering around the Henry Ford Museum. Located in Dearborn, this excellent museum explores genius in its many forms. From car racing to fashion, the Wright Brothers to Abraham Lincoln, the museum covers a hugely diverse range of exhibits and collections. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, IN

Finally, if you’ve got the need for speed, a detour to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is quite simply a must. Located inside the renowned 2.5-mile track, this museum is dedicated to all things cars and auto racing. The 37,500 square feet of exhibit space features vehicles from IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1, and more, plus passenger cars from marques as diverse as Ferrari and Duesenberg. Motorcycles and dragsters also feature, so you could spend a whole day here without even realizing it.

As you can see, a journey through the Midwest is one of the best road trips for dogs. Of course, we’ve only just scratched the surface of the many great Midwest attractions you can check out when traveling with a dog. Start researching options now to put together your “pawfect” itinerary, and use our Ultimutt Dog-Friendly Road Trip Planner to give your pup an adventure they’ll never forget.

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