Swisher is a small town with big connections: the community is nestled in an idyllic rural area roughly halfway between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Though the population is under 1,000, Swisher offers plenty of creature comforts, from the porch seating at Kava House Cafe to Castek Park on the north end of town, where green lawns surround the town’s ballpark — the perfect spot for a picnic or a game of catch. You can extend your walk to the Anderson Cemetery to get a window into the community’s history.
When the big city calls, Cedar Rapids is only 11 miles away and offers a navigable, friendly urban environment with excellent parks and the lovely Cedar River winding through town. The Cedar River Trail traces a paved 16-mile route along the river’s path through the city; leashed dogs are welcome. You can pick any of Cedar Rapids’ 17 dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating, but we think certain dogs might favor Flying Weinie on 8th Avenue (especially given the meaty menu and hip converted-garage decor).
Swisher prides itself on its friendliness, and town already has a community of dog lovers eager to welcome you. There is no vet office within town limits, but you'll find two highly-rated veterinary clinics just a few miles north on I-380.
If you really need to work off some energy, there’s always the long way into Cedar Rapids along the 67-mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Catch the trailhead in Ely, just 9 miles from Swisher. This hiking/sniffing trail was converted from disused railroad tracks and offers lovely wooded and waterside views before passing through downtown Cedar Rapids. On the northern edge of Ely, you’ll find the Cheyenne Park Training Area, where a reasonable subscription fee gets you access to the pawpular facilities, including a small-dog enclosure, training space, and 13-acre dog run, all tucked into a bend in the scenic Cedar River.
The city of Solon community is nestled alongside Lake Macbride, and you can walk to the nearby Lake Macbride State Park directly from town along the 5-mile Solon-Lake Macbride Recreation Trail, part of the Rails-Trails system of converted train tracks. The park and adjacent Macbride Nature Recreational Area span both sides of the lake, forming a perfect playground for you and your pups. There are nine hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, from the 0.3-mile Brock’s Bridge Trail to the 4.7-mile North Shore Trail. If you have any sled dogs in your pack, try the North and South Snowmobile Trails in winter. On the south end of Solon, the Sugar Bottoms Recreational area offers swimming in Coralville Lake, more trails, and an epic disk golf course.
Just 2.5 miles south of Swisher is the 13,000-acre Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area. The rugged landscape is huge and tempting, but check your map before you set off into the wilderness: this is public land open for hunting, so stick to the Preserve and Dog Trail Area on the eastern end of the WMA. On the southern side of this vast wilderness, 17 miles south of Swisher, is Kent Park. This county-run park sprawls over more than 1,000 acres, including a 27-acre lake, woods, and wetlands. The park’s Valley View Trail is a convenient 1-mile loop at moderate difficulty. One of the Kent Park perks: There are plenty of bathrooms available (human ones, and not just trees).
The Coralville neighborhood of Iowa City is just 15 miles south of Swisher when it’s time for another urban adventure. Coralville has a lot to offer, including the historic Mormon Handcart Memorial and Trail marking the departure of the nineteenth-century Mormon community to Utah (though you’ll only have stamina for a small taste of that 1,500-mile journey). Though technically just outside the neighborhood boundary, the Thornberry Dog Park is worth fuzzing the lines, especially since it has an enclosed swimming pond. Back in the center of town, Backpocket Brewing has an enormous and comfortable patio where you can sample the local libations with your four-legged friend. Not ready to drive home? No problem: there are 10 pet-friendly hotels in Coralville.
Mount Vernon, named for George Washington’s estate, is an picturesque small town enlivened by the students of Cornell College. After window-shopping along the wide downtown sidewalks, scope out the one-acre dog park for off-leash play: it’s stocked with poo bags but otherwise self-monitored. Mount Vernon is also home to Palisades-Kepler State Park, with picnic and camping facilities, a historic stone lodge, and even preserved Native American Indian mounds — a reminder of Iowa’s prehistoric past. And, the park has six different dog-friendly hiking trails and ample public restrooms.