6 Awesome Places to Explore with your Pet in the Great Outdoors

April 17, 2024

Traveling with pets is always a rewarding experience. Traveling with pets outdoors, though? Even better. There are myriad benefits to exploring the outdoors solo, with a loved one, or with friends and family, but there’s something extra special about navigating nature with man’s best friend by your side. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of pet-friendly wilderness to be found across the country. From cities teeming with green spaces to wide-open national parks, these are some of the best places to explore with your pet in the great outdoors.

Here Are Some of the Best Places to Get Outdoors with Your Pet

The Boise River in Barber Park.

1. Boise

Among the most underrated — and pleasantly surprising — cities in the U.S., Boise takes top billing across many mediums. It’s an epicenter of culture and metropolitan amenities, from museums to Michelin-caliber restaurants. It’s risen in notoriety as a haven for music festivals and wine-making. And it’s also that idyllic sorta city that seamlessly straddles the line between urban and rural. And pets are welcome just about everywhere. Nicknamed the City of Trees, ever since French fur-trappers strode through and proclaimed “Les Bois,” which translates to “the trees.” It’s just as lush today, with ample outdoor space along the Boise River Greenbelt trail, and throughout the highlands of Camels Back Park. In the city, dogs are welcome at Spacebar Arcade, breweries like Cloud 9 and Lost Grove, and at Freak Alley, the largest outdoor art gallery in the region.

Nearby KOAs:
Boise / Meridien KOA Journey

Woman and dog enjoy beautiful view from atop Cadillac Mountain.

2. Acadia National Park

National parks are some of the most sought-after destinations for folks traveling with pets, beckoning with endless exploration opportunities and wide-open wonder. Many national parks, though, limit pet access to a select smattering of trails — if at all. Not Acadia National Park, though. The Maine park, the most visited in the northeast, is among the most dog-friendly in the nation, with about 100 miles of hiking trails that are accessible to pets (leashed at all times, of course). These run the gamut from the Ocean Path Trail to the Jordan Pond loop. Sand Beach is also pet-friendly during the slow season, from mid-September to early June. The park is so dog-friendly, in fact, that park rangers gave my dog treats anytime they saw us. In the nearby town of Bar Harbor, you’ll also find lots of dog-friendly restaurants, such as Side Street Cafe and Beal’s Lobster Pier.

Nearby KOAs:
Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Holiday
Bucksport / Fort Knox KOA Holiday
Bangor / Holden KOA Holiday

A man and his dog are looking out over Badlands National Park.

3. Black Hills

From otherworldly Badlands and irreverent roadside stopovers (ahem, Wall Drug), to the wild west vibes of Deadwood and mountainside iconography like Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, there’s no shortage of attractions in western South Dakota. Anchored by the equally iconic Black Hills, dotted with lakes and looming with rocky peaks, the region is equally entertaining for humans as it is pets. In the urban gateway town of Rapid City, dog-friendly patios abound — examples include Tally’s Silver Spoon, Murphy’s Pub & Grill, and Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews. Meanwhile, the hills themselves are readily accessible to travelers with pets, including dog-friendly trails around Sylvan Lake, Horse Thief Lake, and the trek up to Black Elk Peak, the tallest point in South Dakota. Dogs aren’t allowed within Mount Rushmore proper, but they are permitted on leashes in outdoor areas at Crazy Horse.

Nearby KOAs:
Custer / Mount Rushmore / Black Hills KOA Holiday
Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch
Rapid City / Black Hills KOA Holiday
Hot Springs SD / Black Hills KOA Holiday
Deadwood / Black Hills KOA Holiday
Spearfish / Black Hills KOA Holiday
Badlands / White River KOA Holiday

A cat on a leash at White Sands National Park.

4. White Sands National Park

One of America’s newer national parks, White Sands National Park is basically one giant sandbox. In fact, at 176,000 acres, it’s a sandbox so large that it’s visible from space. Which provides plenty of room for pets to scamper with their people. As long as dogs are on six-foot leashes at all times, they’re free to rove literally anywhere in the park, across its endless sea of rolling dunes. Thanks to the fact that the sand is white gypsum, that means it doesn’t absorb heat from sunlight, which keeps it from burning feet — or paws — as you explore.

Nearby KOAs:
Alamogordo / White Sands KOA Journey
Las Cruces KOA Journey

Pretty female german pointer posing by a pond on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

5. Texas Hill Country and Austin

In south-central Texas, between Austin and San Antonio, Hill Country abounds with vast expanses of greenery, trails, rivers, and farmland — all of which are ripe for exploring with your furry friends. Even Austin proper is notably dog-friendly, as pups are welcome at all manner of businesses and events, like Better Half Coffee & Cocktails, the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller, and Cosmic Coffee & Beer Garden. The massive Lady Bird Lake Trail, which weaves through downtown, is also a popular spot to explore with dogs. A few minutes outside of the city, though, things can even better. Pedernales Falls State Park is a dog-friendly place to work up an appetite, followed by food and beer at Jester King Brewery, which is so pastoral that it boasts its own hiking trails through its wooded property.

Nearby KOAs:
Austin East KOA Holiday

A senior couple enjoys a walk with their dog in Chicago, along the Lakefront Trail, on a lovely summer day.

6. Chicago

A major metropolis like Chicago might not seem like the most dog-friendly destination, but the Second City is truly second-to-none when it comes to people-pleasing amenities that are just as dog-pleasing. For starters, outdoor green spaces are as massive as they are myriad, from Grant Park and Lincoln Park to the miles-long Lakefront Trail and The 606, an elevated 3-mile-long park that runs along an old train line. The city also features tons of dog-friendly patios, like the backyard garden at Ludlow Liquors, the front patio at The Moonlighter, and Lo Rez Brewing and Taproom. Then, head to the Montrose Dog Beach to let your pup splash around in Lake Michigan.

Nearby KOAs:
Chicago Northwest KOA Holiday

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Matt Kirouac grew up with a love for camping and the outdoors. Though he’s lived in Chicago since 2006, he’s always on the lookout for new adventures. He writes about travel and food for outlets like TripExpert, Money Inc, Upventur, DiningOut, Food Fanatics magazine, Plate Magazine and Zagat, and he currently serves as Chicago editor for What Should We Do?! He’s the author of The Hunt Guides: Chicago (2016) and Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago (2017).

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