More than thirty million Americans travel with their pets according to the U.S. Travel Association. Most pet owners load up Fluffy or Fido in the family car. Pet parents, especially dog owners, are finding hotels and attractions eager to cater to this growing travel trend.
There are many great driving vacations for Midwest pet families who want to take along their furry friend on a trip. There are great dog beaches, dog tours and dog parks in popular vacation spots within a day’s drive of Saint Louis. I will start with a big city with a big heart for canine travelers: Chicago.
Many of the Windy City’s top hotels are pet friendly. For example, the room service options at Chicago’s James Hotel offers doggie entrees including a filet mignon and cow hooves! More than fifty Chicago hotels are listed with BringFido.com. Traveling pet families will also find pet friendly vacation rentals along with pet accommodating bed and breakfast options in Chicago.
Have a water loving pooch? There are two dog friendly beaches in Chicago. There is an off-leash dog beach at the NW Corner of Chicago’s Montrose Beach. There is free parking and a five dollar tag fee for entrance. Belmont Harbor has a small fenced in beach for dogs too.
Dogs can also go on a boat ride. If the boat isn’t full, dogs are welcome at no charge on Seadog Cruises that depart from Chicago’s Navy Pier and cruise up the river and along the lakeshore. Be ready to get wet when the speedboat hits the lake! Before or after your cruise, enjoy walking around Navy Pier–leashed dogs are allowed throughout the outdoor areas of this entertainment complex that extends into Lake Michigan, just east of the Loop.
There is also a Canine Cruise especially for dogs! This 90-minute tour highlights Chicago’s dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, dog parks and fire hydrants. Enjoy the cool breeze in your face and fur, the Skyline Queen offers plenty of safe outdoor-seating. Dogs may choose to sit on your lap, in a seat, or on the deck for less than ten dollars per pooch. There are on board water bowls and restroom options for pets. The Skyline Queen’s Canine Cruises depart from the Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
There are three dog friendly hiking trails in Chicago. The Valley Line Trail, Chicago Lakefront Bike Path, and Burnham Greenway are part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy network.
If shopping with your furry friend is your idea of fun, many of Navy Piers shops and restaurants are pet friendly. The merchants at Chicago’s Village of Long Grove also welcome pets. Most of the Village area’s shops are dog friendly, and many of the restaurants offer dog friendly outdoor patios in warm months. Chicago’s Nordstrom welcomes well-behaved and leashed dogs at any time. Pooches shopping with their parents in Chicago’s newly designated ‘Design District’ between Damen and Ashland on Grand Avenue will find many different stores offer a free treat and water.
Columbia, Missouri boasts two great options for water loving pooches. Pets go wild for the Twin Lakes Recreation Area and it’s huge off-leash dog park, which includes lake access for doggie swimming as well as benches to relax on and waste bags. Stephens Lake offers dogs and their owners on-leash options at this beautiful beachside park with swimming areas and lots of beautiful hiking trails. I found eight dog friendly hiking trails in and around Columbia.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is known for barbeque and fountains. The city is home to more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other city in the nation! There are more than two hundred fountains and water works of art in the city that began with animals in mind. Kansas City’s love affair with fountains began with a rather practical purpose. The city’s first fountains were built by the Humane Society as water troughs for horses in the late 1800s, and they have since grown into cherished works of public art. So it’s no surprise why this Midwestern metropolis has earned its bubbly nickname, the City of Fountains. Take time during your visit to tour some of the city’s most unique water features, including the Fountain of Neptune on the Country Club Plaza, the Waterworks Spectacular at Kauffman Stadium and the Civic Courtyard Fountain inside The Legends at Village West.
There are 5 off-leash dog parks in Kansas City, Missouri and a great dog friendly trail. Trolley Track Trail is one of 1600 rail-trails supported by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The previously unused railroad corridor, is now a “rail-trail” to walk your pet in Kansas City!
Three Dog Bakery’s flagship store in Kansas City is the perfect place to bring your pet for a special treat. Warm welcomes and free samples are just a couple reasons dogs love to visit Three Dog Bakery.
About an hour from Saint Louis, you will find four dog friendly hiking trails in Alton and 5 dog friendly activities in nearby Grafton, Illinois. All these trails are a part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy network. Pere Marquette Park, part of the Illinois State Park system is nearby, but the lodge does not allow any pets. The eight thousand acre park has many great trails and facilities, but the park’s website says pets must be kept on leashes at all times within the park.
Music City USA may be Nashville’s claim to fame, but it offers pet travelers fun options too. More than fifty hotels, several campgrounds and vacation rental properties offer pet friendly lodging. There are three dog friendly hiking trails in Nashville. Leash up your pup and head down The Trails at Fontanel for a delightful stroll along a well-maintained path. Benches line the trail, and along the walk you can enjoy the peaceful beauty of Whites Creek and views of the gorgeous Fontanel Mansion. Shelby Bottoms Greenway is a multi-use trail that’s a great place to walk Fido in Nashville! Stones River Greenway is a pet friendly ten-mile paved trail system connecting Shelby Bottoms to Percy Priest Lake. There are several great Tennessee State Parks near Nashville and pets are allowed in all Tennessee State Parks, but they must be leashed while visiting. Cabins, restaurants and other properties located on State Park land may have different policies so check before you go.
Taking in a show or exploring Nashville’s vibrant night life without your precious pet? A variety of Nashville businesses cater to pet parents traveling. You have many options if you don’t want to leave Fido unattended in the hotel room. Several firms offer responsible dog sitters in Nashville who can visit your dog in the hotel room, take him for a walk, or even watch him overnight in their own home, if needed.
Nashville’s See Spot Eat is a doggie bakery inviting canines and their vacationing people to stop in. See Spot Eat has all-natural, freshly-made dog treats made on premises using human quality ingredients.
There are three off-leash dog parks in Memphis, including Shelby Farms. Shelby Farms is a huge park with numerous walkways and jogging paths through the beautiful forested areas, and contains picnic areas and playgrounds as well. There are several lakes and ponds. One whole section of the park is dedicated specifically to dogs. They can run unleashed and go swimming in either of the two Lakes provided for them.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 800 miles of hiking trails, but dogs are NOT allowed on most of them. Dogs are welcome on the Gatlinburg Trail (a 1.9 mile hike from the Sugarland Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN) and the Oconaluftee River Trail (a 1.5 mile hike from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the outskirts of Cherokee, NC). Dogs are also allowed in the campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times.
You can get your pet to the top of the mountains without walking. The Gatlinburg Sky Lift allows dogs on leashes to ride with their owners to the top of the mountain.
Merchants at Gatlinburg’s Village welcome pets. The Village is a collection of 27 unique specialty stores in the heart of Gatlinburg. The wooded outdoor areas around the shops are great for taking Fido for a stroll. Dogs should remain leashed and under your control at all times while roaming through The Village.
Chattanooga offers canines and their owners a lot of options with many pet friendly hotels. Are you ready to stretch your legs after the drive? The best activity in this area is hiking the expansive gorges. North Chickamauga Creek Pocket Wilderness is a perfect all day hike for you and your dog if you are willing to take on the whole ten miles. And when the heat becomes overwhelming, don’t be afraid to go for a quick dip in the creek that runs throughout the gorge.
There are two off-leash dog parks in Chattanooga worth a visit. A great one has a familiar name: Chattanooga Chew Chew Canine Park! This park has lots of greenery, benches, fire hydrants, water fountains, waste removal, and agility equipment. One area is fenced in so dogs can be off leash. Separate entrance and section for small dogs.
Greenway Farms is a huge park in Chattanooga. They have a very large fenced in dog area, which they divided into large and small dog sections. This area also includes dog water fountains, benches and a few trees for shade. Outside of the fenced area, there are several trails, lots of water for the dogs to swim in, and a rock quarry area with a swimming hole.
Consider a walk on the Walnut Street Bridge for a relaxing view of the Tennessee River. The peaceful walk offers gorgeous views of Coolidge Park and downtown.
Heading to Kentucky with your pooch? There are 7 off-leash dog parks in Louisville, Kentucky and one family attraction welcoming dogs on leashes. Mega Cavern is a massive man-made cavern beneath the city of Louisville and your dog can come aboard for the tour on an SUV-pulled tram. Fido can join you on the 60-70 minute tour as you learn about the history of the cavern and mining operations, see cavern formations and a historic replica of a fallout bunker, and enjoy the many other offerings of the Mega Cavern. Your pup must be on a six-foot leash at all times. If you and your pup are ready to stretch your legs after the tram tour, there are two dog friendly hiking trails in Louisville open to dogs on leashes.
Branson, Missouri may best be known for stage shows and music. But this city is pet friendly with several options for vacationers traveling with a pet. More than thirty Branson area hotels and inns welcome pets. Several Branson pet services and sitters will visit your pet in the hotel room if you want to step out for dinner or a show in the evening. Branson offers pet lovers great outdoor experiences too. Table Rock State Park offers visitors to Branson and their pets an opportunity to explore the many nature trails that the park has to offer. In addition to hiking, guests can go boating, camping, fishing, swimming, biking, and picnicking. Dogs are permitted on most trails in the park, as well as in the campgrounds. Guests staying at the campgrounds are limited to having two dogs per campsite, unless an exemption is obtained in advance from the park service. Dogs should be kept on a leash and well-behaved at all times while in the campsites.
One Branson business can help put your pet in a memorable vacation souvenir. Busters Old Time Photos at the Branson Landing offers old fashion fun as you take a nostalgic trip through costume and photography. Professional photos with a Wild West, Southern Belle, or Victorian era theme are available in minutes and pets are welcome in the photos! See the cute pooch in a Buster’s photo below.
Are you and your pet ready for the beach? The closest Gulf of Mexico beach for driving pet families from Saint Louis is Biloxi, Mississippi. For people, this Gulf Coast destination offers with sandy beaches and calm waters, but no dog beaches in the entire county. Four Biloxi hotels are pet friendly, along with three campgrounds with pet friendly policies and numerous vacation rentals for pet families.
There is one off-leash dog park in Biloxi and another ten miles away in historic Gulfport at Seabee Dog Park. Dogs are not allowed on the beaches. One Biloxi beach front shop, Sharkheads, welcomes dogs into their store as long as the pet can be carried by the owner.
Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi
One Mississippi beach city welcomes pooches. There is a dog beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This historic Gulf Coast city is part of the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula metro area. There are several pet friendly vacation rentals for families traveling with their furry family members. Nearby Buccaneer State Park offers miles of beautiful white-sand beaches. Dogs are allowed on the beaches and in the campgrounds! Buccaneer State Park also features a 4.5 acre waterpark called Buccaneer Bay, but pets are not allowed in the waterpark or in cabins, restaurants or any other park building.