The Best Off Leash Dog Parks in America & Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit

whatley(ST. LOUIS, MO) It’s that time again! With Memorial Day just around the corner, millions of Americans find themselves with an itchy gas pedal foot. For those with even a tad of wanderlust, the mere thought of the open road, endless sky and the hum of an engine is enough to bring on a raging case of white stripe fever.

Who’s going along for the ride? Increasingly, it’s the family dog. According to the American Pet Products Association 2011/2012 National Pet Owners Survey, almost one-quarter of all dog owners (23%) report taking their pet on a car trip in the past 12 months and many of those lucky dogs have been on five or more long distance road trips within the last year!

Jean Ellen Whatley, author of Off the Leash, can relate. Except in her case, Jean grouped several destinations into one, long, journey. In the summer of 2011, Jean and her dog, Libby took to the two-lane highways of America for two months and nearly 9-thousand miles. Jean was on a writer’s quest to root out bits of family history. Libby’s mission was to sniff out some of the best off-leash parks in the country. Mission accomplished! Libby ripped and romped through grass, mud, sand, dirt and wood chips all the way from Brooklyn to the San Francisco Bay, led to many these off-the-beaten-path dog parks by a fantastic mobile app called DogGoes. For a gallery of photos featuring each of the parks, go to Off the Leash Road Stories on Facebook!

“We were thrilled that Jean and Libby road tested our mobile app all across America,” said Greg Holsclaw, President and founder of “Not only did we monitor their journey, visitors to the DogGoes site still benefit from the photos Jean uploaded from off-leash parks from North Carolina to California.”

“If not for DogGoes, I might still be wandering around the suburbs of Akron,” said Whatley. “Now, if I could just get someone to give me the GPS for the rest of life’s journeys!”

Armed with the street cred of visiting more than thirty off leash parks from coast-to-coast and based on Libby’s tail wagging, here is Libby’s Top Ten List, translated by the author.Whatley also took into account, exercise area, water, availability of shade, surrounding views and people watching at each off-leash park.

1. Huntington Beach Dog Park, Huntington Beach, CA - This passes the sniff test with high flying kites! My Missouri hound had never been to the ocean before! Even though it’s not an “official” off-leash dog park per se, you’d never know that by all the mutt lovin’ folks whose dogs are running free in the sand and surf. This is Surf City, U.S.A. after all. The views are fantastic ! The long strand of beach where the dogs roam free sits far below the PCH, so you don’t have to worry about them bolting for the freeway. These beach dogs are cool cats, some even surf! No kidding.
2. Hillside Dog Park, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, NY - Just about two blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge, Hillside Dog Park lives up to its name. It’s 2-acres covered in natural wood chips, where dogs can rip and run, across hill and dale, whatever a dale is. There’s plenty of shade, picnic tables, also a small “forest” next to the BQE, which terrified me  when I lost sight of Libby, but,  there’s a ten foot fence. The park is shady, features doggie drinking fountains, and when your dog is worn out, you can take a leisurely stroll over to Brooklyn Bridge Park and there’s plenty of dog friendly sidewalk cafes nearby too.
3. Montrose Dog Beach, Chicago, IL - This was a good place for Libby to get her feet wet, her first ever water experience other than a garden hose.  Montrose Dog Beach, occupies the Northwest corner of Montrose Beach off N. Lake Shore Drive. There’s a small enclosed park, which separates the big dogs from the small, both open onto the wide open spaces of the beach, which has a wooden slat fence on either end as a line of demarcation that this stretch of sand is where the mutts roam free. Great views of the Chicago skyline. Super friendly people.
4. Piedmont Dog Park Atlanta, GA - Smack dab in the middle of one of the oldest, and grandest parks in Atlanta, the Piedmont Dog Park is one of the best planned, most human and dog friendly parks in the country. Even under the blazing Georgia sun, the 3-acre dog run afforded plenty of shade, benches and restrooms (a novelty for off-leash parks) even a refreshment stand! Libby and I met a nice couple from Mississippi, who drive more than 100-miles a week to bring their brute of a speckled, long-haired Daschund, Cooper for his weekly constitutional.
5. Akron Dog Park at Cascade Valley Park - Akron, OH Want to know how friendly the doggie owners are who take their pups to this park? A woman in the parking lot, offered to put me and Libby up for the night! Total strangers! And even though this particular off-leash leisure land was a bit hard to find, (lots of winding roads through tree draped residential streets) the payoff was worth the journey. The Akron Dog Park, run by a group called BARC, Better Akron Recreation for Canines, features wonderful grassy areas, shade and benches for  us parents to chat while we watch our kids on the doggie playground equipment. Yep, I’m serious. Akron rocks!
6. Ouray Dog Park, Albuquerque, NM - My old home town has more dog parks per capita than any other city I visited in a 49-city, 21-state tour! Hard to choose a fave dog park in Albuquerque. Do you want a view of the mountains to the east, or the volcanoes to the west? Libby and I visited four dog parks in the Duke City, , but if I had to choose, I’d say it’s Ouray Park, clean, shaded, easy to get to, friendly dogs, not too crowded and the views? Breathtaking. The absolute best part of this dog park visit, sharing the bench with my little brother J.R.
7. Laurel Canyon Dog Park, Los Angeles - If dog parks charged admission, this one would be a cha-ching machine! Libby’s jaw dropped when she saw the three-acre expanse of desert trails and the wide array of dogs. It was like the United Nations of the canine world. In addition to us, every day, ordinary dog park aficionados, the Laurel Canyon Dog Park, on Mulholland Drive (yes, that Mulholland Drive) hosts dog walkers to the rich and famous. On any given day, movie star dogs mix and mingle among us mutts.
8. Washington Park Dog Park, Winston-Salem, NC - A river runs through it, well, a creek by any other name. Let’s just say this is lush, my friends. With all the beauty and shade of what you’d expect to find in a Carolina park, this one-acre fenced off-leash area, which separates the big dogs from the small, has the extra bonus of a that the dogs can swim in the creek when the humidity gets a tad bit high. Like every day.  Added bonus: just a few blocks away from great BBQ and sweet tea. Just don’t forget to take a towel to cover your car seat.
9. McCarren Park Dog Run - Brooklyn, NY -  Brooklyn’s on the tote board twice! This small, but mighty off-leash park, nestled in the middle of the 35-acre McCarren Park in Williamsburg is both friendly and fascinating. With all the usual amenities, from park benches to doggie fountains and mud baths for the mutts, this park affords some of the best people watching on the East Coast. I met a future rock star here, Elle King, with her white dog, Blue. New Yorkers, man, they’re the best.
10. Treecourt Dog Park, St. Louis, MO  - Treecourt, in the St. Louis burb of Kirkwood is where it all began. This was where I recorded the first time that Libby had EVER been allowed to run, Off the Leash. With it’s magnificent shade, several acres, kiddie pools intended just for dogs, friendly St. Louisans, (my adopted home!) and wonderful and welcoming initiators to the life of off-the-leash freedom, Treecourt will always reign supreme in both my mutt’s heart and mine.

Tips for Visiting Off-Leash Parks at Home or On the Road

  1. Make sure your dog’s shots are up to date. If you are traveling out of state, certain areas of the country require different immunizations. Check the city parks guide.
  2. Temperament test your dog before letting them go in a park. Afford your dog opportunities to meet and greet other dogs in a public place, (regular city park, dog friendly places) before you unleash them in a dog park.
  3. Visit the specific website for the dog park you’d like to visit to learn more about potential aggressive behavior, rules and reputation.
  4. Try first time visits on a weekday if possible, the weekend crowd might prove overwhelming to your dog.
  5. Take a water and dog towel. Don’t bring favorite toys, because the dogs will fight over them. Above all else, clean up after your dog. Most parks have bags, but keep some with you, along with hand sanitizer.

Kristina Blank Makansi, Publisher -  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., - 314.363.4546