Located between the Cape Fear River and the North Atlantic Ocean, Bald Head Island is a small and remote spot in North Carolina where there are less than 160 residents and just a handful of vehicles. In fact, almost all of the residents here drive electric golf carts instead. To get to the island, you have to take a ferry from Southport and then catch a ride to the main part of town. In an effort to keep the island and the air clean, the only ones allowed to drive are government officials.
With a humid subtropical climate, the island stays pretty warm all year long, with summer highs in the upper 80s and winter highs in the upper 50s. Because of this, the island is a popular spot for outdoor activities, including parks and beaches. However, you may have to go to Carolina Beach or Kure Beach to find most of the dog-friendly beaches. We listed 15 of our favorites here for you and your canine companion to visit while you are in the area.
Bald Head Island Beach
To get to Bald Head Island Beach, you will need to take a ferry from Southport unless you have your own boat. But luckily, most of them are pup-friendly, and once you get to the beach, you will notice that the island is a whole wonderful leash-free haven for dogs! Although some of them have specific hours and days of the year, the main beach allows your pooch to enjoy the sand and surf all year unbound. Turtle nesting season is the only time you will have to use the leash because Bald Head Island is a protected turtle habitat.
South Beach boasts a long golden sand beach of just about three miles, where swimming is best due to the calmer waters. Since vehicles are not allowed, you will have to walk or rent a golf cart or bike. But that is what makes the island so beautiful and pollution-free. If you want to rent a kayak, beach chairs, or an umbrella, there are several rental shops here too. And if you get hungry, head to the Shoals Club, Horizons, or Jailhouse Provisions.
Just across Cape Fear River, Caswell Beach allows your pup to play all year long on a leash. But they can be unleashed from dawn until 9 AM from March 16th until October 16th. Just make sure your pooch is under voice control, and bring your own doggie bags to pick up anything your canine companion drops. This beach has almost three miles of sand to enjoy with your fur puppy, no matter what time of year it is.
The main attraction here (besides the ocean) is the 153-foot Oak Island Lighthouse. You and your pup will get an amazing and unique view of the ocean from the top if you are willing and able to climb the 131 steps to get there. Of course, you can also enjoy a swim, toss out a line to try to catch a seafood dinner, or rent a kayak to get out on the water.
Southport Waterfront Park
Also across Cape Fear River from Bald Head Island, Southport Waterfront Park has almost 10 acres with a large waterfront area (hence the name), sheltered picnic areas, a row of benches and porch swings along the water, and a lighted pier and boardwalk. Fishing here is popular with the locals, but it is not often crowded since it does not have the typical sandy beach on the ocean most tourists are looking for. And your dog is allowed at the park as long as he is on a leash at all times.
It is a great place to sit and watch the boats go by while Fido sniffs all the new and exciting scents that dogs crave. Bring a cooler with lunch and drinks or you can grab a bite at one of the nearby eating establishments like Oliver’s on the Cape Fear. Do not bring your pup in without asking permission, and bring puppy poo bags to pick up anything he drops.
Kingsley Street Park
Right next to Southport Waterfront Park, Kingsley Street Park is a little bit smaller, but it is also pup-friendly. Your canine companion will have to stay attached to his leash while you are there, but he is welcome to play in the grass or splash in the water. Just remember the doggie bags for cleaning up after him. There is also a fishing dock that extends out onto the waterway where you can fish or just sit on a swing and watch the water.
It is a busy spot for boating, and you will see lots of boats just about any day of the week all year long. You may also be able to spot some dolphins, sharks, or other marine animals too. The park also has picnic benches where you and your fur puppy can share a meal while enjoying the view. If you did not bring your own food and drinks, there are eateries and shops nearby.
Oak Island Beach
Fur babies that are leashed are allowed all year long on Oak Island Beach. But you can unleash your pup between October 15th and March 15th so he can swim, play frisbee, or chase a ball around the beach. Separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, the island is lined with 14 miles of beaches to explore. If you want to do some fishing, the Ocean Crest Pier is a popular spot to catch some whoppers. But be careful, people have caught sharks here as well.
Be sure not to mistake the Oak Island Pier for the Ocean Crest Pier, which is further west. The one in Oak Island does not allow dogs. You will also find bait shops and other small places where you can grab some snacks, beverages, and ice for a picnic with your fur baby. Make sure you ask permission before bringing your pup into any establishment, though.
May Moore Park
May Moore Park is on the other side of Oak Island, where the Intracoastal Waterway flows. This is the perfect spot for you and your best furry friend to explore the marshes and look for wildlife. Many people go here just to catch their bait they will need to go fishing on the other side of the island. This freshwater spot is hardly ever crowded as tourists flock to the beaches on the ocean, and many do not even know this one exists.
It may seem small compared to the vast sandy space on the other side, but without all the tourists, Fido is allowed to run around off the leash all the time. However, you may want to keep him close by because of all the wildlife, including alligators. The boardwalk and fishing dock are popular spots to watch for shore birds like pelicans, egrets, and herons, as well as geese, ibises, and osprey. Be sure to bring doggie bags and pick up after your pup.
Right next door to Oak Island, Holden Beach allows all dogs from Labor Day until Memorial Day, but during the summer season, they are only allowed before 9 AM and after 5 PM. One thing about Holden Beach is that it has several parks, including Sailfish Street Park, where you can play in the grass, have a picnic, or do some fishing in the canal. And Sanddollar Park is a bit smaller but has a sandy beach for you and your pooch to play on.
If you have the skillset and your canine companion is a waterdog, rent a kayak and get out onto the water. You will have a good chance of seeing dolphins or other marine life playing in the water. Or you can pack a lunch and share a meal with your fur puppy on the beach. There are also several restaurants with outdoor seating that might allow pets as well.
Ocean Island Beach
One island over, Ocean Island has about five miles of oceanfront to enjoy, including the main Ocean Isle Beach right in the middle. However, fur babies are not permitted on the beach between 9 AM and 6 PM from Memorial Day through Labor Day. At all other times, your pooch is welcome but must be on a leash at all times. The features here include basketball courts, soccer, and baseball fields, several pickleball and tennis courts, and picnic areas.
But the best part for most pup parents is the dog park. You can let your dog run and play without a leash in the fenced dog park all year long at any time. There is a separate area for small and shy dogs, too so you do not have to worry if your fur puppy is not big enough to play with the big dogs yet. With tons of space, lots of trees for shade, water fountains, and numerous seating areas for humans, you and your canine companion can spend the whole day here!
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area Beach
To the north of Bald Head Island, about 11 miles, leashed dogs are welcome all year long at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area Beach. With six miles of oceanfront and 288 acres to explore and enjoy, you and your canine compadre will be able to find all sorts of fun activities both on the water and the land. From hiking and biking to sailing and swimming, fishing, four-wheeling, and kayaking, you can do it all here! Be sure to get a fishing license if you want to fish, though.
There are several hiking trails with miles of salt marshes, forests, and even some historical sites. Take the one-mile Basin Trail to see a World War Two bunker and an observation deck with awesome views, or you can try the five-mile Beach Trail if you want something a little more challenging. Make sure you pack plenty of sunscreens, water, bug repellent, and doggie cleanup baggies.
Right next to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, you can find Kure Beach, which allows pups on the beach from October until April, and they have to be on a leash. The one difference here is that the leash can be as long as 15 feet! That means your pup can chase a ball or play frisbee, so bring some toys. There are three and a half miles of beachfront here with soft golden sand and clear blue waters to play on.
The beach is packed with eating establishments like Jack Mackerels Island Grill, which has outdoor seating so you and your pup can share a burger or some seafood. While you are at the beach, check out the Kure Beach Fishing Pier. It is over 700 feet long and has a concession stand, games, and a bait shop. It is a great place to fish for Spanish mackerel, whiting, and bluefish.
Your fur baby is welcome to join you on the beaches at Carolina Beach as long as he is on a leash the entire time you are there. However, from April until October, dogs are not allowed between 9 AM and 5 PM. Just a few miles up the road from Kure Beach, Carolina Beach has 44 different access points where you and your pooch can enjoy the sun and surf. Those with restrooms and showers include Sea Oats Lane, Alabama Avenue, Sandpiper Lane, and Hamlet Avenue.
The other beach access points are just plots of sand, but they all end up meeting each other, so if you happen to be at the Seahorse beach access and need a restroom, just walk down the beach to the Sandpiper lot. In fact, you can visit all 44 of these beaches in one day if you want to! Just start at the Texas Avenue Lot and keep going north until you reach Periwinkle public beach access.
Carolina Beach State Park
On the Cape Fear side of the island, Carolina Beach State Park has 761 acres featuring a long sandy beach on the river as well as Snows Cut Creek, which runs along the northern end of the park. You and your canine companion are welcome all year long here, but Fido will have to stay leashed here too. Although you cannot swim here, your pup can get his paws wet. Also, you can enjoy fishing on the fishing deck for flounder, speckled trout, bass, crappie, and sheepshead.
Hikers and bikers love Carolina Beach State Park for another reason. There are eight different trails from the easy quarter-mile Oak Toe Trail with the marsh overlook to the longer Sugarloaf Trail that has three miles of forest, swamp, and dunes. If you want to stay longer than the day, book one of their 80 campsites in advance. The campground has sites with full hookups as well as primitive sites with just picnic tables and fire rings.
Carolina Beach Lake Park
Just across the road from Carolina Beach, you will find Carolina Beach Lake Park. The freshwater lake boasts 11 acres between Alabama Public Beach Access and Pelican Public Beach Access. Your fur puppy is welcome at all times as long as he is on a leash. This fantastic lake was in the Book of World Records for being the closest freshwater reservoir to the ocean. But the best part about the park is how family-friendly it is.
You will notice a playground, several picnic areas with over a dozen picnic tables, a gazebo, and a walking trail that will give you a self-guided tour. The water is clear, and you are welcome to swim anytime or rent a kayak or boat from Wheel Fun Rentals. During the summer, there are many events, including the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and the Free Outdoor Movies on Sundays. Remember to bring doggie bags to pick up after your pup.
Hamlet Public Beach
Just north of Carolina Beach Lake Park, Hamlet Public Beach is another pup-popular oceanfront oasis for dogs on a leash. The only time your fur baby is not allowed on the beach is between 9 AM and 5 PM from April until October. Being one of the last of the public beaches on the Carolina Beaches strip, this is one where you may see a lot of locals. It has showers and restrooms, boat ramps, hiking and biking paths, as well as some great fishing spots.
It is perfect for swimming with your pup and playing in the sand, or you can even go snorkeling to see some of the beauty that lives under the water. Just keep your canine companion on his leash the whole time. There are also beach chairs and umbrella rentals here, which you will need if you plan to stay a while because there is not much shade.
Freeman Park Beach
After Salt March Public Beach Access on the Carolina Beach strip, dog-friendly Freeman Park takes up the rest of the island. You can have your canine companion off the leash from October to April so he can play fetch, chase a frisbee, and swim without having to be tied to you. The rest of the year, your pup is still welcome, but he has to be on a leash the whole time you are there. Also, you have to have at least two doggie bags at all times, according to the law.
This is a different kind of beach in that it allows four-wheel-drive vehicles on the sand, and camping on the beach is allowed from Labor Day until Memorial Day. That means you and Fido can hang around all weekend! This is a very popular spot all year long for fishing, crabbing, and camping, so make sure you book a site early if you want to stay overnight.
The Final Woof
Want to take a tour of the island? The Bald Head Island Conservancy has dog-friendly tours for you and your fur baby. Make sure you let them know you have a dog because some of their nature tours do not allow them. If you would rather take a tour of the water, TourH20 has pup popular kayak and pontoon tours of all the Brunswick Islands. Take a tour of the winery at Silver Coast Winery or enjoy a pint of craft beer at The Grape & Ale. Pups are welcome at both of these great places. Getting hungry yet? Take Fido to Fishy Fishy Cafe in Southport, where the food is even better than the scenery.