15 of the Best Canine-Friendly Beaches in Wilmington NC

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Located on the southern tip of North Carolina, Wilmington is a port city between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Fear River. With a population of just over 300,000, this is one of the most populated cities in the state and was ranked the Best American Riverfront by USA Today’s readers in 2014. The city boasts 70 city parks as well as two national parks and one state park, so there is plenty of outdoor spaces to visit. 

You will also find dozens of beaches along the ocean as well as the river. Cape Fear is a popular river with almost 20 miles of waterfront in the city. 

Many of the parks and beaches allow dogs, but it is best to know which ones before you rush off to the beach. River Road Park is one of the best on Cape Fear, and there are 13 more public beaches on the ocean in Carolina Beach. We listed 15 of the best dog-friendly beaches in Wilmington to help you out. 

Freeman Park Beach

Located on Pleasure Island, the dog-friendly Freeman Park welcomes dogs all year. However, from October 1st to March 31st, dogs are allowed off-leash as long as they are under voice command and their owner is near. And they have to be kept on a leash between April 1st and September 30th. This is a popular park along Carolina Beach, one of the last undeveloped stretches of beach in the area. It is frequented by four-wheel drive owners who like to cruise on the sand.

No matter what time of year you go, the rules say you must have at least two waste baggies at all times to clean up after their pooches. If you are asked by the rangers, you have to show your bags or get a fine, so make sure you have them. This two-mile stretch of beach along the Atlantic Ocean is a fun place to spend the day with your fur baby. You can even camp on the beach from Labor Day until Memorial Day.

Fort Fisher State Park Beach

Between Cape Fear and the Atlantic, Fort Fisher State Park has a sensational beach where you and your fur buddy are allowed to play in the sand and the surf as long as you keep him on a leash. The wide stretch of beach is pawfect for your pup to play and swim with other water dogs while you enjoy the sunshine and friendly pooch parents. Although they provide Mutt Mitts, you should still bring your own because they are strict about cleaning up after your pup. 

While you are at the park, you may see the loggerhead turtle nesting site. Please keep your canine companion away from them. Bring a fishing pole and some bait so you can try your luck at fishing in the ocean or the river. There is also a one-mile trail that you and your pooch can explore and picnic tables to use for a bite to eat. 

Carolina Beach State Park

In between Freeman and Fort Fisher Parks, you can find Carolina Beach State Park on the Cape Fear River side of the island.  Your fur baby is welcome to join you on a leash on the beach as well as at the campsites of this state park. You will love the rugged natural waterfront and more than 760 acres of space here, with over 50 campsites and cabins if you want to stay the night.

Besides the beaches along the river, this green space is well-known for its many trails. There are nine trails totaling 8.5 miles of hiking. The shortest ones, Oak Toe and Track Trails, are only ¼ miles each, while the longest is Sugarloaf, with three miles. The rest are all between ½ miles to one mile each. Besides all that, you can also rent kayaks and take your pup out for a boat ride, do some fishing, or have a picnic. 

Carolina Beach

Just on the other side of the island from the state park, Carolina Beach has several public beaches. Your pup is allowed any time from October through March, but dogs are not allowed between 9 AM and 5 PM the rest of the year. The only place you cannot bring your dog is on the boardwalk, including the amusement park. Violating this rule can get you a $250 fine! There are quite a few beaches along the ocean where you and your fur baby can play. 

In addition, Carolina Lake Park is another pup-loving park. It has 11 acres of grass, playgrounds, a beach, and picnic areas. You can reserve one of the four pavilions if you have a lot of people with you. During the summer, there is a market on Saturday mornings and free outdoor movies on Sunday evenings. And during the winter, the Island of Lights celebration is outstanding. 

Kure Beach

For a fun dog-friendly beach that has many different public beach access points along the coastline, Kure Beach is your cure. Your canine companion is welcome here from October 1st until March 31st. They must be on a leash no longer than 15 feet while you are there. Between April and September, dogs are prohibited on the beach. Bring sunscreen and plenty of towels, as well as drinking water and dog waste bags to pick up after your pooch. 

One great thing about Kure Beach is the abundance of eateries around the eastern end of the beach. If you want burgers and beers, try Bud & Joe’s SandBar or Beach House Burgers. For seafood, check out Ocean View or Jack Mackerels. You can also go fishing from the pier, and you do not even need a fishing license. Most anglers catch whiting and bluefish here, but you may see some croakers and mackerel. Just be sure to clean up after yourself and your dog.

Joe Eakes Park

Right behind Kure Beach, Joe Eakes Park is a fun place for you and Fido to play for a while. It is on 7th Avenue and has all sorts of amenities and activities. There is a disc golf course with 18 holes, basketball courts, and baseball fields as well as pickleball, tennis, and bocce ball courts. The park also has quite a few picnic areas with tables to enjoy a meal with your fur baby. 

But the best part about Joe Eakes Park is Gurney Hood Barking Lot, which is an awesome three-acre dog park. You can take off the leash and put it away, sit back on a bench in the shade of the palm and oak trees, and watch your pup romp and play with other pups. Here you will find two separate fenced spaces for big and small dogs, several water fountains, and kiddie pools, as well as a garden hose and doggie waste bags. 

Wrightsville Beach

Leashed pets are welcome on Wrightsville Beach during the off-season, which is from October 1st to March 31st. The beach takes up the entire oceanside of Shell Island and features over a dozen different public beach access points. Besides the sandy beaches and clear blue waters of the Atlantic, you and your pup can also enjoy covered picnic shelters, ball fields, gardens, and gardens. There are two piers here where you can toss in a line to catch some fish. 

The park also has restrooms (some with showers), water fountains, and trash cans to get rid of your doggie bags. There are pickleball and tennis courts, too so your pooch can almost always find an errant ball lying around. When you get hungry, you can find more than a dozen eateries, including South Beach Grill, Oceanic, and Shark Bar & Chicken. On the back side of the island, Banks Channel is also available for swimming, boating, and fishing, as is Lollipop Bay.  

Topsail Island Beach

On Topsail Island, you will find over 25 public beaches that allow dogs all year long. During the off-season, from October 1st until May 14th, your pooch can even run around off the leash as long as he is voice-controlled. You should always have doggie cleanup baggies to remove any dog deposits your pup may leave, as well as sunscreen and drinking water. You do not want your canine companion drinking sea water, or he will get very sick. 

Besides swimming and playing in the sand, there are plenty of other things to do on Topsail Island. The Beach Shop & Grill is a nice casual bistro with seafood and adult beverages and serves it outside on the patio so Fido can join you. Just remember that your dog has to be up-to-date on vaccinations and have a rabies tag. You should also bring your own puppy poo bags. And when your buddy is on a leash, it has to be no longer than 10 feet long. 

Topsail Beach Dog Beach

On Topsail Dog Beach, your fur baby can be leash-free from October 1st through March 31st. All other times, he is welcome, but he must be on a leash. Located on Topsail Island, you will find this nice area just four miles east of the bridge. There is an elevated wood pavilion with a ramp where you and your pupster can walk down to the beach. It is packed with golden sand and clear blue ocean water, as well as restrooms, water fountains, and showers. 

No need to bring snacks! If you get hungry, they have concession stands where you can grab some burgers, fries, hot dogs, and drinks. Or you can walk down the beach to the restaurants in the middle of the island. There is Surf City Line Seafood, Margaritas Mexican Cantina, and Hulas Bar & Grill. At the other end of the island, you can find Seaview Pier Restaurant, Splash by the Sea, and Beach Bums Pizza Bar & Grill. 

Bald Head Island Beach

Hop on the dog-friendly ferry to get to Bald Head Island, where you can find 14 miles of clean, sandy beaches, 65 in all. This is the perfect area for pooch parents because all the beaches allow your pup to run around off his leash. The only time you need to put him on a leash is from sunrise to sunset during turtle nesting season from May 1st to August 31st. Your fur baby can dig in the sand, play fetch, and splash in the water any time of the year. However, it does get cold at night during the winter months. 

If you and your pup want to do some surfing or boogie boarding, East Beach is a great spot. And they rent whatever you need at the Riverside Adventure Company nearby. For those who want to enjoy Cape Fear, the river runs all through this area so take your pick. The wide beaches seem to extend everywhere, with certain amenities in different areas. Some of the beaches have restrooms and showers, as well as drinking water and concessions. 

Oak Island Beach

With 10 miles of beachfront, Oak Island allows dogs all year long, but you have to keep them on a leash. There are 60+ beach access spots, many of which allow dogs. They can even play off their leash from October 15th until March 15th! You will find this huge island just to the west of Bald Head Island near Fort Caswell. Some of the most popular beaches include Long, Yaupon, and Caswell Beaches. In fact, Caswell is one of the Top 5 Dog-Friendly Beaches in NC. 

If you have a kayak or boat, the island has over a dozen marinas and about 40 boat access areas. Or you can take your pooch out on a paddleboard when the waters are calm. Always check the Water Safety Stations at each beach before heading into the water. If you see anything besides green, keep your fur buddy close to the shore, and always bring plenty of doggie waste bags. 

Gurney Hood Barking Lot 

Located at Joe Eakes Park, who needs a beach when you have a swimming pool? Bring your fur baby to play off-leash at Gurney Hood Barking Lot. This fenced-in dog park includes separate large and small dog areas, dog drinking fountains, and dog toys to enjoy. You will find it in the northeastern corner of the park with three acres of fenced play area for all dogs to enjoy the fun without being restrained. 

For the pooch parents, you can enjoy the shaded seating and peace of mind knowing your dog is safe to have fun with other pups. The park provides kiddie pools and a garden hose for filling it up during the summer or cleaning the sand off your canine companion before getting back in the car. Yes, the park is mostly sand, which is great for your dog because they love to dig! Although the park has Mutt Mitt stations, bring your own bags just in c

Hugh MacRae Dog Park

This dog park is located at Hugh MacRae Park, which is also known as Long Leaf Park. Right in the middle of Wilmington, this large park boasts several baseball diamonds, soccer fields, basketball, and an outdoor gym for everyone. There are also six picnic shelters with grills, playgrounds (one with a wheelchair swing), and restrooms, as well as an equestrian ring and splash pads. 

The 1.5-mile walking trail is great for you and your pup to get in a workout while enjoying nature. Be sure to check out the gardens. But the main spot your dog will love here is the dog park. It has a separately fenced section for small and large dogs and doggie waste bags to clean up after your pup. The water features here will keep your dog cool during the summer or you can let him cool off in the pond outside the dog park. 

Ogden Dog Park 

Instead of the beach, take your canine companion to an off-leash dog park with a lake! The Ogden Dog Park is a section of Ogden Park with a fenced space for off-leash play. The park is mostly sand and has plenty of shade for dogs and their pup parents. There is also a faucet to fill up a bowl for your pooch. They even have bowls in case you forgot to bring one. They also have dog poo baggies to pick up after him. 

The park has a separate space for smaller and elderly dogs who do not like to play so much. You may notice that there are a lot of pine needles here that can get stuck in your fur baby’s coat, but that is the joy of having large healthy shade trees. When you venture outside the fenced area, make sure your pooch is on a leash. You can enjoy the ball fields and tennis courts and watch the fun at the skate park. 

Riverfront Park

Would you rather let your fur baby play in the river? Riverfront Park is a large greenspace along the Cape Fear River where you can let your pup play as long as he is on a leash. The park has a variety of amenities, such as restrooms, water fountains, and seating areas. You will also find a water feature, playgrounds, urban gardens, a festival plaza, and a stage where they host live music and other events. 

The park boasts almost 11 acres and has awesome views of the river and the Isabel Holmes Bridge, where you and your pup can get some fun selfies. The Great Lawn and Performance Lawn are both large pieces of green fields where you and your dog can play frisbee or fetch. Just use a longer leash, so he has room to run. You will need to check with the park personnel to find out if your dog can attend the festival and other events here. 

The Final Woof

If the weather is not cooperating or if you just need to do something besides the beach, Wilmington has plenty of other fun attractions that are dog-friendly. If you want to go shopping, take your pup to Unleashed, the Dog and Cat Store located in historic Wilmington downtown. You can also give your dog a bath here outside if he is still dirty from the beach. Or go enjoy an adult beverage with other dog lovers at Ruff Draft, a dog-lovers bar. There is a large grassy area out back where your canine companion can play with his friends while you enjoy a drink with your own pooch parent friends.

Photo of author
Patty Oelze is a freelance writer who is also in the process of getting her PhD in Psychology. She has been writing about dogs and other critters for about 10 years and has a plethora of animals at her home including several cats, some chipmunks, a dozen raccoons, two foxes, one coyote, and herds of deer. She and her husband have been living in the Missouri Ozarks for years where she enjoys taking care of wildlife, fishing, photography, boating, and of course, writing.

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