Located in New Hanover County, North Carolina, Wrightsville Beach is a small village with a population of just over 2,400 people. Just minutes from Wilmington, the city is a four-mile beach called Harbor Island and several areas of commercial property. It is also the place where Dawson’s Creek was filmed, which was a popular television show from 1998 to 2003. Wrightsville Beach was founded in 1725 by Charles Harrison, who purchased 640 acres from the Lord’s Proprietor.
The town was named for Joshua Wright, who began the first local realty company in the late 1800s. Outdoor activities are popular in Wrightsville Beach, maybe because the weather stays comfortable all year long. With winter highs in the upper 50s and summer highs in the mid-80s, parks, gardens, and beaches are the places to be. We found 15 pawsitively wonderful dog-friendly beaches in Wrightsville Beach for you and your pupster to enjoy.
Your fur puppy is welcome to play on any of the public beaches in Wrightsville Beach from October until April. Due to crowds and safety concerns, your pooch will have to visit a park or different beach during the summer. Also, you will need to make sure you keep your canine companion on his leash at all times while you are there. Do not forget to bring plenty of doggie cleanup baggies too, so you can pick up after your pup.
The city has 11 public access beaches for you to enjoy, from the Jetty at the South End of Wrightsville to the Shell Island Resort at the northern end. Most of them do not have official names. They are just known as Public Beach Access 2 through 40. The most popular include numbers 2 and 4 at the northern end of Lumina Avenue, probably because they have plenty of parking spots, showers, and restrooms.
Masonboro Island Reserve
Less than 10 miles to the southwest, the pup popular Masonboro Island Reserve is the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in southern North Carolina. Dogs are allowed all year long, but they have to be on a beach at all times, and you will need to bring your own doggie bags. Also, you can only reach the island by boat. If you do not have a boat, you can take the dog-friendly ferry.
There are 8.5 miles of waterfront to explore with your pup on this island, and you will likely see quite a few animals like sea turtles, shorebirds, foxes, raccoons, and deer. Please keep your dog from getting too close. In the water, you may see stingrays, dogfish, sharks, and skates. From shore, anglers often pull in flounder, trout, cod, hake, and catfish. There are several trails throughout the park as well, and camping is allowed in previously cramped areas.
Freeman Park Beach
On the island right next to Masonboro, Freeman Park is one of North Carolina’s most popular beaches because it is one of the very few beaches in the state where you can do some four-wheeling. Yes, if you have a 4×4 vehicle, you can drive it right onto the sand. You can also camp between Labor Day and Memorial Day. And your fur baby is allowed off the leash from October until April. All other times, he is still welcome but has to be leashed.
Letting your pup run and play on the sand and in the surf unrestrained is a blessing, as you can see how much fun he is having. Although it is nice to be at the beach regardless, having the freedom to play fetch or frisbee is awesome. One important note is that you have to have at least two doggie poo baggies with you at all times. If the park officials ask and you do not have them, you will have to leave, and you will be leaving with a big fine.
Long Leaf Park
Only six miles to the west, you can find Long Leaf Park. The best thing about Long Leaf Park, as far as Fido is concerned, is the dog park. Sure, it has a pond, playgrounds, picnic areas, and ball fields, too, but the dog park is where your fur buddy can romp around off the leash! In the middle of the park, just off Freedom Way and Lake Avenue, this fenced area is the perfect spot to hang out and let your pup get some exercise while you relax.
You could also bring a frisbee or ball to play fetch with your best furry friend so you can both move around some. There is a water spigot there as well as some water bowls and tennis balls (probably overeager balls from the tennis courts) but it is best to bring your own water and toys just in case. And go ahead and pack extra puppy poo bags for exploring the rest of the park.
This 60-acre park is located about two miles southwest of Long Leaf Park and is dog-friendly for friendly leashed dogs. Halyburton Park has 60 acres of mostly undeveloped green space and water, including marshes, lagoons, sandy hills, and lush green valleys. There are also several trails you can explore with your pup, including the 1.4-acre Cross City Trail that circles the whole place and the Green Trail that takes you to one of the best little lakes in the park.
If you have any little humans with you, they will enjoy the awesome playground with cool slides, climbing equipment, swings, and a jungle gym. The park also offers several programs, tours, and even snake and turtle feeding opportunities at the events center. You will have to ask about bringing your pup along. They will even take you on a free bird hike to find the most interesting parks. Kids can get nature backpacks full of fun activities too.
Two miles east of Halyburton Park, Wade Park is named after James E. L. Wade, who was a general assemblyman who promoted women’s voting in 1967 and was a major part of fixing up parks and roads in Hanover County. This park is a hidden gem where you and your canine companion can explore and enjoy the 17 acres anytime, as long as he is on a leash. You should also bring doggie bags to pick up anything your pup drops.
One of the most popular attractions here is the trail that takes you on a tour of the wetlands. You will meander along the waterway and over bridges for about half-mile. The creek is a fun place to let your pup play in and around the water but beware of snakes that live in the park. If you bring some food, take a seat at one of the picnic tables and enjoy a meal with your fur puppy. Keep an eye out for some of the local fauna, like raccoons, squirrels, and birds that may be looking for crumbs.
Greenfield Lake Park Beach
Greenfield Lake Park is another dog-friendly recreational space just about five miles southeast of Wade Park. It is a large 250-acre public park just south of the historic downtown area and runs along the western side of Greenfield Lake. Keep your pup’s leash on, and he is welcome to join you in any of the fun activities here, including hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. There are also playgrounds for the kids. The five-mile trail is a great way to get to know the place and see all that it has to offer.
You will see the skate park, amphitheater, picnic areas, and several playgrounds, as well as access points to the lake. Whether you want to do some fishing, go boating, or just splash in the water with your pooch, you can do all that here and more. The picnic areas have tables and barbecue grills so you can cook up some burgers when you get hungry but don’t forget to bring lots of doggie cleanup bags.
Trails End Park Beach
Head south to Trails End Park, where water sports are the main attraction! With a half-mile of beachfront on the Intracoastal waterway, this small park has a boat ramp that can handle any watercraft, from small kayaks to 22-foot vessels. And your pooch is welcome as long as he is on a leash at all times and is picked up after. Pack plenty of puppy poo bags so you can spend the whole day on the water.
One of the best things about Trails End Park is that not many people know about it. That means you do not have to worry about the huge crowds that hang out around Cape Fear. However, it is a popular spot with local fishermen and bird lovers. Most days, you can spot nearly 100 different species of birds in the park! Shorebirds, turtles, and even alligators also call this park home, so keep your eyes peeled. There are also public restrooms for your convenience.
Hamlet Public Beach
If you want a beach right on the ocean that does not have too many tourists, go south about nine miles to Hamlet Public Beach. It is not an official “beach” per se, but that is what makes it so perfect for those who do not like crowds. And since dogs are only allowed before 9 AM and after 5 PM from April through September, you probably will not see anyone around while you are there. That means you and your pup have the beach to yourselves.
The rest of the year, your canine companion is welcome anytime. Even if you are the only one there, your fur puppy will still need to be leashed the whole time you are there, and you need to pack lots of doggie bags to pick up after him. This is a really nice beach with restrooms, showers, fishing, biking, hiking, and even boat ramps. If you plan to stay a while, rent a beach umbrella because there is no real shade here.
Carolina Beach begins at Freeman Park and continues about 3.5 miles to the south until you get to Alabama Avenue. This long stretch of beach is sandwiched between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, giving you plenty of options for swimming and playing with your pup. But this is not just one big beach. It is separated between 44 different beach access points, from the large ones with showers, restrooms, and other amenities to tiny patches of sand with nothing else.
What’s more, leashed dogs are welcome at all of these public beaches all year long! The only restriction is that they cannot be on the beach from 9 AM to 5 PM from April to October. Some of the larger beaches with restrooms and showers include Sea Oats Lane, Alabama Avenue, Sandpiper Lane, and Hamlet Avenue. Lifeguards are stationed at 20 different spaces along the beach from Memorial Day until Labor Day from 10 AM until 6:45 PM.
Carolina Beach Lake Park
Carolina Beach Lake Park is a well-known place due to its vicinity to the ocean. In fact, you can find it in the Guinness Book of World Records because there is no other lake in the world as close to saltwater while still being freshwater. The 11-acre park is also the site of the annual Lighting at the Lake festival from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. And your pooch is allowed to join you here any time of the year as long as he has his leash on.
From swimming to fishing, boating, and picnicking, Carolina Lake has something for everyone. There is also a nature trail that lets you and your pup explore the whole park. And they have several different kinds of paddleboats and kayaks that you can rent right by the parking lot. The famous recreational spot also has a playground for the kids, four gazebos, and lots of waterfronts for your canine companion to sniff around and splash in the water.
Carolina Beach State Park
Across the island from Carolina Lake, Carolina Beach State Park is surrounded by the Cape Fear River and Snows Cut Intracoastal Waterway. This is another wonderful beach that pet parents love because they allow dogs all the time. However, he will need to be on a leash at all times. One of the most popular activities here is hiking. There are nine different trails ranging from a quarter mile to three miles, and leashed pups are welcome to join you.
Another great thing about this park is that you can camp in one of its 83 campsites. But you need to book far in advance due to the limited spots. When you are ready to get wet, head to the river, where you can rent a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak from Paddle NC. Or you and your fur baby can just spend the day sunning and splashing around in the water. Do not forget to bring doggie bags to pick up anything he drops.
Right next door but on the ocean side, Kure Beach is another dog-friendly place to play with your pup. Dogs are allowed on the beach at any time except for April until October when the tourists take over the sand. He will also have to be on a leash, but here, the leash can be up to 15 feet long, giving your canine companion more freedom to run. You can even play fetch or frisbee with that kind of leeway!
Kure Beach is actually a town with several different beach access spots. One of the best ones for families, according to locals, is the Ocean Front Park and Pavilion. You can sit on one of the swings and relax while your pup plays in the surf. And if you have any young humans, there is a nice big playground with a pirate ship theme that has slides and climbing and ride-ons. Remember to bring extra puppy poo bags.
Fort Fisher State Park Beach
Spread out between the ocean and the river, you can find Fort Fisher State Park right next door to Kure Beach. Keep your fur baby’s leash on, and he is welcome here all year long. Besides the gorgeous golden sand beaches, there is also a five-mile trail to enjoy along the beachfront and another shorter walk along the Basin Trail, where you can see the WWII bunker. Please keep your pup out of the marsh and watch for alligators and snakes.
Also, do not let your pooch near the loggerhead sea turtle nesting area or the piping plovers. Both are endangered and federally protected. Right near the entrance of the park, you will find the park office, concessions, restrooms, showers, and the swimming beach. There is also an aquarium there but they do not allow pets inside. If you have a boat, there is a launch site on Fort Fisher Boulevard by the ferry.
Topsail Beach is just minutes to the north of Wrightsville Beach. It is one of the smallest towns on the island and has historical significance. During WWII, the army constructed a temporary base and took over the whole island. After the war, the Navy took over and used it as a guided missile test site. In 1948, the original owners got the island back, but you can still see the missile assembly building and several tracking towers there.
The best part about this beach is the off-leash dog beach, where your pup can swim and play off his leash from October until May 14th. Other times, your pooch has to wear his leash, but he is still welcome to play in the sand and surf any time. The beach does not have Mutt Mitt dispensers, so bring plenty of doggie bags so you can stay all day. If you did not bring your own food, there are quite a few eateries along the island where you can grab something.
The Final Woof
If you do not have a boat but want to get out on the water, Cruise Cape Fear will take you and your fur puppy on a cruise. The narrated cruises are about 1.5 hours long, and the captain will also take you to some secret off-leash dog beaches. If you would rather have a tour on land, Tour Old Wilmington takes you to the three most historic homes, where you can learn all about the Victorian Era and what the city was like during the Civil War. Then you can take your canine companion shopping for some new toys and treats at Unleashed, the Dog and Cat Store, before you stop and grab some food at the South Beach Grill.