15 Best Dog-Friendly Vacation Destinations in Iowa

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dogs are posing at the riverside in a dog friendly vacation in lowa

Iowa is an upper midwestern state that has been inhabited for over 12,000 years. After the French explorers came in 1673, it was claimed by France, and it was fought over for many years. It was 1803 before the United States got the state through the Louisiana Purchase. The state is known as The Hawkeye State to many but nobody is sure whether it is an honor of Black Hawk, a Native American Chief, or a character named Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans. 

The state is bordered by Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin but also has several rivers along its border including the Mississippi, Missouri, and Big Sioux Rivers. There are approximately 3.2 million residents in Iowa and an estimated 500,000 dogs, so you know the state has plenty to offer pups and their pup parents. 

There are four national parks, four state forests, 83 state parks, and hundreds of county, city, and community parks, as well as numerous lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams to enjoy with your fur baby. With cold winters and hot summers, you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, as well as swimming, boating, and fishing. Here are our top 15 vacation destinations in Iowa for pup parents. 

Des Moines 

Des Moines is the capital of the state and has over 200,000 people living there with their 50,000 pups. One thing about this city is that it has some great deals on hotels. You can find over 50 of them that allow dogs and nine that are under $100! For example, the AmericInn by Wyndham Johnston is only $62 and has an indoor pool and a gym. Ramada by Wyndham also has an indoor pool and gym as well as a restaurant, bar, and free breakfast for just $70.

While you are in town, take your pup with you to see the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. It is free, and your leashed cuddly canine is welcome to join you on a walk through the 4.4-acre park. If you enjoyed that, go ahead and head over to the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens, which is also free. It has an incredible pond with waterfalls.

Afterward, let your pupster run amok off the leash at the Raccoon River Dog Park. It has 10 acres of fenced play space with agility equipment, trails, water, and waste stations. You can get a one-day pass from Parks and Rec for just $5.  


With 85 acres and 21 different trails of stunning terrain, Sundown Mountain Resort is an awesome winter retreat for pup parents to enjoy. Even though your fur baby cannot go on the ski lifts or slopes, they are welcome on some of the trails. And Sundown has it all, from a Kids’ Park for those 10 years and younger where they can learn from the best to the experts-only Gun Barrel. 

This is a fantastic place for couples with dogs because they have an adorable bed & breakfast right between the river and the ski resort. The private suite even has a fireplace.  And if you want to try the shortest and steepest railroad ride in the world, hop on one of the Fenelon Place Elevator Company Cars. Your pup is welcome to join you on a leash, but they have to be small enough to fit on your lap.

Make sure you do not miss the Mississippi Riverwalk. No matter what the weather, this is a fine way to give your pup (and yourself) some exercise with a gorgeous view. 

Effigy Mounds National Monument Park 

In the northeastern corner of Iowa in the small city of Marquette, the Effigy Mounds National Monument Park is also dog-friendly for dogs on a leash. He is not allowed in the visitor center and you have to keep him from disturbing any of the park sites. Also, be sure to bring plenty of doggie bags to pick up after him. There are about eight dog-friendly trails in the park.

The Yellow River Boardwalk is an easy one-mile trek through the marsh and over the river. Six of the rest of the trails have a 350-foot elevation gain, making them moderately challenging to difficult depending on the length. The Fire Point Loop takes you to more than 25 mounds, including the Little Bear and Great Bear Mounds. 

The most difficult is the seven-mile Hanging Rock, with a 600-foot elevation gain. Do not attempt this if you have never hiked before or if you or your pup are not in excellent health. 


Pack up the kids and your fur puppy and take them all to Waterloo for a family vacation. After checking in at the hotel, drop off Fido at Camp Run-A-Mutt, where he can play all day while you take the family to  Lost Island Themepark. This fun place has 90 acres with five different themed areas. Each one is a realm of its own, including the Tamariki (Spirit), Udara (Air), Awa (Water), Mura (Fire), and Yuta (Earth).

There are 24 rides with three roller coasters and two water rides. It is a relatively new park, opened in 2022. Besides rides, you can also see a show, meet the mascots, do some shopping, play games in the arcade, and eat at one of the many different eating establishments. Carnival food is always delicious! 

Afterward, take your pooch to the Paw Park if he is not too tired from playing all day. This fenced pooch playground has a separate small dog space, a covered shelter, and water for everyone.

Iowa City 

Iowa City has just 75,000 residents and about 12,000 dogs but you will likely run into quite a few of them at the dog parks in town if the weather is nice. There are two main dog parks. The Thornberry Dog Park has 11 acres separated into four sections. The small dog yard is for dogs under 18 inches, Emma’s Run is for unsociable dogs, Lucky Pawz Playground is the largest with lots of paths and fun, and Lily’s Pond has its own 15-foot deep pond. 

The other dog park, Rita’s Ranch, has three acres inside Scott Park with a Lucky Pawz Playground area, water, and a waste station. If you want more variety, your leashed dog is welcome at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. They have a lake with boats, fishing, a picnic area with grills, and playgrounds.  

For some history, take your pooch to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. It has almost 190 acres featuring where President Hoover was born and where he is buried. 

Ledges State Park 

If you like camping, take your pup to Madrid, Iowa to visit Ledges State Park. It is not a huge park but it has over 1,100 acres of unique terrain with sandstone cliffs, caves, and miles of hiking. But the best part is the campground. There are 97 sites to choose from, some with full hookups while others have just electricity and water. Others do not have hookups but they all have water, showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings. 

The park runs all the way to the Des Moines River, where you can explore the water in a canoe or kayak, do some fishing for bass, catfish, and crappie, or get in the water and play. Your cuddle buddy can join you as long as he is on a leash. The Peas Creek is also nearby and offers shallow water for pups and kids who cannot swim well. 

Take a walk along one of the easy nature trails or have a picnic at one of the picnic areas by the stream or river. It is the perfect place for a summer trip.


It is small-town charm at its finest and the perfect place to take your honey on a romantic getaway. You can even bring your pooch because Pisgah is dog-friendly. You can start out at the Loess Hills Bed & Breakfast, where you can see the rolling hills right from your room. The cozy place has just four rooms individually themed and adorable so you have to book way in advance. And, as the name states, they serve a delicious home-cooked breakfast every day.

With only about 250 people and an estimated 40 dogs, you may see some of them out and about during the warmer months, especially at the Loess Hills State Forest, where there is plenty to do. The forest has 11,484 acres in the heart of the Loess Hills. This is a unique ridge formed by wind-blown soil over thousands of years. 

They have 60 miles of trails that take you all over, and Fido is welcome as long as he is leashed. With the Missouri River running through it, you can find a romantic spot for a waterfront picnic too.

Cedar Rapids

In east central Iowa, you can find the city of Cedar Rapids, named for the Cedar River that runs right through it. There are 137,000 people and approximately 22,000 canine companions in Cedar Rapids, so you will probably see some of them hanging out at the river or at one of the dog parks. The city is affordable, too, with 10 hotels that have rooms under $100. In fact, AmericInn is under $50 and has a pool, free breakfast, and a fitness center. 

While you are in town, take your pup to see Indian Creek Nature Center where there are over 200 acres of woods, prairies, and wetlands with a variety of flora and fauna. Keep your pup on a leash and he can join you on the nature trails. Bring doggie bags for pickups.

Make sure you let Fido off the leash for a while at Cheyenne Dog Park. The fully fenced 13.8-acre park has a separate small dog yard, a training yard, and a main yard. There is also a nature trail, benches, and a shelter. 

Honey Creek State Park 

Located in Moravia on the banks of Rathbun Lake, Honey Creek State Park is a perfect place for a lake vacation with your fur buddy. The park has its own dog-friendly resort, so you do not have to look too hard for a place to stay. They even have a presidential suite with a living room, kitchen, wet bar, whirlpool tub, and separate bedroom. But if you want to get the most out of your lake adventure, why not choose one of the 149 campsites?

The 11,000-acre lake has a variety of fish to catch including crappie, bass, walleye, and catfish. You can rent a boat from the park if you want to get out there further but you will need an Iowa fishing license though. You will also find playgrounds for the kiddos, picnic areas, restrooms with showers, a boat dock, and hiking trails. 

The marina and camp store has all of your needs from ice for the cooler to bait for the fishing pole. They also have food, drinks, life jackets, and fishing equipment.


One of the most populated cities in Iowa, Davenport has approximately 385,000 humans and around 60,000 fur babies. Located in the southeastern section of the state, Davenport is known as Iowa’s Front Porch because of its many friendly neighborhoods, parks, and historic sites. Treat yourself and your pup to a luxurious stay at Hotel Blackhawk, where they have a spa, indoor pool with a hot tub, and even an on-site bowling alley, as well as a restaurant, bar, and room service. Your pup even gets a doggie basket.

The city has more than 50 parks and trails that are dog-friendly, including Centennial Park on the river, which even has its own dog park (Davenport Dog Park) with agility equipment, a walking path, benches, a small dog section, and water fountains. Summer days here are popular.

When it starts to get dark, pack your pup in the car and head to the Blue Grass Drive-In Theater, where you can watch a couple of movies. Your dog is welcome on a leash, and you can even order pizza delivered right to you.

Mount Crescent Ski Area 

Just 13 miles from Missouri Valley, Iowa, Mount Crescent Ski Area is another fun place to spend the winter with your cuddly canine companion. You can pick from several dog-friendly hotels, including Americas Best Value Inn, where they have a restaurant and free breakfast, Super 8, which has a golf course, restaurant, and free breakfast, and Travelodge, which has a golf course and a gym. 

You will have to leave your pup at doggie daycare because the mountain does not allow dogs for safety reasons. They do have snow from December through March and you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and night skiing. They also have rental equipment, lessons, a lounge, a bar, and ski runs up to 2,400 miles long with a vertical drop of 300 feet on 50 acres. 

Afterward, pick up your pup and take him to the Little Willow Dog Park. It has a separate small dog area, ramps, weave poles, A-frames, tunnels, and shade shelters with seating. 

Arnolds Park 

You will not find many people and pups in town with just 1,100 residents but you will find lots of people at Arnolds Park, making it a great place for a family vacation. First of all, the city is a resort town with a dog-friendly resort right in town. The Fillenwarth Beach Resort is right on West Lake Okoboji, allows pups, and has an awesome pool. What’s more, it is just a mile from the Arnolds Park Amusement Park. 

Although dogs are not allowed at the park, he can stay at a dog daycare that has its own park. Then, you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the 23 carnival rides, including three coasters, one water ride, an arcade, food, a beach, and live entertainment. You can also rent jet skis or take a ride on the Queen II boat. 

Although your pup cannot join you at Arnolds Park Beach, Pillsbury Point State Park has a pup-popular beach or you can visit the Minnewashta Lake State Park, Lower Gar State Recreation Area, or Gull Point State Park, which all have dog-friendly beaches. 


Spend the weekend in Osceola with your pooch where you can do everything from walk in the forest to gambling in a casino. In fact, the Lakeside Casino Hotel is dog-friendly and has its own casino with 600+ slot machines, video games, and table games like poker, blackjack, and roulette. There is also an indoor pool, gym, two restaurants, a bar, and it is right on West Lake where you can go fishing and swimming.

While you are in town, take your pup to Stephens State Forest for some outdoor fun. There are more than 15,000 acres, including several state parks, ponds, and three campgrounds. You can go hiking, biking, and fishing with your leashed cuddle buddy. Just remember to bring doggie bags for easy cleanup. 

Lauren’s Bark Park is a fun way to finish the day while letting your puppers get rid of some excess energy. It has a special area for small dogs, benches for pup parents, and plenty of room for a game of fetch. 

Sioux City 

Sioux City has about 86,000 people and approximately 14,000 dogs so you will likely see some of them out and about in Sioux City because of all the dog-friendly parks. Bacon Creek Park has lots of space to play and a small dog section too. John Douangdara Dog Park is another fun place for pups. It is located at Siouxland Freedom Park and has a variety of play features, picnic tables, water fountains, and waste stations. 

Stone State Park is also dog-friendly but your pooch has to be on a leash. You can explore 15 miles of trails, have a picnic, and even camp there if you want to. Then, stop for a beer and a slice of delicious pizza at Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom. Your pup is welcome to join you on the patio. 

After dinner, take your pup to Cold Stone Creamery where they have special doggie ice cream and snacks. You will love this place and so will your fur baby. 


Last but not least, Altoona is a wonderful place to take the kids for a summer break. Adventureland Park has 50+ rides including seven roller coasters, 24 water rides, and a variety of games, eateries, and shops as well as shows and other entertainment. Unfortunately, Fido will have to miss out on this one but there is an awesome doggie daycare called Petsakes where he can have fun while you and the kids do. 

This awesome amusement park has been in business since 1973 and has so much to do, you will have to get there early and stay all day. The rides are spread out over 180 acres so wear your comfortable shoes and you can visit all 11 themed areas including Outlaw Gulch, Last Frontier, Dragon Island, and Bernie’s Barnyard. 

Don’t miss the Living History Farms. Your leashed pupster is welcome to join you and the kids at this 500-acre outdoor museum with trails, tractor rides, and some really cool exhibits. 

The Final Woof

Iowa has over 1,100 dog-friendly rental properties, including seven bed and breakfasts and 50 campgrounds, as well as 430 pup-popular restaurants, 45 off-leash dog parks, and over 120 pet-friendly trails. Couples with dogs enjoy Dubuque for its cute and cozy bed and breakfast with a fireplace and ski resort. Family vacationers can choose from several fun cities including Waterloo with its Lost Island Themepark, Altoona’s Adventureland Park, and Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Arnolds Park. For a winter break, Mount Crescent Ski Area has all sorts of snow activities. Those on a tight budget can save money by choosing an inexpensive hotel in Cedar Rapids or Des Moines.

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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