15 Best Dog-Friendly Vacation Destinations in North Carolina

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dog is feeling joyful in a dog friendly vacation in north carolina

You can find North Carolina in the southeastern United States, surrounded by Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and the Atlantic Ocean. With just over 10.4 million residents, there are also about 1.7 million dogs living there. Pepsi and Krispy Kreme donuts were first created in North Carolina. It is also the largest producer of sweet potatoes. But before you head to North Carolina for a glass of Pepsi, sweet potato casserole, and donuts, learn more about the state. 

The state has nearly 300 miles of coastland with over 25 beaches. Some of these are dog-friendly but many do not allow pups on the sand so make sure you know the rules on the beach before you go. This includes Cape Hatteras and numerous barrier islands. There are also a lot of mountains including the King’s Pinnacle, Uwharrie, Pilot, Sauratown, Crowder’s, Brushy, and South Mountains.

Summers are hot and winters are mild with lows in the 40s in January and highs in the 80s in July, making the state a popular place for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing, and camping. With almost 14,000 dog-friendly vacation rentals, 2,899 restaurants, 135 dog parks, and 34 dog beaches, there is plenty to do in North Carolina. 


With 470,000 people and about 78,000 dogs, Raleigh is one of the top dog cities in North Carolina. There are over 200 parks and 10 off-leash dog parks in the city. Luckily, it stays warm in Raleigh all year long, so you can enjoy all the outdoor recreation all year long. If you like to hike, this is a good place for it, with over 180 miles of trails. The park with the most trails is William B. Umstead State Park, with 21 awesome trails, including 10 that are easy and 11 that are more challenging. 

Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve also has some great trails to explore and Lake Johnson Park has several as well. For something longer, try the Falls Lake Trail, which is 24.4 miles from the Falls Lake Visitor Center to the Neuse River. Carolina Pines has some trails as well as an awesome place for pups to play off the leash. 

If it is too hot or rainy, take your pooch to West Street Dog, where he can play indoors while you enjoy a beer with other pup parents. 


Charlotte is the most populated city in North Carolina and home to the largest amusement park in the state. Pack up the dog and the family and head to Charlotte this summer for an unforgettable vacation. First, drop off the pup with a dog sitter and then take the kids to Carowinds Amusement Park. Although your pooch cannot join you, it is fun for everyone no matter how old you are. 

The park has over 400 acres with 58 attractions including 14 roller coasters and, with its sister park, Carolina Harbor, it also has 27 acres with six pools and 29 waterslides. There are also several live shows, games, and carnival food as well as 11 restaurants that serve everything from burgers to steaks.

After picking up your pup, head to Crooked Creek Dog Park, where he can romp around without a leash, play in the creek, or enjoy the agility equipment. They have doggie bag stations, but bring your own just in case.

Bald Head Island 

If you are going to North Carolina in the summer, Bald Head Island is a wonderful choice for pet parents. The small town is found on the eastern side of Cape Fear River and only has 160 residents. It is a very remote spot, so you can bring your sweetheart and your cuddly canine to enjoy a quiet summer vacation on the beach. There are over 80 dog-friendly vacation rentals on the island, including Canterwood Cottage and The Hiding Place 

To get there, you will have to take the ferry, and only government officials are allowed to have vehicles on the island so you will not have to worry about traffic. All the residents have electric golf carts. Summer on the island is humid subtropical, making it a perfect place to swim. There are several pup popular dog beaches including Bald Head Island Beach on the southeastern corner of the island. 

For easy and fast ways to get around the island, go to Cary Cart Company and rent a golf cart. They are all dog-friendly. 


In the middle of the state, Greensboro is one of the most populated cities, with almost 300,000 residents and an estimated 50,000 dogs. The city boasts over 40 hotels that allow pups, including Hyatt Place, Embassy Suites, and Hilton Garden Inn, which all have swimming pools and restaurants on-site. The Hyatt and Embassy Suites also offer free breakfast. 

While you are in town, take your fur baby to K-9 Doggie Bakery and Boutique, where he can get a special treat made fresh. Then, stop at the Arboretum, and your pooch can join you in exploring the 17 acres of beautiful gardens. Make sure you keep him on a leash and pick up after him. Next, your cuddly canine would love some off-leash time at LeBauer Park Dog Park. It has agility equipment and a separate small dog area.

If it is too hot or raining, take your pooch to Doggos Park and Pub. You can enjoy 16 different beers on tap or one of their awesome cocktails while your pooch plays in the air-conditioned supervised dog park


Wrightsville Beach is a small town of 2,400 folks and about 400 pooches. It is just a few minutes from Wilmington and has four miles of beachfront, making this the perfect summer vacation spot. However, the beaches do not allow dogs on the beach during summer, so plan to go from October until April. The first place you should go after checking into your hotel is Wrightsville Beach, so your fur buddy can play in the water. You can also get in and splash around with him if the weather is warm enough.

Take a tour of the town with the Tour Old Wilmington folks. They take you and your leashed pup to the three most historic places in the city and fill your head with tales of the Civil War and the Victorian Era, after, do some shopping at Unleashed, the Dog and Cat Store. They have lots of toys, food, and treats to choose from and will even give your pupster a nutrition consultation. 

Be sure to stop and grab some food at one of the pup popular restaurants like Oceanic, SUNdays, or Mellow Mushroom. 

Carova Beach

Way up in the northeastern corner of North Carolina, Carova Beach is a small town with just 50 residents that you cannot reach unless you go by boat or four-wheel drive vehicle. If you do not have one of those, you can always rent one. The trip is worth it because the white sand beach is incredible. And your pup can play on a leash of 10 feet long, so he has plenty of room to romp in the water or play fetch. 

The beach is known for its wild horses called Banker Horses. They are beautiful but very unpredictable, so keep your cuddle buddy (and yourself) far away from them. In fact, there is a law that states nobody can get within 50 feet of them. There are other endangered animals, too, like piping plovers and sea turtles. Do not let your dog chase or scare them because they are protected. 

You will not find any concessions or restaurants in Carova Beach so pack some food and water for both of you. And do not forget the doggie bags. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is totally dog-friendly and even has two special dog walking trails, including the 1.5-mile Oconaluffee River Trail and the 1.9-mile Gatlinburg Trail. The 10 campgrounds located all over the park are also pet friendly, as well as all the roads and many of the parks. Just remember to bring along doggie bags to pick up anything your pup drops. 

Stretching all the way from Chilhowee to Asheville, the park has 522,419 acres of mountains, rivers, valleys, prairies, and lakes. There are several particularly incredible waterfalls too. You and your canine compadre can go swimming, floating, boating, and fishing as well as hiking, biking, and wildlife watching. There are thousands of wild critters from skunks to bears so keep your pooch on a short leash. 

Don’t miss Fontana Lake, which is 17 miles long with over 1,000 miles of waterfront. At the western end is the Little Tennessee River and the east flows into the Tuckasegee River in Bryson City. 

Nags Head 

For the perfect romantic vacation with your honey, head to Nags Head. First, you can check in at the cozy Sandbar Bed & Breakfast, where they serve treats at the front desk, and the beach is right across the street. And you can safely leave your pooch in your room while you take your sweetheart out for a romantic date, like to see the Bodie Island Lighthouse where you can have a picnic on the beach.

If you would rather eat indoors, go to Owens’ Restaurant where they have prime western filet mignon, the finest wines, and live music on the weekends. Afterward, stroll through the Seaside Art Gallery where you can see some incredible art by local artists including sculptures, animation, and paintings. 

Then, go pick up Fido and head out to Nags Head Beach, where dogs can play in the water and on the sand as long as they are on a leash no more than 10 feet long.


In the northwestern area of North Carolina, Durham is one of the most populated cities in the state, with 283,000 people and an estimated 45,000 dogs. It was named after Bartlett Durham, who donated the land for the rail depot in 1849. Today, the city is known for its arts and culture, including the annual Bull Durham Blues Festival, several jazz festivals, the Queer Film Festival, and the American Dance Festival. There is literally something to do every day in Durham. 

Durham is the perfect weekend getaway with your pooch. One of the most pup popular attractions is boating. If you did not bring a boat, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. Just remember to put Fido in a doggie life jacket. You can also do some fishing if you have a fishing license or just play in the water with your pup.

If you want to hike, there are 21 trails in the park as well from the easy quarter-mile Piedmont Trail to the more challenging four-mile Cox Mountain Trail.  


You may recognize the name due to its cigarettes. The RJ Reynolds Company began here in 1875, and it is the second-biggest tobacco company in the country. But Winston/Salem is actually two cities joined together in 1876. If you are looking for a place to get away in winter with your fur buddy, this is a good choice because of all its pet-friendly indoor activities, like the Mast General Store, where you can find anything you need and then some. 

If you like video games, take Fido to Reboot Arcade Bar. The “Barcade” features 80s and 90s arcade games including pinball machines as well as Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, and Galaga. While you are there, you can enjoy an adult beverage as you play. If pool is your thing, go to Recreation Billiards where leashed pups are welcome.

Since it does not get too cold in North Carolina, you can still let your cuddle buddy play off the leash at Happy Hounds Dog Park. It is located at Horizon Park and has two acres with a separate small-dog section and lots of seating for pup parents.

Pisgah National Forest 

Time for a camping trip with your best little buddy? Pisgah National Forest has over 200 campsites in 12 different campgrounds. Located in the western section of the city, the forest is in the Appalachian Mountains and has 500,000 acres of wilderness and recreational space to explore and enjoy with your cuddle buddy. Leashed dogs are welcome at all of them and some have off-leash areas. Most have picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms as well. 

Also nearby, Lake Powhatan has its own campground with 51 campsites with lantern posts, picnic tables, tent pads, and campfire rings within walking distance of the lake. They even have restrooms with hot showers. Campfire Lodgings is a private campground that you can reserve, but you will have to do it way in advance to get a spot because there are only 30 sites. 

Also nearby, French Broad River Dog Park is a stunning place for off-leash dog play as well as trails, picnicking, and playing on the playground.


Pet parents who are on a tight budget will love Fayetteville. They have 18 dog-friendly hotels with rooms starting under $100 including SureStay Plus by Best Western which is only $70 and has a pool. After checking in, take your canine companion to Riverside Dog Park where he can run and play off the leash to get rid of the zoomies. It has a small dog section for pups under 25 pounds, lots of seating, waste stations with baggies, and water fountains. 

For more free fun, Mazarick Park has almost 80 acres with trails, a lake, tennis, baseball, and a disc golf course. They also have playgrounds for the little humans and picnic areas with tables to enjoy a meal with your poochie. Another great choice is Smith Park Recreation Area, which has a beach, campground, trails, disc golf, playgrounds, and picnic areas.

Stop by Sonic Drive-In on your way back to the hotel, and you can get dinner for both of you for under $10! They have four different locations. 


Cashiers is one of the least populated cities in the state, with just 657 residents and approximately 100 fur babies. It is also the home of the tallest waterfall in the east, Whitewater Falls. It drops 411 feet from the top, and you and your pooch can get to it from the Foothills Trail. In fact, Cashiers has numerous trails you and your pooch can explore. Just remember to bring plenty of doggie bags to pick up after him and lots of water for you both. 

The easiest one is the half-mile Whitewater Falls Overlook Trail which will give you a few good views of the falls. If you want to get the best view of the falls, you will have to trek along the 8.8-mile Lower Whitewater Falls via Foothills Trail. For something different, try the 6.3-mile Ellicott’s Rock via Bad Creek Trail.   

By now, your pupster will be ready to run around and get rid of that excess energy. Cashiers Dog Park has an off-leash pup play space with a separate small dog space, seating, and restrooms.

Beech Mountain 

With a name like Beech Mountain, you probably already know it has some great skiing. In fact, Beech Mountain has dozens of ski resorts, many of which are dog-friendly. For example, Pinecone Manor allows dogs of any size for $35 per night per dog, and it is less than a mile from the slopes. The Great Escape Lodge is also right there on the mountain, and they allow two dogs under 50 pounds for no fee. 

Although dogs are not allowed on the slopes, you can leave him with a dog sitter and spend some time skiing while he plays with other fur babies. There are eight chair lifts, 17 trails, 95 acres, and a peak elevation of 5,506 feet. From here, you can reach the Creekside Falls Trail, where you can see an incredible waterfall. 

Afterward, pick up your fur baby and take him to Beech Mountain Bark Park. The off-leash pup playground has a small dog section, a trail, water stations, waste stations, and benches for pup parents. 

Stone Mountain State Park

When you just need to get away from it all, be sure to pack up your pup and all his stuff and head for Stone Mountain State Park. It has over 14,000 acres with 18 miles of trails, waterfalls, camping, fishing, and even swimming. You can even rent a kayak or raft and float on the Big Sandy Creek. Be sure to bring your fishing gear and a license because the creek and streams are renowned for having lots of brook trout.

The main attraction in the park is Stone Mountain. If you are fit and your pooch can handle it, you can climb the mountain on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. It is 4.5 miles, and it takes a lot of energy, exercise, and skill to make it up there. If you want something shorter, try the Widow’s Creek Trail. It is also strenuous but is only 2.5 miles. 

After working up an appetite, take Fido to grab some food with you at Southern On Main, where you and your pup can eat on the patio. 

The Final Woof

Thinking of a family vacation to North Carolina? Charlotte is a perfect spot because it has the largest amusement park in the state, Carowinds Amusement Park, which is fun for all ages. If you are looking for a romantic trip with your honey, Bald Head Island is remote and cozy, and Nags Head has a cute bed and breakfast as well as an art gallery. Those looking for a winter escape can pack some snow boots and take Fido to Beech Mountain for some skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, or visit Winston/Salem, where they have all sorts of indoor dog-friendly fun.  

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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