Doggin’ America’s Coastal Islands

Who doesn't want to get away to an off-shore island with the dog? Let's do a quick round-up of America's off-shore islands accesible for your dog only by passenger ferry or private boat:

Nantucket Island (Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts, island transportation: vehicular)
Upon disembarking in the Nantucket Sound you are looking at a hike of between two and six miles to reach the various ocean beaches across the island. You can use paved bike paths if you have to but dogs are allowed on the island shuttles. Much of the coastline is in private hands so access to the shore is a privilege when granted. 

Martha's Vineyard (Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts, island transportation: vehicular)
Just off the southern coast of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard is an extremely dog-friendly resort destination. For canine hikers, the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation has conserved over 2100 acres of land on the island in more than 100 separate parcels. From these protected lands the Foundation has created eight sanctuaries open to the public, including dogwalkers. The largest trail system is at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary where two miles of paw-friendly trails visit hilly woodlands, secluded ponds and a small, sandy beach. 

Block Island (Atlantic Ocean, Rhode Island, island transportation: limited vehicular)
Block Island serves up some of the best off-shore hiking with your dog anywhere in America - open meadows, protected forestlands, dramatic bluffs, sandy beaches. You will most likely be arriving on foot, however, and will need to hike a good ways to reach the best spots. Although the island is saturated with walking paths you will still need to navigate your dog down two-lane paved roads used by the locals. 

Ocracoke Island (Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina, island transportation: vehicular)
After visiting the 70 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore you may not feel the need to take the free ferry across to Ocracoke Island but you would be depriving your dog of one of our best year-round tail-friendly beaches. There is a big campground so you can stay awhile (although it is closed in the off-season) and a trail through a maritime forest across the road. Take your dog through the historical village at the southern end of the island - notorious English pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, used to hang out here. 

Mackinac Island (Lake Huron, Michigan, island transportation: foot and bicycle only)
At fist blush this popular tourist mecca would seem to be a horrible place to bring a dog - teeming with crowds and literally thousands of bikes in the narrow streets. But no one is coming to Mackinac Island to hike so if you get a half-mile from the dock you can go for an hour on the three-mile by two-mile island in the wooded highlands (that's 300-foot elevations) and never see anyone. The island's unique location and elevation changes support an enchanting mix of North Woods conifers and southern hardwoods. 

Manitou Islands (Lake Michigan, Michigan, NO DOGS ALLOWED)

Beaver Island (Lake Michigan, Michigan, island transportation: vehicular)
Lake Michigan's largest island is home to a year-round population of about 600. To best explore with your dog will require bringing the car across on the Charlevoix ferry. Most of the southern part of the 16-mile island is undeveloped state forest. Central Michigan University owns marshlands and woodlands in the island's interior that includes nature trails. For dog owners with a private boat Beaver Island is at the heart of a small archipelago of islands; the best of which to try is Garden Island. 

Grand Island (Lake Superior, Michigan, island transportation: foot and mountain bike only)
The largest island in south Lake Superior is only a five-minute ride across the perpetual 48-degree waters. the ferry holds about a half-dozen people and dogs and only makes a handful of trips a day so you can expect hiking with your dog along wide dirt roads to be a private affair. The island is a National Recreation Area so the roads/hiking paths are well-marked. Destinations include deserted sand beaches and overlooks of Lake Superior coves. At four miles long by two miles wide a full day of hiking will take your dog around the entire forested island. 

Isle Royale National Park (Lake Superior, Minnesota, NO DOGS ALLOWED)

Catalina Island (Pacific Ocean, California, island transportation: limited vehicular, mostly bicycle and golf cart)
More than one million people a year cross the channel to rocky Catalina Island, about 22 miles off the southern California coast. It's a big island - 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest. The natural parts of the island are controlled by the Catalina Island Conservancy that allows dogs on its extensive trail system. A free daily hiking permit is required before setting out on the network of old ranching roads and footpaths. 

San Juan Islands (Strait of Juan De Fuca, Washington, island transportation: vehicular)
This cluster of islands spans the United States-Canadian border, with the most popular being San Juan Island. It is best to arrive with a car where you can set out to visit the many parks and preserves that will welcome your dog. Most feature small, scenic trail systems that require less than one hour. Many of the roads and paths on the islands are remnants of old sheep trails. Two of the must-see parks are Lime Kiln Point State Park, the only park in the world dedicated to whale watching (especially killer whales) and the San Juan Island National Historic Park. The trailheads at this dog-friendly park feature mutt mitts. For a top beach head for Grandma's Cove at American Camp.