Doggin' The Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is one of our great recreation destinations ( More than 1 in every 15 Americans live within a short drive of the nation’s largest estuary and millions come each year for the sailing, the lighthouses, the Atlantic Blue Crabs... What about for your dog? Some of the best Maryland state parks on the Bay don’t allow dogs (Calvert Cliffs, Sandy Point) but there are some fine beaches to take your dog to nonetheless. Here are the 13 best - 

1. FIRST LANDING STATE PARK (Virginia, south mouth of Bay). One of the finest state parks you’ll find anywhere features an ocean-type beach at the mouth of the Chesapeake. You can easily hike with your dog for over an hour on the beach with views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and ocean-going vessels in view the entire time.

2. HUGHLETT POINT NATURAL AREA (Virginia, western shore). You will start your exploration with your dog here on   a wide, soft and exceedingly agreeable path through a fragrant loblolly forest. Soon you will pop out on the beach of the Chesapeake Bay where you will be excused for thinking you have just landed on Tom Hanks’ deserted island in Cast Away. Ghost trees and fallen trunks pepper the enchanted shore - ineffective guardians against the relent-less Chesapeake wave action.

3. KIPTOPEKE STATE PARK (Virginia, eastern shore). Features more than a half-mile of wide sandy beaches, backed by dunes. Off-shore nine concrete World War II surplus ships have been sunk as a breakwater, leaving gentle waves for your dog to play in. Also an easy 1.5-mile Baywoods Trail when you want to take a break from the water. Dogs are welcome in the campground.

4. TERRAPIN NATURE PARK (Maryland, eastern shore at Bay Bridge). Terrapin Park has over 4,000 feet of beach frontage at the tip of Kent Island. Firsky waves and canine swimming in the north shadow of the Bay Bridge. The trail to the beach takes you across oyster chaff.

5. DOWNS MEMORIAL PARK (Maryland, western shore north of Annapolis). Looking for a dog-friendly park? At Downs Memorial Park there is a “pet parking” stall outside the information center. A dog drinking bowl is chained to a human water fountain. Best of all is Dog Beach, an isolated, scruffy 40-yard stretch of sand where you can let the dog off leash for canine aquatics in the Chesapeake Bay. The wave action is just right for dogs and there is enough sand for digging. Need we say more?

6. FLAG PONDS NATURE PARK (Maryland, western shore - Lusby). Thick woods and an isolated sandy beach backed by wild grasses but don’t come too early - the park doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m and is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day and week-ends all year round.

7. MATAPEAKE PARK (Maryland, eastern shore, south of Bay Bridge). This small park on the Chesapeake Bay features a pleasant one-mile wood-chip trail through a pine forest but the reason to come here is a stretch of sandy beach where your dog is welcome off-leash. The beach is a bit too industrial for sunbathers which makes it the perfect place for dogs to romp. Matapeake Park is just south of the Bay Bridge with splendid views of the bay and bridge.

8. GLOUCESTER POINT PARK (Virginia, western shore, at the mouth of the York River). Here in the shadow of America’s longest double-swing bridge your dog will find a smooth sand beach and swimming in the light waves of the bay. There is also a small grassy area to roll around in.

9. WYE ISLAND NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT AREA (Maryland, eastern shore). The Ferry Landing Trail was once the only access road to the island, lined with Osage orange trees imported to serve as a natural fence. Osage orange trees originated in a small region of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, which was home to the Osage Indians, who used its wood for bows. This mile-long path ends at a small, sandy beach.

10. POINT LOOKOUT STATE PARK (Maryland, southern tip of western shore). A Civil War prison to hold Confederate soldiers was built here at the mouth of the Potomac River and is the main attraction of the park but dogs aren’t allowed here. Before crossing the causeway to the island, however, is a small, sandy dog beach with excellent wave action.

11. EASTERN NECK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE (Maryland, eastern shore, south of Rock Hall). Technically the secluded sandy beach at the end of the Boxes Point Trail is on the Chester River but your don’t won’t quibble when she tests these fun waves.

12. ELK NECK STATE PARK (Maryland, eastern shore, 11 miles west of Northeast). The park is situated on 100-foot bluffs above the Chesapeake Bay where the Elk and Northeast rivers converge. Narrow, informal trails lead down to the water’s edge where gaps in the stone breakwater produce little sandy beaches just for your dog.

13. NORTH POINT STATE PARK (Maryland, western shore, east of Baltimore). Although only 20 acres in size, the Bay Shore Park was considered one of the finest amusement parks ever built along the Chesapeake Bay. Opened in 1906, the park featured an Edwardian-style dance hall, bowling alley and restaurant set in among gardens and curving pathways. There were rides such as a water toboggan and Sea Swing. Visitors would travel to the shore from Baltimore on a trolley line. Your dog can explore the remains and dive in the Chesapeake at a small wading beach at the Visitor Center.