9 Great Great Lakes Beaches For Your Dog

Your dog might not agree they are “great lakes” when she discovers that dogs are not allowed on Michigan state beaches and most county and town beaches. In-season, the metropolises of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin are even more restrictive. But all is not lost for the outdoor canine adventurer when visiting the Great Lakes. Here are the 9 best places to take your dog here:

1.  Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Lake Superior, Michigan
Possessing the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world, there is enough water in Lake Superior to easily fill the other four Great Lakes combined to overflowing. Lake Superior is known for its cold water and rugged shoreline but there are some sandy beaches scattered across its 300 or so miles of southern shores. Other beaches are more of the cobble variety. Most of the shoreline is sparsely populated which bodes well for finding a dog-friendly beach.

The "pictured rocks" on the south shore of Lake Superior were painted by mineral stains on exposed sandstone cliffs scoured by glaciers. The colorful streaks on the cliffs - as high as 200 feet above the water - result from groundwater that seeps out of cracks in the rock. The oozing water contains iron, limonite, copper, and other minerals that brush the cliff face with colors as they trickle down. In 1966, the Pictured Rocks were preserved as America's first national lakeshore. The park stretches along Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, for 40 miles.

Dogs are not allowed to trot everywhere in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore's 72,000 acres (a detailed pet area map is available) but there is plenty of superb canine hiking on tap here. Day hikes lead to clifftops and cobble beaches through hardwood forests and windswept dunes. The best beach for dogs is at the western end of the park where dogs are allowed on Sand Point until the trail begins to climb the cliffs.

2.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Lake Michigan, Michigan
Long ago, according to Ojibway Indian legend, a forest fire ravaged the Wisconsin shoreline driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the waters of Lake Michigan. The three bears swam for safety across the entire lake but the two cubs tired in the crossing. The mother bear continued to the shore and climbed a high bluff to wait for her cubs who couldn't make it and drowned within sight of shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear. The national lakeshore, established in 1970, protects 35 miles of dunes - the highest 480 feet above the lake - that are the product of several glacial advances and retreats that ended 11,000 years ago.

Your dog isn't allowed to make the Dune Climb up a mountain of sand but she may thank you for that. Otherwise dogs are welcome on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trails. The best canine hike is the Cottonwood Trail off the popular Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The loop leads out into dunes speckled with the bleached remains of overwhelmed trees and the hardy survivors adapting to their sandy world. The rollicking trail, open May to October, is completely on thick sand that, while soft to the paw, can tire an unfit dog.

In the north section of the park the Good Harbor Bay Trail is a flat, wooded walk. Most of the starch has been taken out of the Lake Michigan waves here for gentle canine swimming. More adventurous dog paddlers will want to test the frisky waves in the southernmost Platte Plains section. You have your choice of trails here to choose how much you want to hike before reaching the surf. The 13 mid-length trails throughout the park are all hiker-only. Dogs are not allowed on North or South Manitou Island, both floating just offshore.

3. Lake Michigan Sand Dunes
Lake Michigan, Michigan
The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Mackinac Bridge that connects the lightly populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan to lower Michigan. Traditionally the bridge has attracted hunters and other woods-loving types but that list should also include beach-loving dog owners.

Just across the bridge on the Upper Peninsula head west on Route 2 out of St. Ignace and eight miles past the town of Brevort you will come to an unnamed, unsigned stretch of dune-backed, sandy white beach. You are actually in the East Side Section of the Hiawatha National Forest. Pull off the water-side of the road and park your car. There are miles of beach and not much traffic so there will be plenty of room for your dog to romp in the Lake Michigan waves. If you need facilites, travel a bit further west to the Lake Michigan Picnic Area.

4. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Lake Michigan, Indiana
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park of striking contrasts. More than 1,400 plant species have been identified within park boundaries, ranking it 7th among national parks in native plant diversity. Growing zones clash here at the southern base of Lake Michigan so southern dogwood mixes with arctic bearberry and northern conifer forests thrive alongside cacti. The park itself stands in stark relief from the industrial surroundings of Gary, Indiana and Chicago. The national lakeshore was designated in 1966 and preserves 25 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Canine hikers will also find the dog-friendly trails, with dips and climbs, to be of a different style than the generally flat northern Indiana area. The high point on the dunes is 123-foot Mt. Baldy at the extreme eastern point of the park - you can make this short, sandy climb your first or last stop. If you take your time, even older dogs can make it to the top or you can hike a trail around Mt. Baldy directly to the beach.

Dogs are not allowed on the Ly-Co-Ki-We Trail but can spend the night in the Dunewood Campground. More superb canine hiking can be found in Indiana Dunes State Park, entombed by the national lakeshore. There are many numbered trails - some quite challenging - that ascend high vista points such as Mt. Tom. The best trails on the lake’s edge can be found in the state park.

5. Presque Isle State Park
Lake Erie, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's most popular state park is believed to have formed 11,000 years ago from the deposits of sand carried by wind and water across Lake Erie. This "flying spit" of sand is the largest in the Great Lakes region and the only one in Pennsylvania. Presque Isle State Park is estimated to be moving eastward at the rate of one-half mile per century. Although Presque Isle is French for "almost an island," the area has often been completely surrounded by water. One such breech in the sand peninsula, designated a National Natural Landmark, lasted 32 years.

During the War of 1812 Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used a harbor on the east side of Presque Isle as a base of operations for the critical Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. After the clash with the British fleet, Perry returned to Presque Isle for the winter, using a shallow pond to bury American dead. The harbor was named Misery Bay in light of the hardships suffered that winter. Today the Perry monument on Crystal Point remembers the American exploits here.

Presque Isle is unique in that plant succession from sandy shoreline to climax forest can be seen in less than one mile. This transformation can be viewed from the 5.8-mile Multi-Purpose Trail, a National Recreation Trail. The path begins at the park entrance and shadows the Presque Isle Bay shoreline until it ends at the Perry Monument. As this main pathway is popular with cyclists, skaters and joggers, dogwalkers may want to migrate to one of the park's many other trails. Dogs are welcome on all trails but ticks are heavy so avoid the trail fringes. Dogs are not allowed on the swimming beaches but you can hike a little ways up the peninsula past the supervised beaches where dogs can enjoy the frisky waves of Lake Erie.

There are more than a dozen short trails radiating across the peninsula that offer a pleasing variety of easy hiking. The Sidewalk Trail was constructed of wooden boards by a lighthouse keeper to reach the Presque Isle Lighthouse from his boat over a mile away in Misery Bay; it is now a concrete strip down the center of the trail that was resurfaced in 1925. The North Pier Trail traces the shoreline along a sand ridge and the Long Pond Trail hugs the shoreline of one of the park's several lagoons. Longer trails such as the Fox Trail (2.25 miles) and the Dead Pond Trail (2 miles) traverse distinct ecological zones as they move from sandplains to oak-maple forests.

6.  Old Mission Peninsula
Lake Michigan, Michigan
Old Mission Peninsula is an 18-mile appendage that splits Lake Michigan's Traverse Bay neatly in half. Presbyterian Minister Peter Dougherty arrived in 1838 to establish the missionary for which the peninsula would be named. As settlers arrived they discovered ideal growing conditions on the narrow land moderated by the surrounding waters of Lake Michigan. Getting the crops to market was not so easy as growing them, however, thanks to a series of rocky shoals around the tip of the peninsula. Today Old Mission is still renowned for its cherry harvest.

Congress authorized funds for the building of a lighthouse here in 1859 but the Civil War prevented construction until 1870. A keeper was stationed here until the 1930s when a navigational marker was built on the shoals in the lake. The Mission Point Light remains the focal point of the park that was created by the state of Michigan after World War II. The lighthouse sits directly on the 45th parallel - halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

The trail system stitches several paths into a loop of a couple miles around the tip of the peninsula that works through woodlands and along the shore of Lake Michigan. This is easy hiking for your dog on mostly level terrain with plenty of opportunity for your dog to visit the waters of the lake. 

7. Point Gratiot
Lake Erie, New York
Although its shores are the most densely populated of any of the Great Lakes, there is plenty of opportunity for a dog to explore Lake Erie. The smallest of the five lakes, Lake Erie waters average only about 62 feet in depth and warm rapidly in the summer for happy dog paddling.

The headlands here contain Dunkirk Beach, a U.S. Coast Guard Naval Reserve Station and an historic lighthouse. Around the west side of the headlands are low bluffs fronted by a wide, sandy beach. Dogs are welcome, there is plenty of easy parking - and it’s free.

8. Whitefish Dunes State Park
Lake Michigan, Wisconsin
Door County is a magnet for Lake Michigan recreation. For dog owners it is hit and miss among the parks and forests but one place your dog can enjoy the sandy lake beaches is Whitefish Dunes State Park. Long considered the best sand dunes on the western shore of Lake Michigan, this wilderness was the target of conservationist before World War II. Finally in 1967 the state park was established. Parts of the beach are open for your dog to swim in Lake Michigan.

9. Apostle Islands National Seashore
Lake Superior, Wisconsin
Twenty-one jeweled islands in Lake Superior have been rounded up by the National Park Service and herded into Apostle Islands National Seashore. Dogs are not permitted on any of the park service shuttles from the mainland so the emerald forests and pristine beaches of the islands are restricted to travelers on private boats. The National Lakeshore, however, includes 12 miles of Lake Superior frontage on the mainland.

Dog owners will thus want to steer towards Meyers Beach at the western end of the park. Here your dog will find a lengthy beach of thick sand and frisky waves of crystal clear Lake Superior waters. Driftwood is in abundance for your favorite fetcher.

The one hiking trail on the mainland departs from Meyers Beach and pushes east over three miles to a pack-in campground. Unless you’re spending the night, your hike on the Lakeshore Trail will likely end about two miles in at the top of cliffs above sea caves that have been carved into the sandstone bluffs. Be careful when you arrive with your dog to peer into the caves. If you don’t have a boat or kayak another way to explore these magnificent foundations is to visit in February when Meyers Beach is usually covered in thick ice and snow. You can then hike with your dog right along the shore to reach the caves at lake level.