Twenty years ago, if you were shopping for a house, a typical question might be, “How are the neighborhood schools?” Now, if there’s a dog in the home, you will likely ask, “Where’s the nearest dog park?”
Oh, what a difference two decades make. Dog parks are flourishing from coast to coast, from big cities to rural towns. Although any dog park helps your pooch burn energy, some dog parks deserve to be dubbed the leaders of the pack.
So in honor of DOG FANCY’s 40th anniversary, we received your nominations and scoured the country to find the best dog parks for dogs and dog lovers.
We awarded extra points to dog parks with an active community group, because in our experience, passionate volunteers make not just the dog park but the entire community a better place for dogs. We also gave high marks to parks that hold educational workshops or low-cost health clinics.
And in a hearty nod to fun, we sought out places that sport tail-wagging features — think splash pools and agility equipment — as well as ample opportunities for human users to connect, whether at fun events like social mixers or down-and-dirty cleanup days.
The result: 40 amazing dog parks that will delight and inspire you.
1. Jackass Acres K-9 Korral
New River, Ariz.
Highlights: Green dog park, complete with recycling program; separate obstacle equipment for small and large dogs; doggie shower; monthly educational events; lost-and-found-pet hotline; low-cost microchip and vaccine clinics held several times a year.
Their secret: Think outside the (dog park) box. When the foreclosure crisis hit Arizona several years ago, Jackass Acres K-9 Korral’s nonprofit community group, Anthem Pets, swung into action. Volunteers reached out to families in danger of losing their homes, offering free dog food or other help, including referrals to real estate agents who specialize in pet-friendly rentals.
“We do everything we can to keep the pet [and] family together,” says Barbara Windgassen, president of Anthem Pets. When that’s not possible, volunteers foster and rehome relinquished or abandoned pets. “We have not sent one animal to a shelter,” Windgassen says.
2. Pilgrim Bark Park
Highlights: Whimsical benches, including one that looks like a miniature version of the Mayflower; memorial park; sponsored “War Dogs of the Pacific” movie at a film festival.
Their secret: Dream big. For dog parks like Pilgrim that receive no government dollars, fundraising is a big deal. Last year, Pilgrim took a chance and invited comedienne Lily Tomlin — a frequent visitor to the area — to perform pro bono at a fundraiser. She accepted, and the event, dubbed “The D Word,” drew almost 1,000 people — and raised critical funds for new shade structures at the park.
3. Kenton Paw Park
Highlights: Regular pool parties; agility equipment; Kenton Paw Park calendar and T-shirts.
Their secret: Harness the dog park’s power to educate. Sure, Kenton Paw Park knows how to throw a party; its Pictures with the Easter Bunny event draws big crowds. But the dog park also feels a duty to educate — not just entertain — visitors. Workshops like Meet the Vet and CPR for Dogs prove dog parks can be important avenues for public education.
4. Cosmo Dog Park
Highlights: Lake with dock for jumping; agility equipment; covered picnic areas.
Their secret: Move beyond chain link and boring concrete. Park planners decorated Cosmo Dog Park with dog lovers in mind: Pawprint designs appear everywhere — on the sidewalks and light posts — and there’s even a pawprint “bridge” that spans the lake. A striking brick memorial walkway, with some 1,400 inscribed bricks, allows residents to pay tribute to gone-but-not-forgotten pets.
5. Puptown Dog Park
Highlights: Halloween costume contest; regular canine health seminars; quarterly meet-and-greets.
Their secret: Size doesn’t matter. Nestled in big-city Chicago, Puptown doesn’t occupy a Texas-sized space. But what the park lacks in land they make up for in big-time community spirit, from a rollicking Howl-o-ween celebration and costume contest to frequent meet-and-greets, canine health seminars, and park cleanup days.
6. W.O.O.F. P.A.C. Park
Santa Maria, Calif.
Highlights: Coin-operated dog wash; boot scrapers; Woofstock festival with dog barking contest — for people!
Their secret: Remember humans, too. W.O.O.F. P.A.C. (Winners of Off-Leash Freedom Pooch Action Committee) pays attention to both dog and human comfort: Strategically placed boot scrapers await muddy visitors, baskets corral items such as keys and dog leashes, and there’s even a coin-operated dog wash.
7. Hermon Dog Park
Highlights: Monthly Yappy Hour with vet-care specialist; dog adoption drives; Halloween party features a Peanut Butter Lick-Off contest.
Their secret: Embrace social networking. Hermon Dog Park understands that dog parks are important not just to dogs, but also to people. Popular park events include monthly Yappy Hour parties, and the park’s Santa Paws Squad appearance in a local Christmas parade draws fans. But the park is also great at organizing dog lovers online via a regularly updated website and Facebook page.
8. Prairie Pastures Dog Park
Highlights: Play equipment includes pools in summer; annual ice cream social; Easter biscuit hunt.
Their secret: Reuse, recycle, repurpose. Prairie Pastures sits on the site of a former zoo, which has been reborn as a doggie wonderland: A former monkey cage lives on as Splashy Waters, an area for wading pools in warmer months, and a former petting-zoo barn serves as a covered venue for educational and other events.
9. Wantage Dog Park
Highlights: Spring Lab Fest event; special no-freeze doggie water fountain; agility equipment.
Their secret: Practice tried-and-true fundraising. Wantage Dog Park — New Jersey’s largest — doesn’t receive any government money and raises funds the old-fashioned way, via a yearly giant garage sale and three low-tech but effective donation boxes. Since opening three years ago, the dog park has raised over $100,000.
10. Bow Wow Beach Dog Park
Highlights: Lake; beach; Bow Wow Beach Birthday Bash.
Their secret: Make it fun, and they will come. Bow Wow Beach attracts people and dogs from far and wide to its sandy dog beach and 3-acre spring-fed lake. Other popular draws include the annual Bow Wow Beach Birthday Bash, while park fans consider Bow Wow Beach T-shirts a fun and fashionable must-have.
11. Alum Creek Dog Park
Lewis Center, Ohio
12. Millbrook Dog Park
13. Oklahoma City Paw Park
14. Fort Woof Dog Park
Fort Worth, Texas
15. Paw Park of Historic Sanford
16. Brookdale Dog Park
Bloomfield and Montclair, N.J.
17. Friends Forever Dog Park
18. Freedom Bark Park
19. Hondo Dog Park
20. Canine Meadows Off-Leash Dog Area at John Rudy County Park
21. Tompkins Square Park Dog Run
New York, N.Y.
22. Congressman Bill Archer Bark Park
23. Millie Bush Bark Park
24. Biscuit Acres Bark Park
25. Marymoor Park Dog Area
26. Akron Dog Park
27. Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
28. Howard & Erna Soldan Dog Park
29. Fort de Soto Park Paw Playground
Tierra Verde, Fla.
30. Quiet Waters Park Dog Park and Dog Beach
31. Waggin’ Tails Dog Park at Centennial Park
North Platte, Neb.
32. Doctors’ Dog Park
33. LaPorte County Small Animal Shelter Dog Park
La Porte, Ind.
34. Jefferson County Dog Park
35. Dog Fancier’s Park
36. Tails ‘N Trails Dog Park
37. Ohlone Dog Park
38. Derry Dog Park
39. Spencer Dog Park
Sioux Falls, S.D.
40. Pooch Pines at Okeeheelee Park
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Maureen Kochan, the former editor of DOG FANCY, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Southern California. She can be found most weekends at her dogs’ favorite dog park, Oceanside Dog Park in Oceanside, Calif.