Paws in the parks: Michigan state parks offer pet-friendly solutions

A man takes an evening stroll with his dog at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Keweenaw County. Bringing a pet to a Michigan state park can enhance the experience for the whole family. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

NEGAUNEE — As travel trends change, recreational vehicles get larger and modern technologies come to campgrounds, one thing has not changed: love for family pets and including them in daily activities and even vacations.

However, traveling with pets can pose several questions. Where do you go? What are the rules? How do you keep your pet safe and healthy while on vacation?

“Michigan state parks offer some pet-friendly solutions to get you and your pet into Michigan’s great outdoors together,” said Maia Turek, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources resource development specialist. “Pets are important in the lives of a lot of our park visitors. For many, having to leave a pet at home is like leaving a member of the family at home alone.”

Carol Dunstan of Negaunee knows all about this. She’s been a campground host at Van Riper State Park in Marquette County for more than a decade. Over those years, she’s enjoyed being able to bring her two black Labrador retrievers to her host campsite at the park.

“I probably wouldn’t host if I couldn’t,” she said. “(I’m) like most pet owners, they are family.”

While the majority of Michigan state parks, harbors, state forests and trails allow pets, there are a few exceptions, such as state buildings. However, there are lodging opportunities, campgrounds, beaches, trails and even events that are pet-friendly.

First and foremost, any pet owner should be familiar with pet-friendly rules in state parks:

≤ Pets must be on a 6-foot leash and under your immediate control at all times.

≤ Always clean up after your pet.

≤ Keep pets from interacting with wildlife.

≤ Keep pets from disturbing visitors.

With the exceptions of locations included in the pet-friendly lodging pilot program, pets are not allowed in state buildings, which includes cabins, yurts, offices, teepees and lodges.

In November 2017, a pilot program was launched to designate pet-friendly lodging at several state parks in Michigan. Up to two pets — cats and dogs only — are allowed in overnight lodging accommodations at the following locations:

≤ Harrisville State Park’s mini cabin no. 186

≤ Lime Island State Recreation Area’s mini cabin no. 4

≤ Leelanau State Park’s Hemlock and Cedar mini cabins

≤ Sleepy Hollow State Park’s rustic cabin

≤ Cheboygan State Park’s modern lodge

These cabins and lodges can be booked up to 12 months in advance by calling 800-447-2757 or visiting

The additional fee for your pet is $10 per night for each pet if you are staying in a cabin or $15 per night for each pet if you are staying in a lodge. The above pet-friendly rules still apply.

Dogs should not be left in campers or tied up unattended to prevent barking from negatively affecting the park experience of other visitors.

Pets generally are permitted in state parks, park campgrounds and state rustic, or forest, campgrounds as long as they are on a leash not exceeding 6 feet in length at all times.

Pets are welcome on state-designated trails and pathways located in state parks and state forests. However, there are some instances where pets are not allowed. Always check trailhead signage to make sure pets are allowed.

The majority of boat launches allow pets, with the exception of certain boating access sites, during certain times of the year.

Pets are allowed in state harbors. Some harbors have a designated pet area, so the public is asked to learn the rules at each harbor. Pets also are allowed in non-designated bathing beach areas within state parks. However, pets are not permitted on designated swimming beach areas. Note that pets must be kept on a 6-foot leash even if they are in the water.

In the Upper Peninsula, these parks offer sections of pet-friendly shorelines: Baraga State Park, McLain State Park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Twin Lakes State Park.

From parades and off-road vehicle rides to trick-or-treating, many parks allow pets to join in on the fun of special events; there are even pet-specific events. Check with the park holding an event to see if your pet can participate, and find events at

Planning for travel with your pet

Typically, travelers always plan what they need to do for their own travel. With a few extra steps, everyone can make sure their pets have a great trip too.

To begin, research pet-friendly locations to find places that allow pets to stay along your travel route. If your pets are not accustomed to traveling, get them ready for the trip by taking them for short rides, increasing the distance or duration to help them get used to the car, truck or recreation vehicle.

Talk with your veterinarian about vaccinations, medications and microchips.

Bringing a pet to a Michigan state park can enhance the experience for the whole family.

“Certain vaccinations might be recommended, such a Bordetella if you are using a kennel service, vaccines for vector-borne illnesses from insects or preventative medications for fleas and ticks,” Turek said. “Microchips can help identify and get your pet home to you if you become separated. For this same reason, make sure your pet has a collar and an identification tag.”

Research veterinarians, kennels and boarding facilities in your travel areas. In case of a medical emergency, severe weather, vehicle issues or any other unforeseen problems, you will know who may be able to assist you and your pet ahead of time.

Get copies of medical and vaccination records from your veterinarian. Make reservations at the pet-friendly locations along your scheduled trip route.

Here are some helpful tips on items to always have when you travel with your pet:

≤ A current copy of your pet’s medical and vaccination records.

≤ If your pet takes medication, bring the medication and a copy of the prescription.

≤ Have a spare collar with ID tag and leash.

≤ Travel crate, car barrier or pet seat belt/harness to ensure safe vehicle transport.

≤ Extra food and water.

≤ A pet first aid kit with styptic powder, antibiotic ointment and tweezers for thorn, burr and tick removal.

≤ Pet bed or blankets for cool weather.

≤ Towels.

≤ Pet waste bags.

≤ Phone number of your veterinarian, or one in the area you are travelling to, in case of an emergency.

≤ Toys and treats.

Dunstan said dogs are the pets most commonly taken to Van Riper State Park, but other animals enjoy the park too.

“I’ve seen cats out on leashes, just like dogs,” she said. “Last year, someone even had a pot-bellied pig.”

She said kids staying at the park enjoy visiting with her dogs.

Dunstan hopes state parks will one day have a pet play area where animals can be off their leashes. For now, she’s happy to bring her dogs to the park to help her enjoy her role as a campground host, meeting lots of people from all over.

For more information, visit parkpets.