Pack a bag and prepare for a tail wag. It’s easier than ever to take your pooch along on your vacation.
WHO’S A GOOD DOG? Your pup, of course. And as much you might love a getaway that promises a beach splash or mountain vista, it’s heart-tugging to leave fur family behind. Pleading puppy-dog eyes boring into your soul as you walk out the door with a suitcase are real, people.
We’ve got good news: Leave the guilt. Take the dog.
For animal lovers, two of the sweetest words around are “pets allowed.” It’s heard more and more often these days as businesses figure out how to cater to America’s 85 million pet parents.
Teen Vogue magazine this year offered a paid internship with only two duties: Travel with dogs, and post the photos on social media. Amtrak, which banned everything but service animals since its inception in 1971, recently dipped a toe — or paw, if you prefer — into the pet pool. Dogs and cats up to 20 pounds can now travel with owners on routes of seven hours or less.
If a road trip with your BFLF (best four-legged friend) sounds good, the Southeast has spots that let you roll right in.
Don’t chase your tail looking for destinations. We’ve done some digging for you. They’re arranged by vacation type (beach, mountain, hotel), then alphabetically by state.
Sea Spot run
Three Southern beaches get a paws up from Coastal Living magazine in its list of the seven “Best Dog-Friendly U.S. Beaches.” It mentions Jekyll Island, Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina, and Fort DeSoto Paw Playground and Beach near St. Petersburg, Fla. We’ve added a few to that list, too, so read on.
ALABAMA: Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores (5.5 hours southwest of Atlanta) allows dogs in its campground ($24-$57) for free and in select cabins/cottages ($152-$364 nightly plus $15 Fido fee). Leashed dogs can sniff their way through a picnic area and 27 miles of trails. A fenced dog park with its own pond and agility course lets you leave the leash behind. No dogs permitted on Gulf Shores beaches, though. To do that, go 20 miles west to Fort Morgan near Mobile. Gulf Shores details: 800.252.7275 or alapark.com/gulf-state-park.
FLORIDA: Fort DeSoto Paw Playground and Beach (6.5 hours south of Atlanta) is near Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater but tucked away in nature. It’s attached to Fort DeSoto Park, twice named America’s Best Beach by TripAdvisor. You and Rover can camp together and romp in the waves. He can make friends in fenced areas where size matters — little pups and big dogs each get a designated yard. Details HERE or at 727.852.2267.
If you want to play but not stay at the park, go 11 miles north to Madeira Beach (“Mad Beach” to locals) and get comfy in a pet-friendly condo or cottage (about $100 nightly). Dogs aren’t allowed on Madeira Beach, but it’s between Fort DeSoto and dog-friendly Honeymoon Island, 23 miles to the north. Madeira details HERE; Honeymoon Island details HERE.
GEORGIA: Jekyll Island and nearby St. Simons (about 5 hours southeast of Atlanta) let dogs on beaches with a few restrictions. St. Simons’ East Beach prohibits pets from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. all summer. They’re OK on or off leash for early-morning and evening walkies.
Jekyll’s beaches, long known as a bring-your-pup paradise, welcome leashed dogs all year long. Choose from dozens of lodging choices, including the Westin Jekyll Island ($222 nightly) and the Hampton Inn & Suites Jekyll Island ($152 nightly plus $75 pet deposit). Details: goldenisles.com.
Dogs are strictly prohibited on Tybee Island beaches (fines are a yowl-inducing $290 plus court costs), but congenial canines can cruise with you aboard Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours ($8-$18).
Spend the night with your mutt at the Atlantis Inn Tybee Island ($89 and up nightly for pets up to 15 pounds) and the Dunes Inn & Suites Tybee Island ($100 and up). Both charge $25 per pet per night. The Sandcastle Inn ($114 and up) allows dogs of any size for a $25 one-time fee. It also has Tybee’s only saltwater swimming pool. For humans.
Despite beach restrictions, Tybee (18 miles from Savannah and four-plus hours southeast of Atlanta) is a pleasant place for pet people. It’s laid-back, family-friendly, not overdeveloped, the eclectic neighborhoods are fun to walk and bike, and you’ll find gorgeous marshland views. Tybee details: tybeeisland.com.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Drive the doggo to Hunting Island State Park (about 4.5 hours southeast of Atlanta) for a low-country vacation on a semitropical island. Camp here and walk or run 5 miles of beaches. If your pooch prefers not to “ruff it,” stay in Beaufort, 20 miles away. The boutique City Loft Hotel ($170 and up) charges $22 nightly for dogs up to 80 pounds. The Cuthbert House Inn ($190-$290 nightly), an antebellum mansion turned bed-and-breakfast, charges a one-time pet fee of $50. Hunting Island details at 843.838.2011; Beaufort details HERE or at 843.525.8500.
Charleston was voted “Best City for Pet Travelers 2016” by readers of GoPetFriendly.com, nosing out Florida’s Port St. Joe, the previous winner. On popular Edisto Island (30 miles north of Charleston, 5.5 hours from Atlanta), dogs must be leashed on the beach May through October; it’s your call whether to tether the other months. Charleston details HERE; Edisto details HERE.
Pups and peaks
If dogs could, they’d give mountain adventures two thumbs up. It’s often cooler than sea level for those with a fur coat, with plenty of room to roam. North Georgia offers lakes, waterfalls and hours of hiking (including 76 miles of the Appalachian Trail). Take a picnic, and don’t forget to allow time for sniffing every little thing of interest.
GEORGIA: The Last Resort in Blue Ridge (93 miles north of Atlanta, $125-$200 nightly) allows pets in most mountain cabins for $10. For humans, every cabin has a hot tub. For fishing fans, there’s a lake full of trout. Ellijay and B.J. Reece Orchards are 16 miles away. Let Fido help you pick whatever’s in season and sample goodies from the bakery.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Barking Fox Farm, a 43-acre horse farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (3 hours north of Atlanta) offers two guest cottages. One has a deck overlooking the pasture; both have whirlpool tubs and full kitchens. Four-footed travelers are greeted with biscuits and a cushy pet bed. Details: 864.457.7300.
More and more chain hotels are accepting pets, including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, LaQuinta and Kimpton Hotels. Kimpton is so welcoming, in fact, it’ll offer you a fish for your room if you arrive without a four-legged friend.
At Loews Hotels, VIP means “Very Important Pet.” The national chain introduced the first pet guest program 18 years ago with its “Loews Loves Pets.” Amenities rival perks for humans and include a room-service menu for dogs and cats; food prepared on-site by the hotel’s culinary team; pet beds and litter boxes; mapped dog-walking routes; and list of dog-friendly eateries.
If your fur-child stares at you expectantly because there’s no rawhide bone or scratching post nearby, those are available, too. Loews allows up to two pets per room. Expect a one-time fee of about $75 at properties in Atlanta, Nashville or Orlando. You even get a “Pet in Room” sign for your door so everyone knows that’s not you snoring. Details: loewshotels.com/loews-loves-pets, loewshotels.com.
The tail end
Take your dog on vacation. Loyalty should be rewarded.