Active dog owners are known to enjoy long walks on the beach with their pets, both for the resistance workout brought on by trekking through sand and the joy splashing around brings our animals. Mid-Atlantic Maryland is full of coves and hikes surrounded by water, making for a great environment for dedicated dog beaches and manicured trails. Better yet, the historically significant setting of the Chesapeake Bay, having seen the worst of the Civil War, lends itself to informative plaques and jarring monuments. Rest assured, there’s a lot to look at in all corners of Maryland parks and beaches—for you and your dog.
Dog Friendly Beaches in Maryland
The site of a long-defunct but wildly popular amusement park in the early 1900s, North Point State Park has quite a few reminders of its former glory: an old pier, a trolley station and a gorgeous central fountain. Take your pooch on a journey through acres of hiking trails in both the wooded parts of the park and the “Black Marsh” wetlands, where you might catch a glimpse of blue herons and bald eagles. Dogs and their owners may explore the trails any time of year, but due to summer traffic, personal companions may only visit the day-use areas before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. During the “summer season” (applicable to all Maryland state parks), park admission prices jump from $5 (per each out-of-state vehicle) to $6; in-state visitors owe $3 and $4, respectively. Worked up an appetite running after your pet? Make a pit stop at Thee Maria’s in Edgemere proper, a “New England”-style pizza parlor with tantalizingly cheesy menu items.
Got curious kids and a dog to walk? Head to Calvert Cliffs State Park, a stretch of protected wetland rich in amphibians and birds that extends to a geologically significant expanse of cliffs and bluffs, accessible via the relaxing, two-mile “Red Trail.” Once at the beach, it’s possible to hunt for shark teeth and other fossils in the rocks (don’t touch the cliffs themselves!), made easier with a sifter designed for this purpose. Before visiting this park, load up on bug spray to avoid mosquitos in the marsh and have $5 in cash for each vehicle. Pets may roam year-round at Calvert Cliffs, but be aware of mid-summer crowds.
If keeping your pet on its leash has you chomping at the bit for freedom, opt for a dog beach with fewer rules. Downs Park allows animals to go untethered at a small sandy area on its north end, so let your pooch loose for a swim in the Chesapeake Bay. Since your dog is likely to be joined by other canine companions, avoid bringing your pet here if it has aggressive tendencies. Other notable parts of Downs Park include handball and basketball courts, along with a hundred-year-old aviary for rescued owls and hawks. Unfortunately, the park is closed on Tuesdays, but active military and veterans gain free entry with ID. Admission for both out-of-towners and locals is $6 per vehicle. After enjoying Downs Park, indulge in one of countless tasty ice cream flavors and toppings at Daily Scoop, a family-owned parlor on the east side of Pasadena. This much-loved dessert joint offers smoothies, house-made Frappucinos, fruit slushies and root beer floats.
Don’t be fooled by the name: Matapeake Clubhouse and Public Beach is merely another way to refer to Matapeake State Park, rather than a private country club. The elegant main building, popular with wedding planners, was once a ferry terminal linking Kent Island to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay. By simply crossing Highway 50 onto the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and heading south on Highway 8, one will be struck by the calmness of this waterfront property. Avoiding confusion, Matapeake has a separate beach just for dogs, accessible from a short trail that leads to a secluded cove; pups love frolicking in the Owners must bring plastic bags for cleanup and refrain from letting their pets run to the public beach, the clubhouse or the lawn. Unlike other Maryland beaches on this list, Matapeake is free to visit and drinking is allowed out of containers not made of glass. Before leaving Kent Island, nosh on the freshly caught fare at Stevensville Crab Shack just off Highway 50—with plenty of outdoor seating, this charming local spot serves up fried shrimp, clam strips, hush puppies and a variety of steamed crabs to take home. Best of all, your dog doesn’t have to wait outside while you eat!
Halfway between Baltimore and Philly, Elk Neck State Park sits on a peninsula separating the north end of the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of Elk River. Diverse terrain, sights and landmarks can be found in distinct areas of the 2,000 acre protected wilderness, yet the draw for folks with dogs is the North East Beach Area, where pups can run around and swim in the off-season months (before April and after October). People may swim here too, but only when buoys are marked and during the summer months; in lieu of swimming weather or desire, hike with a canine companion to the end of White Banks Trail to see cliff drops and impressive views of the bay. Follow Route 272 through a residential community and onto the Turkey Point Lighthouse Trail, which leads to the landmark of the same name that was erected in 1833. On the way to view the lighthouse (dogs may not enter), take pause at the “Raptor Fields,” a great stretch of trail for spotting hawks and eagles. Unless previously specified, keep your pet leashed. Admission on weekdays is $3 per vehicle and $3 per person on weekends, but add on a dollar to each charge if you’re visiting from outside Maryland.
The only ocean beach on this list, Assateague Island (at the southernmost tip of Maryland’s coastline) showcases the state’s best view of the Atlantic Ocean, along with lush marshland and a herd of wild horses roaming about the premises. Once you’ve crossed over the Verrazano Bridge, turn right and keep continuing along the road until it reaches the over-sand vehicle zone. At this point, you and your pooch are free to explore miles of nearly-white sand, as long as it stays on a leash under six feet and doesn’t bother the ponies. Don’t go past the Virginia state line, either; dogs are prohibited on the neighboring Chincoteague Island—though it is, of course, the same “island.” Visitors also enjoy clamming here, and the signage around the National Seashore indicates where to dig at low tide. The park is open 24 hours every day with a per-person fee of $3.
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.