Head to Missouri for an unforgettable beach trip. Most of the top dog-friendly beaches and swimming areas are tucked away in or around the city of Columbia, which boasts many state parks and nature areas with interconnected hiking trails. In fact, the majority of these areas have dedicated dog parks with ponds and lakes just for pets to frolic through. When choosing a Missouri vacation rental, keep in mind that state parks have fairly strict rules about dogs on public beaches and in swimming areas. However, pets are allowed on hiking trails as long as they’re leashed. Take a look at the most notable dog-friendly beaches in Missouri.

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1. Twin Lakes Recreation Area

The Twin Lakes Recreation Area, lying in the southern outskirts of Columbia, offers doggy fun. The fenced-in area covers a large lawn, Paws Pond, and part of the beach and entire 16 acres of the Twin Lakes Fishing Lake, providing your pooch with plenty of off-leash running and swimming. While the beach closes between November and March – thin ice can be a problem for both two-legged and four-legged animals – it’s open and unrestricted the rest of the year. A few pet-friendly vacation rentals in the area are within walking distance of the park. In fact, if you get one by the Hinkson Woods Conservation Area, you can walk your dog (leashed) along the trails all the way to the dog park. While you keep an eye on your dog, the rest of the family can swim in the Little Mates Cove next door, literally feet away, or go hiking along the Hinkson Creek. Later, enjoy a walk along the Forum Nature Area and Branch-Hinkson Creek Wetlands.

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2. Garth Nature Area

If you head north from downtown Columbia, you hit the Garth Nature Area with its own fenced-in dog park with with a pond and beach for pets only. While neither the beach nor pond are that big – the entire park covers 3 acres – it’s more than big enough for your dog to stretch his legs and have a good time. The dog park is part of the bigger Garth Nature Area with walking trails threaded through trees, around ponds, and over marshes. Explore the area with your leashed dogs, or hike the Bear Creek Trail from this park over to Cosmo Park. Afterward, treat the both of you to some good food at Houlihan’s, Smokin Chicks BBQ, and 44 Stone Public House. Just be prepared to hang out on the patio with your pooch.

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3. Grindstone Nature Area

On the southeast side of Columbia is Grindstone Nature Area, which offers the biggest off-leash area on the list for dogs, at 200 acres. Explore the Grindstone Nature Trail, which threads throughout the woods and across fields. Climb to the top of Lost Hill for some great views, or allow your pup to frolic through the creek, which is totally allowed. However, Hinkson Creek Trail, which also runs through the nature area, is strictly on-leash. Once your dog’s worn out from all his excitement, climb the bluffs of Capen Park for a little alone time and stunning views.

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4. Stephens Lake Park

Stephens Lake Park is one of the few locations that’s not exclusive to either dogs or humans, although being on a leash is required. Walk through the sandy beach with Fido, let him get his feet wet, and then take a walk around the lake and even over it (courtesy of a fenced in boardwalk that meets an island in the middle). After giving your dog an outdoors adventure, treat yourself to a game at the Columbia Country Club, and then spend some time in the North Village. Here you can grab a bite at Shakespeare’s Pizza Downtown or Flat Branch Pub and Brewing (dogs allowed) and catch a show at The Blue Note or The Canvas On Broadway (dogs not allowed).

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5. Broemmelsiek Park

Broemmelsiek Park in Defiance, Missouri, is a rural area for a vacation that offers solitude and one-on-one time with you and your best four-legged friend. While dogs aren’t allowed in the park’s lake, there’s a 4.7-acre enclosed dog park with its own pond and beach. After getting out some of his energy, take him for a leashed walk throughout the rest of Broemmelsiek Park; there are over 400 acres to explore and plenty of trails. You can return at night to do some star viewings in the astronomy area. If you want a bigger area to explore, head to the Weldon Spring Conservation Area and Howell Island Conservation Area. Rent a raft at Float Missouri River and have an adventure with your pet (some rental agencies allow it). A nearby park, Peace Park, offers some historical sites such as the Original Grave Marker of Thomas Jefferson and the Francis Quadrangle. Better yet, you can take your dog exploring with you as long as you stick to the outdoor paths and clean up after him.

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