Dear PoPville – Any Good Recommendations for Places to Walk/Hike off-leash with our Dog?


Photo by PoPville flickr user theupper

Dear PoPville,

We adopted a wonderful year-old dog in October (shout out to Humane Society for being great) and she needs a lot of exercise. We live near the Upshur dog park, but unfortunately our pooch is shy around large numbers of other dogs and after several attempts now refuses even to walk down the block in the direction of the park. Neither of us are runners, but we like to walk and hike a lot, and she gets her best exercise by dashing madly up and down a quiet section of trail off-leash in front of us. We often take her walking off-leash in the northern section of Rock Creek Park where she sometimes meets and does fine with other off-leash dogs singly or in small groups. But, we’ve already explored many of the more distant trails in Rock Creek Park and would love to take the opportunity to exercise our dog and explore other parts of the city!

Any recommendations on good places to walk/hike off-leash (read: away from roads and cars, not highly trafficked with other dogs but popular enough to feel safe) with our dog?

98 Comment

  • Ever go to Battery Kimble over by American U? I like that path because it’s so pretty- there’s a little stream, and it’s not a tough walk for people or dogs.

  • Maybe parts of the Arboreteum?

    • Don’t go to the Arboreteum. I walk my dog there regularly and have been reprimanded for having my dog on a retractable leash, rather than a standard 6′ leash.

  • Can we please not encourage people to illegally have their dogs off leash in Rock Creek Park. Especially if your dog is going to dash off on the trail in front of you. Do you realize how terrifying that can be for a runner/stranger? I don’t know your dog.

    • +1. I was bitten by an off-leash dog in a park when I was 5 or 6 years old – and I’m sure that the dog’s owner didn’t think their dog would bite a small child either, but it happened.

      • +1 It’s also dangerous for your dog to be off leash. Your dog might be friendly, but there are plenty of dogs with leash aggression – you don’t want your dog dashing off ahead of you and getting hurt by another dog. Might be best to do some additional training with your dog to get him comfortable with dog parks.

        I keep my incredibly friendly boxer on a leash because 1) it’s the law and 2) there are plenty of aggressive dogs/bad dog owners around and I don’t want my dog to run over to greet them and get hurt.

        • I’ll also note that depending on the trail in Rock Creek Park, you might also encounter horses. There are public trail rides and the students from Rock Creek Park Horse Center ride through the park. Your off-leash dog could very well spook a horse, which could be bad for both horse and rider. I love that you want to get your dog some good exercise, so hopefully there will be lots of good suggestions for safe alternatives.

        • +1 I always run my friendly dog on leash but have trouble passing other dogs who are off leash due to my dog’s leash aggression. Constantly an issue in RCP off of Piney Branch Pkwy

        • +1 I agree, its incredibly difficult for those of us with leashed dogs that have leash aggression to get by an unleashed dog. My dog does fine in dog parks, but is not afraid of cars so I keep her leashed when running the trails of RCP. When leashed she is nervous around unleashed dogs. This is especially a problem on the trails just off Piney Branch Pkwy.

    • I recently fostered a dog and was (probably naively) surprised at how many off leash dogs we encountered, all of whom ran full speed at my dog and did not come when called. Fortunately, my foster dog is very dog friendly, but the other guardians didn’t know that about her nor did I know if their dogs were as well. It was scary.

      • I walk to and from work every day on the Hill along Independence, and it seems to me that there has been a noticeable uptick and people walking their dogs off-leash. It really bugs me not just because it is against the law but because they are walking their dog a few feet from a street that is heavily used and a loud noise startling the pooch could scare it into traffic that goes faster (than it should). The morning is a bit more quite because Independence is more outgoing traffic but still there are a fair number of cars and other people walking their dogs out and about.

    • THANK YOU. I’m also a runner in RCP, and it’s astounding how many people don’t obey the law, probably because they think it doesn’t apply to them. Newsflash: your dog is friendly TO YOU. I’ve been charged, attacked and bitten…oddly enough, always by “friendly” dogs.

      The worst is when you ask someone to leash his dog and he’s like “yeah right” and keeps on walking.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I forgot Congressional Cemetery is highly recommended:

    http://www.cemeterydogs.org/

    • yes–good suggestion! As people noted, it’s really unfair (illegal, dangerous) to let your dog run off-leash where it’s not allowed. But the cemetary is a place where dogs are actually encouraged to run!

      Maybe try dog parks at less common hours? I’ve also seen lots of off-leash dogs at Dunbarton Park in Georgetown but I don’t know if it’s allowed.

      • talula

        Yes, I’ve seen lots of off leash dogs in Dumbarton Oaks, Montrose Park, and also the Whitehaven Park section of Glover Archbold Park. I often see people playing with their dogs off leash, particularly in Whitehaven Park, and no one seems to bother them. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have your dog off-leash in public parks for a variety of reasons, but if you’re going to do it, go to parks during off-hours.

  • Leash it, please

    • Amen. My right to enjoy the park supersedes your dog’s right to run around in it. Oh yeah — your dog doesn’t have a right.

  • I take my dog down to the north side of the Capitol all the time for off leash fun. Take N CAP street south till it dead ends on Louisiana ave and park on D street in front of the fountains. Many of the roads (1st NE, Delaware Ave, C st) are blocked to traffic so you have tons of space. I never get hassled for having my dog off leash by the capitol police or anyone for that matter. In the summer when its hot dogs can run and cool off in the north reflecting pool (my dog loves that part). I have walked him around the entire capitol buiilding off leash over xmas break when not many people were around. tons of fun.

  • Congressional Cemetery is great, there is a membership process available on the website.

    (As someone else noted, it is illegal in the District to have your dog off leash on any public property that is not a DPR dog park. That would include Rock Creek Park and the Arboretum. That said, I know people who go down to Fort Dupont.)

  • There are a few places off of trails in Ft Dupont park that are GREAT to take our dog with plenty of for them to run around full speed

    south side is somewhat far from where it sounds like you are

  • I second the Battery Kemble recommendation. There is also a huge dog park in Arlington along Four-Mile Run, with a special area for small dogs if that applies:

    http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/scripts/parks/ShirlingtonPark.aspx

    Voted best dog park in several magazines in recent years.

    • The Shirlington Park is excellent if you have a car to get down there. There is a shallow creek for your dog to play in if they are in to the water and you don’t mind a soggy dog.

      • That “creek” is actually run-off water from the streets and who-knows what else. I have never understood why people let their dogs wade into that toxic stew and then come into my house/bed. Full of oils, street grime, gasoline – you name it. And, if I am not mistaken, a port-a-potty company was fined heavily a few years back for dumping raw sewage into that creek. No. Way.

  • I’d recommend against letting your dog play in the water in Four Mile Run. That creek has extremely high coliform counts and other nasty bugs. Dogs are no more immune to these things than we are.

    But, with that said, I sure do see a lot of dogs loving playing in the water at the two dog parks along there.

  • If you’re willing to drive, we love Turkey Run Park (off of the GW Parkway, near 495); Roosevelt Island (though can get crowded when it’s nice out); The Cross Country Trail at Colvin Mill. There is a great book: 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of DC and tells you if/where you can/can’t have your dog.

  • My advice: go buy some land where you can let your dog run free. There are signs at every trail head: “leash all pets at all times.” Do you still think it’s OK to let your dog go off leash?

    I run in Rock Creek and meet dogs off leash every time I run. Sometimes they’re harmless poodles and sometimes they’re pit bulls and rottweilers. Sure, they may have never hurt anyone before but how do I know that?

    • Emilie504

      Former poodle owner* here, the little bastards aren’t harmless. My asshole dog bit me and was generally mean.

      *He was technically mine, but everyone knew he only had love for my mother.

    • Ha, funny. I own a pit bull who would never so much as lift her lip to a human (though you will never in a million years see her off-leash due to the existence of so many ignorant humans). Only dog I’ve ever been bitten by in my life was a miniature poodle.

  • While I’m okay with normally breaking silly rules – but be considerate when going off leash in parks. Try not to use them during times when there are lots of other runners/walkers.
    There is a terrible dog walker in Battery Kimble with a gaggle of dogs (6-10) that are off leash and poorly behaved.

  • they make the suburbs for just such an activity. kids, animals running wild. it’s like they are a factory for that type of behavior.

  • Seriously, don’t let your dog run off leash on some back trail in Rock Creek Park. I run back there all the time and there’s nothing more worrisome that seeing some huge random dog barrelling down the trails with nary a human in sight. How I am supposed to know what the dog is going to do? Not everyone loves dogs, and letting your dog roam uncontrolled is just a big FU to them.

  • i believe dogs should be on-leash, but i don’t hope for that. jesus.

  • If you really want to go off leash, you need to go out to VA or MD on the trails. Here’s a good place to start

    http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-virginia

    As a long time dog owner I have to say: One of the best thing you can do to bond with your new dog is take him on long walks around the city on the leash. At least 2 miles, but 8-10 if you have the time. This establishes a solid relationship between you and the hound. In their mind, you’re working together. Plus it’s great exercise for both of you.

    Please, don’t take your dog off leash at the Arboretum. The staff works really hard to keep that place as nice as it is.

  • Do not let your dog off leash in Rock Creek Park (that includes the trail along piney branch in Mt. Pleasant). It’s not fair to the other runners, and potentially dangerous to your dog. Some dogs have leash agression and may attack an off-leash dog. If you “need” to let your dog off leash you should consider a breed more appropriate for city living.

  • Dear PoPville,

    Where can I report off-leash dog walkers endangering their dogs and others enjoying the outdoors in RCP and along Glover-Archibald? And what is the most appropriate method for scolding them?

    • Get as much info you can about the person and the dog (vehicle tag # if possible) and report it to DC Animal Control 202-576-6664. There are animal control investigators (recently created position) who can/ will look into it. If you are in the presence of a Park Police Officer or MPD officer, they can also write a citation for the violation of leash law.

  • Please come to Congressional Cemetery – but first register to become a member to ensure the integrity of the site along with the safety/health of the other dogs and people.

  • Montrose Park in Georgetown is a great place for leash free fun. It is on R St NW between 30th & 31st street. There is a large open field on the street level and if you choose there is a good trail, creek and park area down the hill behind Dumbarton Oaks. Even the runners are dog lovers and don’t care about the free range dogs. I been going there for over 15 years.

  • I have a large dog who can be aggressive to other dogs, especially if the other dog runs into his face without being properly introduced.

    I find it very upsetting when I see people letting their dogs run offleash, making my life hard. I’ve had several instances where I’ve had a dog dashing at us while my dog flips out and the other dog owner just stands there and says “Oh, he’s friendly!”

    I’m glad your dog is so “friendly”. That is not the point. It’s a courtesy to other people to keep your dog on leash. Not every other dog – or person – takes kindly to a dog invading their space.

    • +1 My dog is a rescue and is often scared of other dogs, which is why we avoid going to dog parks where off-leash dogs can freely run up to him and intimidate/overwhelm him. This is why it makes me so mad when irresponsible/inconsiderate owners let their dogs off leash even in areas where it’s illegal to do so. My dog should be able to enjoy his legal, leashed walk without dealing with dogs running full speed toward him. (And I say this as a true dog lover. I don’t believe there are bad dogs, just bad owners.)

    • Maybe you should get a nicer dog.

      • Maybe people shouldn’t abuse and abandon their animals, leaving them both physically and mentally scarred.

    • This. My dog is very friendly and good with most dogs, but she does not do well with off-leash dogs invading her space when she’s on-leash. Even though she’s typically good-natured, this is a recipe for a fight. Thankfully she is only 40lbs and I can pick her up if I see an off-leash dog (which I find galling that I need to do at all). Most of the time it’s a tiny dog whose owner laughs when they see me lugging a 40lb dog past them.

      Just, please, have some consideration. It’s great if your dog is friendly, but there are leash laws for a reason. Not everyone or every dog loves a strange dog getting in their face.

    • Completely agree. I also hate when an owner uses an unlocked retractable leashes and his/her dog nips at my big dog but it’s ok because the other dog is so small it couldn’t possibly do any damage.

      • figby

        I thought those retractable leashes were illegal in the District? Maybe not. Totally agree on the “he’s friendly!” off-leash dogs. Well, mine’s not! My rescue dog will go for your friendly, off-leash dog’s throat.

  • I used to let my beagle run around some off-leash on the Roosevelt Island trails, on weekdays when it is nearly deserted. That said, it’s a terrible idea. Bad! Bad!

  • I wish the city would designate a time to have dogs off leash in Rock Creek Park. I have two dogs, both of whom are friendly, and they love running off leash. I get it that not everyone loves dogs–everyone I’ve encountered with them while off leash has been extremely nice, usually accompanied by their own off leash dogs. People like us who own homes near the park pay a truckload in taxes to DC and the federal government every year. It would be nice if there was an hour or two a weekend, even a month, when we could enjoy the park the way we like to, and others who dislike dogs could be on notice that every thirty days or so they should avoid the park for an hour. Anyone who lets their dogs off leash during that period assumes the risk of dogs getting rough with each other. It’s no different when you drop them off at kennels where they run and play together.

    • That’s what dog parks are for.

    • “People like us who own homes near the park pay a truckload in taxes to DC and the federal government every year.”

      You should drop this from your argument, it’s completely irrelevant; you pay more for the privilege of living near the park, not for the privilege of using the park how you want to. Apart from that I don’t think it’s a terrible idea, but I don’t think it would work (i.e. people would still run their dogs off leash whenever they want to.)

      • True, a house near Rock Creek Park does cost more than taxes. Nevertheless, if I’m subsidizing all sorts of crap that provides no benefit to me, it is not so much to ask for permission to use the park for an hour to walk my dogs off leash.

        • I think you may have missed my point. The (relative) amount you pay in taxes bears no relation to how you get to use the park. There may be good arguments for having designated off-leash times but “I subsidize so much stuff that I get no benefit from so I should get to do this” is not one of them.

          • “the (relative) amount you pay in taxes bears no relation to how you get to use the park”

            This! By this person’s logic, if I lived next to a gov’t building I should be able to walk in and s**t on the floor just because I pay property taxes.

          • Sure taxes can play into the argument. Some people pay more in taxes, which allows the government to enact policies that inure to the great benefit of many, many people and programs bearing no connection to said taxpayer (welfare benefits doled out in five-year increments, etc.). Higher taxpayers want some policies enacted to inure to their benefit adapted to their needs. Closing Rock Creek to motor vehicles on the weekends and the bike lanes being painted all over the nice parts of DC are pretty good examples of nice things done to make taxpayers happy.

        • There may be no direct benefit, but there are tons of indirect benefits. Just think.

          • Yes, yes, I hear you on that–prevention of mass chaos is an indirect benefit for sure. I was just making the point that it’s not entirely uncommon for the government to throw a dog a bone from time to time. (I tried so hard to resist the groaner. Couldn’t. Apologies.)

    • I really like this idea. I like the set up of the Shirlington Dog Park how it’s seems much less like a dog park and more of an off-leash dog run. I wish Rock Creek Park would fence off like a mile of land running along a shallow area. Even if you had to pay to use it, I think a lot of people would.

  • I agree that running into an off leash dog isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but for the sake of being helpful – The new trails along the Anacostia and especially Kingman Island might be good spots. They need more usage and there’s a lot of space.

  • Kingman Park Island near RFK, the park across the river, or Anacostia park at the far east end (where the road leads to the RR station) – huge grassy area there and no leash rules. Also – plenty of PARKING at all of these parks.

  • I personally think there needs to be more off leash parks for people to take their dogs in and around DC. Many dogs need to run, a 20 minute walk isn’t enough. It would also help with dog aggression/anxiety since they would get their energy out and be happier. If you have ever been to San Francisco you would see that pretty much everyone has their dog off leash, all the time, in all parks. Even in the amazing Golden Gate Park there are no leash laws and I didn’t see anyone having a problem with it. I assume that if it was a problem than they would change the law, they haven’t so it must work.

    • In San Francisco there’s also people who walk around naked in public. I wouldn’t use SF as a standard for any kind of public behavior or policy.

    • There are definitely leash laws in Golden Gate Park. But you are right that no one follows the law. I’ve seen a dog dig up an entire rose bush at GGP.

    • I agree with you! I think all the naysayers would survive if there were one or two designated off-leash parks in the district. And anyone that says “that’s what dog parks are for” clearly hasn’t experienced the splendor that is a dc dog park.

  • OP: what about going to dog parks in the off-times and teaching your dog to play fetch? Or biking with a dog leash extension on a bike path? I’ve found running to be more enjoyable by joining a local running club and my (leashed) dog has been super welcomed by the other runners.

  • Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the recommendations and the discussion. The Congressional cemetery sounds great, I’ll definitely look into that, and the Shirlington park. No worries about my dog in the dirty water though, she’s not into getting wet!

    Guess I should have asked for recommendations on *legal* places to walk off-leash…and I guess the answer is, there are really just very few. I don’t want to have my medium-sized, non-aggressive rescue dog startle or scare anyone, I just want to find a place for her to run around safely. We walk at non-busy times, way off in the recesses of the park, and we don’t often see very many people. When we do, we have our dog sit on the side of the trail and wait until the walker or runner has passed, and we leash her ahead of road or sidewalk crossings, grab her collar and ask permission for her to play with other dogs that we see, and generally try our best to strike a reasonable compromise. We would do all those things even in a place where off-leash walking were allowed!

    • As others mentioned- Shirlington is great (really large). But it can get really busy at times which might be an issue as you mentioned your dog doesn’t like large groups. If you go, I would definitely recommend off-times to ease her into socializing (really early on the weekends would probably work well; weekend afternoons, probably not).

      Another option would be the dog park in SE (across/near the Humane Society at 1001 L St SE). I’m not positive of the name of the park but it’s got a decent-sized space for in the city and is completely fenced. The few times we’ve gone there, we’ve never seen more than 3 other dogs. We would’ve used it more when we lived in SE except for the fact that our boxer LOVES other dogs and we wanted her to socialize more (was less than a year then). Garfield Park (also in SE) typically has a few offleash dogs running around the west end during evenings. While yes, illegal, this park tends to work well as it provides good separation between kids and dogs so I’ve never seen an issue.

      If only we could be like NYC where almost every park is off-leash between 7-9am daily. We’ve taken our boxer to Prospect Park in Brooklyn a few times and it is CRAZY how many dogs you see there.

      • I’d advise against going to that park in SE on Virginia. They re-fenced it and it’s tiny now. It’s often crowded, bare dirt, and there have been some serious dog fights recently. It stinks that there aren’t more off-leash areas in the city. I don’t have the time to drive to one of the few dog parks every morning and my high energy dog needs more than just the long walks we take every day.

        • Agree about the Virginia Ave park. I’ve been taking my dog to the concrete slab where the temporary Eastern Market used to be. They’ve fenced it in now (though beware your dog could wriggle under a door if he’s keen on escaping) and there usually isn’t anyone in it. It’s fairly big and a nice place to throw the ball. There’s also a small fenced in area next to the Hine that people use as a dog run, but it’s very dusty and dirty, and much smaller.

    • I take my dogs to an Arlington dog park – but not Shirlington. I take them to a park off of Karlin Springs Road. Glen Carlyn Park off of 4th Street. http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/scripts/parks/GlencarlynPark.aspx
      It is unfenced, and not very crowded. It has two streams feeding in off of Upper Four Mile Run – (not so polluted) a play area, and trails to walk.

  • On another note, I o have the opposite problem: my dog, a rescue, is afraid of strangers, especially ones who run up behind him. So to the runners out there, if you could give an alert like “on your left” to people up ahead of you with dogs, that would give me a chance to anticipate that someone’s coming. Sometimes runners are so quiet until they are right up behind you, and that’s when he freaks out. It would be much appreciated!

  • The writer may want to note that the “nice” experience of allowing her dog off leash in RCP is illegal. Also, as friendly as their dog may seem, there are people who use the Park who don’t look kindly upon any strange dog approaching and not leashed. The Park is a great place, but everyone has an equal right to enjoy it.

  • If you want to go for a hike, George Washington Forest allows dogs to go off leash. We went with friends and their adopted retriever, who was in absolute heaven. Humans may wish the trails didn’t have so many small rocks, so they may want to watch their ankles.

    Shenandoah requires you to leash your dogs, but it’s still a very dog friendly environment. Of course, the trails there are awesome and friendly to hikers of all levels.

  • I wish, I wish, I wish. Santa Claus should have a blog where people could post all their wishes. Here’s mine: I wish people could just learn how to be constructive and stay on topic (yes, guilty as charged).

    Now for the serious reply: if your dog isn’t into crowds, the best place to have your dog off leash outside is in your fenced backyard (I make myself laugh). Second choice would be hiking on the many empty trails of the Shenandoah Mountains. I think there are leash laws for the trails (I am sure someone here could offer that info *wink*), but many times you’ll be the only people there. If a tree falls and noone hears it…

    http://www.hikingupward.com has a ton of useful trail info. It’s my goto when I want to take my beasts into nature and cut loose. Type “dog” into the search box and you’ll get a ton of results/comments about hiking specific trails with dogs. Depending on the trail you choose it can be either a hike (sorry) or close to home. Rule of thumb- the closer it is the more likely people will be there (I am looking at you, Great Falls). There is no greater satisfaction for me as a dog owner then taking my two masters of disaster for a 6 mile hike and having them pass out in the car the minute we start heading home (BTW – By “pass out” I mean they are tired, and not near death from dehydration or heat exhaustion).

  • I amsSurprised nobody has mentioned the trails and field at 39th and W. I take my dog there off leash at least once a week. Everyone there walks their dogs off leash. There are lots of runners, hikers, kids playing and never once have I heard someone complain about a dog off leash. Despite the fact that dogs are supposed to be leashed at all times I figure that if my dog is within 10-15 feet of me and under verbal control he is fine. When runners go by I have him sit until they have passed. He is not interested in other dogs and doesn’t approach them whether they are on leash or off. Highly recommend this park

    • I forgot to mention. If another dog approaching your dog is enough for your dog to start a fight that means your dog needs more training. My dog was also a abused rescue but has been trained that aggression is not acceptable. Whether on leash or off dogs she be able to meet and not fight under all circumstances

    • If your dog stays near you, remains under verbal control and is well-behaved enough to sit and stay while someone passes, you are a one-in-a-million dog owner. Thanks for training your dog. Wish everyone would.

  • One poster mentioned going to dog parks at off hours – I agree. Shaw Dog Park can get busy, but is also pretty dead during around 9-10 in the morning. They also have a special section that is fenced off for small dogs, which is rarely used. I’ve take my dog in there to train when it is empty. When a small dog shows up, I take him back into the larger park.

  • In Rock Creek Park many people don’t obey the posted leash laws. Commonly this practice enables owners to ignore where their dog defecates and then not pick up.

  • Not really practical right now or as an every day solution, but there is a great dog beach on the other side of the Chesapeake. Terrapin Park, it’s a little tricky to find but its a great day trip.

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