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The Washington County (MN) Parks Pass – Is it worth it for dog owners?

When I move to a new city, one of my favorite activities is finding the best local dog-friendly hiking and walking locations. Often I start by scanning Google Maps around my new home. This is how I first found Lake Elmo Park Reserve.

This park is part of the Washington County Parks system, which means that it charges an entrance fee. The cost is $7/day or $30 for an annual pass. Since we expected to be using this park frequently, we went ahead and purchased an annual pass. Nearly a year later, we want to share our thoughts about this park system with you.

So is the Washington County Parks Pass dog-friendly enough to be worth purchasing? Overall, yes. While many of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter (making them off-limits for dogs), from spring to fall this parks pass provides access to enough great dog-friendly hiking trails to make it worth it for local dog-owners.

While some of the Washington County Parks are smaller than others, overall there are plenty of options to enjoy with your dog. Keep reading for a brief description of the various parks included in the Washington County Parks Pass.

Where is Washington County?

Washington County is a county located in the state of Minnesota. Its eastern edge is border by the St. Croix River and its western edge is roughly traced by three interstate highways (35E, 694, and 494). The largest city in this county is Woodbury, but the county seat is in Stillwater.

As of 2010, the population was 238,126, making it the fifth most populous county in Minnesota. It is also the wealthiest county in Minnesota based on a per capita income. (Data from Wikipedia.com).

General Dog Regulations in Washington County Parks

Generally, the following rules apply when visiting any of the parks in the Washington County Parks system.

  • Dogs must be leashed
  • Leashes need to be 6 feet or less in length
  • Dogs must be attended
  • Dogs are only allowed in parking lots and on summer trails
  • Dogs are NOT allowed in campgrounds.

Find out more about visiting this park system with your dog by reading Washington County’s Pet Policy Brochure.

Washington County Parks

There are 8 parks and 2 regional trails in the Washington County System. Of these, 6 of the parks and both of the regional trails allow dogs. For a quick overview of which parks allow dogs and which have hiking trails, take a look at the official Washington County Park Guide. Vehicle permits are required for entrance into all of these parks (although the regional trails are open access).

All of the trail maps for the parks listed below can be found at the Washington County website.

Lake Elmo Park Preserve

Lake Elmo Park Reserve is the largest park in the Washinton County Parks system, covering 2,165 acres (or 3.5 square miles). Around 80% of this acreage is set aside for preservation and protection. The landscape is mostly rolling hills, lake terrain, forest, and prairie.

This park contains around 20 miles of turf hiking trails, making it an excellent summer hiking location. Be aware that many of these trails are multi-use trails and are shared with horses and bikes.

Our favorite trails are Eagle Point  (3.8 miles), Brown’s Pond (2.6 miles) and Lake Elmo (2.3 miles)

The Eagle Point trail is a loop trail that winds through prairie and a small amount of forest as it circumnavigates Eagle Point Lake. In the summer, we occasionally see horses on this trail and often see bikers and other hikers and dogs. The trail is nice and wide to allow easy passing of other trail users.

On Eagle Point Trail.

Brown’s Pond Trail connects with Lake Elmo trail making a 4-5 mile loop depending on if you hike the entire trail. This trail is across the entrance road from Eagle Point trail. A little more wooded and with views of smaller lakes, Brown’s Pond/Lake Elmo trails are a great option for hiking at Lake Elmo Park Preserve.

Pine Point Regional Park

Pine Point Regional Park is located north of Stillwater. It is a peaceful park with pine forests, lakes and marshes.

This park contains 6.3 miles of turf trails open for leashed dogs to use with their people. Like the trails at Lake Elmo, many of these trails are open to horses and a few miles are also shared with bikes.

The trail along Louise Lake.

The park also serves as a major trailhead for the Gateway Trail (operated by the state of Minnesota). If you want to hit the pavement and extend your walk, the Gateway Trail stretches for 18 miles from Pine Point Regional Park to the city of St. Paul.

We have mostly visited this park on weekdays, and it has been quiet with few users. That may change on weekends though.

Hiking through the pine tree forest.

Square Lake Park

Square Lake Park, located only a few miles from Pine Point Regional Park, is not as impressive for those looking for dog-friendly hiking. While this park is designated as a Regional “Special Recreation Feature” by the Metropolitan Council, it only includes 0.5 miles of turf trails.

For it isn’t hiking that draws users to this park. Instead, it is Square Lake’s outstanding water quality. It has some of the clearest waters in Minnesota and draws scuba divers and swimmers from throughout the Twin Cities region.

Big Marine Park

Big Marine Park is the northernmost park in the Washington County Parks system. Around 80% of its acreage is set aside to preserve and protect high-quality upland and wetland wildlife habitat. When complete, this park will be around 1,800 acres.

Currently, Big Marine Park reserve has 1.4 miles of turf trails and an additional 2.0 miles of paved/sidewalk trails. This park is located on Big Marine Lake, so some of the trails do offer lake views.

Hardwood Creek Regional Trail

The final Washington County Parks location in the northern half of the county is the Hardwood Creek Regional Trail. If you enjoy taking your dog to paved multi-use trails, this trail offers 9.5 miles of trail to explore.

The trail consists of two parallel trails that run adjacent to State Highway 61 from Hugo to Forest Lake. The paved trail is intended for use by hikers and their dogs, in addition to bikers and in-line skaters in the summer. The turf trail is meant for horses.

The trail was built on a former Burlington Northern Railroad grade, so the trail is level and ADA accessible. County Park Vehicle Permits are NOT required to park at or to use this trail.

Point Douglas Regional Trail

Moving to the southernmost region of Washington County, the Point Douglas Regional Trail is the other multi-use paved trail that Washinton County maintains.

The trail starts at Point Douglas Park (which is NOT dog-friendly). The trail then extends for 2.5 miles under Highway 10 and then back west along the Mississippi River. Most of the trail is along bluff land and has tree canopy. You can even catch some vista views of the river.

This is a newer trail and the 2.5-mile segment was completed in 2017. This trail connects to downtown Hastings and the Dakota County regional trail system.

Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park

Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park consists of 515 acres of hills and heavily wooded ravines. At the south end of the park is Ravine Lake.

Taking a dip in Ravine Lake.

Getting back to some good turf trail options to explore with your dog, this park contains 7.2 miles of turf trails. We weren’t able to explore them all, as when we visited this spring they were in the process of reseeding the trails. But the few miles we were able to hike at this park were lovely.

Hiking trails at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park.

St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park

The final dog-friendly park in the Washinton County Parks system is St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. This park is a total of 579 acres and is located on the wild and scenic St. Croix River. In fact, the park contains 3,800 feet of shoreline along the St. Croix River.  The landscape is a mix of rolling upland prairies, wooded ravines, and the hallmark bluffs.

With 7.6 miles of turf trails, there is plenty to explore at this park. Our only complaint… we wish there were more views of the river.

Enjoying a brief glimpse of the St. Croix River.

So is a Washington County Parks Pass worth it for hikers with dogs?

If you live in Washinton County, an annual pass is a great value. For $30 dollars, you will gain access to over 43 miles of hiking trails for approximately 9 months of the year. The trails are only closed to dogs when they are groomed for cross-country skiing.

The vehicle passes are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase and are also honored in Anoka and Carver County Parks.

If you want to just spend a day in a Washington County Park, a day pass was $7 at the time of writing this post. Alternatively, you can visit on the first non-holiday Tuesday of each month, when vehicle permits are not required. If you want to visit on a weekend, the first Saturday of June each year, which is “Explore Your Parks Day” in Washington County, is another day when permits are not required.

However, if you don’t live in Washington County, a Minnesota State Parks pass is a better deal. For that $35 dollars, you will gain access to 66 state parks + additional recreation areas throughout the entire state of Minnesota. Personally, we prefer the trail systems at local state parks compared to those at the Washington County Parks. Both Afton State Park and William O’Brien State Park are located in Washington County.

Another park to consider if you don’t want to purchase a Washington County Parks pass is Sunfish Lake Park. This is a great alternative to Lake Elmo Park Reserve. Just a few miles away from Lake Elmo Park Reserve, Sunfish Lake is a free park. It is also dog-friendly (just have your dog on a leash) and offers several miles of hiking trails around lakes and through wooded terrain.

We discuss Sunfish Lake Park and the two state parks mentioned above in our post: 7 Great Dog-Friendly Hiking Locations in the Twin Cities East Metro.

Related Blog Posts for Dog-Friendly Hiking in/around Minnesota

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