Mississippi River dog destinations: Our favorite spots and tips

by Peter LaFontaine

Can a person's best friend be a friend of the river? Our staff share their best tips for minimizing their dogs' impact on water quality and wildlife while enjoying our beautiful metro Mississippi.

Friends of the Mississippi River has long been a dog-friendly workplace, with fuzzy co-workers like Rio, Zeke and Maggie among the familiar faces around our pre-pandemic office.

With the winter snowpack quickly giving way to the March thaw, we thought it'd be a good time to introduce you to our dogs and their favorite river spots. We'll also relay their tips on how to be mindful of water and wildlife while out and about with your four-legged friends.

Peter and Djuna

Peter and Djuna the dog outside

I'm FMR's agricultural policy manager, and since I spend a lot of time these days on Zoom, walking my dog is a great chance to get some nature time. I live just a few miles north of one of the great public spaces in the Twin Cities: the Minnehaha Dog Park, almost 7 acres of cottonwood glens, steep gorge cliffs, and beautiful riverfront looking across to St. Paul. My wife and I bring our regal miscreant Djuna here almost every week so that she can race around with her friends, careen into the water, sniff bottoms and generally live her best life.

Djuna especially likes the beach, while I'm partial to the more secluded trails along the highlands.

Tip for fellow dog owners

If you head to Minnehaha Dog Park, please note that Coldwater Spring — a culturally, historically and ecologically important site nearby — is definitely not an off-leash area or a place for dogs. As much as we love them, dogs tend not to understand the concept of "park boundaries" so it's on us to make sure they follow the rules!

Trevor and Rio

Trevor and Rio the dog outside with pet waste bag

Trevor Russell, our water program director, is a fellow Longfellowan just down the street from me and also frequents the nearby Mississippi River Gorge. His amiable Goldendoodle, the appropriately-named Rio, loves to walk with Trevor along the west-side trails, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing and the colors come to life.

Tip for fellow dog owners

Rio has long been our unofficial spokesdog, and you may recall advice we've gotten from Trevor and Rio before: Dog owners need to double down on doody-duty (as demonstrated by Trevor in the photo on the right). Pet waste contains harmful bacteria, which can leach into runoff and then the river if you don't take care of it.

In fact, some areas of the Mississippi are impaired for E. coli. So be vigilant, bring extra bags, and pick up your pet waste!

Jen and Maggie

Jen and Maggie outside

Jen Hadley, FMR's database coordinator, spent a recent afternoon at the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. Her wise old dog Maggie loves the variety of smells and gets particularly excited when finding remnants of dead animals.

Tip for fellow dog owners

Keeping Maggie on a leash at parks like this not only ensures her safety, it also means she won't terrorize the wildlife that make the park their home.

Alex, Ed and Lily

Alex and Ed and Lily

Alex Roth, one of our great ecologists, takes his noble companions Ed and Lily on daily walks to the river from his home in Northeast Minneapolis. But their favorite days are weekend trips to the Minnehaha Dog Park, where they can run, swim, play, and get as much sand in their coats as is canine-ly possible.

Tip for fellow dog owners

Before going to dog parks for the first time, work on training and recall to make sure your dogs can be respectful of people, other dogs and wildlife. Go with a friend or partner so you never miss the chance to clean up your dog's pet waste and dispose of it afterward.

Lisa and Percy

Lisa and Percy the dog

Lisa Mueller takes Percy, a solo farm dog, to Battle Creek Dog Park in Ramsey County to socialize. He appreciates the opportunity to run with the big dogs, roll in unmentionables and feel the wind in his fur.

Tip for fellow dog owners

While most of these tips will help you keep wildlife and water safe from dogs, it's good to know the water quality of an area before you go so you can keep your dog safe as well. At Battle Creek Dog Park, testing has confirmed elevated levels of PFAS — a class of chemicals increasingly understood to pose serious environmental and health threats — so don't allow your dog to make contact with any foam. In the summer, be on the lookout to avoid algae blooms in the Twin Cities.

For the good of the river

Here at FMR we love our pups but also know it takes a bit of work to be a responsible owner, doggone it! Just remember to pay attention to park rules and boundaries, pick up your pet's waste, train for good recall and use your leash where it's required. The river and its wild creatures will thank you.