Come Out and Play: Exploring Dog Off-Leash Areas

By: Tom Knisely

April 25, 2023

Category: Recreation

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Minnesota Recreation & Parks Magazine with the title "Come Out and Play: Off-Leash Areas Continue to Grow in Popularity."

“Can we play? Can we play? Get off zoom, can we play?” “Let’s go to the park. Can we go to the park? Can we go now? Can we go now?” “How long is this zoom meeting? Let’s go now.” If dogs could talk, it’s not hard to imagine what they would say. We’ve all been there and had to deal with our pooch, like an impatient child, frantically begging to go out and play and unwilling to take no for an answer.

Fortunately, Three Rivers Park District has a solution. Three Rivers operates nine dog off-leash areas across the metro, covering some 182 acres. Off-leash areas are designated sites where dogs are given the freedom to run and interact with other dogs. The exercise and socialization a dog gets during this off-leash play time helps maintain its mental and physical health. Dog parks at Three Rivers are typically larger than small, manicured city operated dog parks and include both fenced and unfenced off-leash areas where your dog has the room to run at top speed. The largest of these dog parks is at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve and covers a whopping 40 acres.

Two dogs sniff each other's noses at a dog park.

Funded with revenue from daily and season pass holders, these off-leash areas continue to grow in popularity, bringing in roughly 342,000 annual visits a year. Up from 260,000 annual visits a decade ago.

“Our off-leash areas continue to grow in popularity because they offer dog owners a place to let their dogs run, socialize and get plenty of exercise, “said Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent for Three Rivers Park District. “With more and more people in the Twin Cities living in apartments, condos, and town homes, that lack outdoor exercise space for dogs, our off-leash areas can be your back yard,” Skinner added.

A dog bounds through the snow at the Spring Lake Dog Off-Leash Area.

Skinner says the rules for the off-leash areas are basic and simple to follow. Dogs must be current on their rabies vaccination; dogs must be under their handlers control and able to respond to voice commands. And they must play nice. Aggressive behavior is not acceptable.

For small breeds that may be intimidated by larger rambunctious dogs they can still enjoy a worry-free visit to the park. Some off-leash areas have special fenced off sections for small or frail dogs. Other amenities may include ponds to splash and play in and on-site water hook-ups to quench a thirst.

And it’s not just the dog off-leash areas where dogs are welcome in Three Rivers. The park district maintains just over 100 miles of in park trails, at 18 different parks where dogs are allowed to walk the trails. Just be sure to walk them with a six-foot non-retractable leash. Long retractable leashes tend to ensnare bikers, joggers, and other trail users.

A man wearing a plaid shirt walks a black dog on a leaf-covered trail.

With miles and miles of trails to explore and acres upon acres of room to run free, there’s no excuse not to come out to the parks and experience nature with your canine child.

Learn more about dog off-leash area locations, hours or passes.

About the Author

Tom smiles wearing a blue polo shirt with the Three Rivers Park District logo on it.

Tom Knisely has been the media relations contact for Three Rivers Park District since 2007. What little free time he has is spent on the water or in the woods. He is also a mentor for the mentored youth deer hunts hosted by Three Rivers. 


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