Port Burwell, Ontario: Leash Free Dog Friendly Beach. Hurray!

Sasha on Port Burwell Dog Beach

We have a winner! So far, Port Burwell Provincial Park is my favorite conservation area dog-friendly beach. A free-run dog beach – imagine! Some people who live in other provinces (or likely states) might not understand my excitement. I found the answer to the question:

Where can I find a leash-free dog friendly beach in Southern Ontario, Canada?

I live in the land of regulations (Ontario, Canada), where about one in ten people remind strangers about leash laws; where it was until 2020 illegal to take dogs to outdoor patios because of ‘health regulations’ (yes, outdoors where birds poop); and where some conservation areas offer ‘exercise’ areas that require dogs to remain on leashes. (Note: this law was updated Spring 2020. Individually businesses in Ontario, Canada can make their own dogs-on-the-patio policies).

What is a dog ‘exercise area’ at an Ontario provincial park is a little vague, maybe intentionally so. The term ‘leash-free’ is not used on the website, yet pictures of free running dogs are. When I asked parks representatives, I was told that whether dog exercise areas are leash-free is up to individual park wardens who monitor situations daily. (Check out our leash-free hikes at Bronte Provincial Park).

Dog Beach at Port Burwell Provincial Park

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But at Port Burwell, posted signs make it clear: Day use parking lot #1 is the entrance to the dog beach – that’s one side of the 2.5 kilometre soft sand beach on the North shore of Lake Erie. The beach in general is the feature of this park that’s flanked by 20-metre high bluffs on one end and a distant wind turbine farm at the other.

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Half the dog beach is for leashed dogs and the other end (a notable walk from the parking lot) is leash-free. This is where dogs can be dogs – they run through the sand and waves, either chasing each other or sticks thrown into the cool shallow lake water.

If you’re like my schnoodle, Victor, you venture into the water to get your paws, and maybe tummy, soaked before scampering back to the sand, a little wetter and a lot cooler.

If you’re like Sasha, a two-year-old lab cross, you lunge into the water like it’s your second home and fight the waves to recover sticks tossed far from the shore … so far your elk-like legs have to swim hard against the tow, again and again.

french bulldog

The day we were at the Port Burwell Provincial Park – August civic holiday – the park was popular, but not crowded. A storm the night before had flooded the beach with puddles. High winds continued to throw up debris, creating muddy ocean-like waves along the lake’s shore. (We were warned at the gate). The water was cool and rough, but most dogs dove in unfazed and excited – there were too many friends to meet and too many smells to sniff.

Dog-friendly Day Use or Overnight Camping

Similar to other provincial parks run by Ontario Parks, Port Burwell has campsites – 232 in total, 123 with electricity. Also, if big boy-scout jamboree style functions are in your future, two group sites can accommodate between 20 and 100 people. There are two easy hiking trails: the first, a one-kilometer hike through the ravine and woodlots, and the second, a two-kilometre beach walk.

people on Burwell Beach

But the oddity that defines the town of Port Burwell – and I had no idea until I stumbled on it – is the real submarine parked a few kilometres from the conservation area. Yes, in 2012 the town bought the HMSC Ojibwa, Canada’s first Cold War submarine that patrolled the country’s coastline looking for Russian nuclear submarines. It’s the first, and largest, artifact in what’s now Elgin County’s Museum of Navel History, and interior tours start at $20 per person. 

This visit we didn’t go in – no surprise, the dogs can’t go near the Naval History Museum. So we spent the entire day at the beach until dark clouds rolled in, and an eventually cranky Victor growled at a French Bulldog puppy. That’s when we knew it was time to head home – after one drive-by peak at that submarine, of course.

If you liked this post, you’ll love others about our adventures on Bying Island in Dunville, Ontario and at Parks Canada properties in The 1000 Islands. 

TRAVEL STUFF: Here’s one thing I wish I’d had for Victor (a black schnoodle) on the beach – a portable pet shade shelter outdoor dog tent. (affiliate link) Also, what’s cuter on a dog beach than your own dog crazy beach towel (affiliate link)?

Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for decades and a travel writer for the last two. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America and travels almost weekly with her canine companion, Victoria. All written content is original, written by a person, and based on experience and research.


  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Thanks for this well written article. We will check out port Burwell today with our Croatian sheepdog!

    1. Good to hear it. Hope it goes well!

  2. Christine Hylands · · Reply

    So well written! Absolutely enjoyed reading this article!

    1. Thanks!

  3. […] Read about other dog-friendly outdoor adventures nearby in Hamilton here. Also, Port Burwell has a doggie beach. Check it out. […]

  4. […] Port Burwell park and campsite in a small Ontario Town of the same name is home to a lakeside dog-friendly beach that makes it clear off leash is OK on half the dog beach (enter at Parking Lot One) full of frolicking wet Fido fun. Find a stick and send it sailing into the most turbulent of the Great Lakes and watch your dog (if he’s a Lab) sail after it. […]

  5. […] Love this? Check out other quirky dog adventures such as The Port Burwell Conservation Area. […]

  6. Nice post, Sherri. We were thrilled to see a group of dogs playing at the very southern tip of Winnipeg Beach on Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. They’re not allowed on the main beach, but are welcome at this more secluded ‘unsupervised’ portion of the beach.

    1. Thanks! I’m not sure why parts of more beaches aren’t dog friendly – and by that I mean leash free. It’s not very friendly to keep Fido confined on the beach when everyone else is having fun. Clearly, there’s a demand for the service. Hope to see you in Cape Breton…

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