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Where to Let Your Dog Run Free in Athens

When my wife and I adopted an approximately one-year-old lab/fiest mix, we quickly realized that, for her, literally no amount of walking was enough. Walks around the block quickly turned into epic two-hour slogs on the Greenway, and she was still rarin’ to tear up the couch when we got home.

While walking your dog is good exercise for both of you, Athens is lucky to have several places where canines can burn off energy without wearing out their owners. In addition to any number of informal play spots—ranging from friends’ fenced-in yards to unused church ballfields—the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department and the University of Georgia run four official public dog parks where leashes can (legally) come off.

Memorial Park
293 Gran Ellen Dr.
Open daily 8 a.m.–sunset

Located just south of Five Points, Memorial Park’s 1.5-acre dog park is the smallest and probably the most popular in town—and, to be honest, it’s a bit worse for the wear. The upside is your dog will always be able to meet some new buddies; the downside is, when it gets too crowded, the hounds can get a bit salty. (And if you have a bird dog like me, have fun dragging it over the pond past the ducks.) But it’s conveniently located, shady and stocked with lots of benches and picnic tables. Bring a book and let your furry friend frolic.

Southeast Clarke Park
4440 Lexington Road
Open daily 8 a.m.–sunset

Leisure Services recently completed a brand-new, larger Wiggley Field off Whit Davis Road (out past the Walmart) to replace the old one, where the grass was chronically worn down from overuse. The new Wiggley Field is divided into three zones—one for all dogs, one for big dogs and one for small dogs, which is great if you’re worried about a Rottweiler mistaking your Chihuahua for prey or vice versa. (One of the zones may be closed to recover from the trampling.) Parts of the park are left unmowed to create a natural meadow environment.

Sandy Creek Park
400 Bob Holman Road
Open Tues.–Sat. 7 a.m.–8 p.m.

Up Highway 441 near the Jackson County line is Sandy Creek Park, which has five two- and three-acre dog pens that are perfect for fetch or Frisbee. Four require reservations and cost $1 per hour; the fifth is free and doesn’t require a reservation. (Reservations can be made at the gatehouse or by called 706-613-3631 up to 48 hours in advance.) Admission to the park is $2.

Oconee Forest Park

This one is a hidden gem, and when I say hidden, I mean hidden. Drive all the way through the UGA Intramural Fields off College Station Road and park at the end. A ways down the trail through Oconee Forest, you’ll find a 15-acre (somewhat) enclosed area where you can let Fido off-leash (and even swim in a pond). Warning: The fence is pretty spotty, so if your dog is prone to roam, this may not be the place for you. If not, there’s lots of cool stuff to explore.