Travel with your pet: A summer road trip from Memphis to Charleston
Enjoy the dog days of summer (literally) with a road trip through the Deep South. | By Joanna Tweedy | April 20, 2022
Get behind the wheel and spend a week exploring exciting cities and beautiful green spaces on a four-state road trip from Memphis, Tennessee to Charleston, South Carolina. Happily, that famous Southern hospitality we know and love also extends to dogs, with plenty of pet-friendly hotels, restaurants and attractions for you (and your four-legged friend) to discover along the way. So, pack up your dog bed, water bowl and a favorite toy or two and get ready to hit the road with your favorite furry friend.
Make memorable moments by:
Visiting Elvis Presley’s childhood home: Tupelo’s major tourist attraction welcomes pets
Exploring Atlanta’s edge: Find dog-friendly hiking trails at Sweetwater Creek State Park
Discovering Savannah: Take a guided tour of the city with your canine companion by your side
The birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, at Tennessee’s southwest corner, is a great place to begin a Deep South tour. An abundance of pet-friendly hotels, dog parks and outdoor dining options means you'll never have to be apart from your pup.
Start your trip on a high note, soaking up the city’s rich musical heritage on cobblestoned Beale Street downtown; the neon-lit bars here helped launch the careers of some of Memphis’ most-famous musicians. Warm summer nights at nearby Handy Park, named after "Father of the blues" W.C. Handy, spark impromptu jam sessions. Grab some barbecue-to-go from locals' favorite The Pig on Beale (167 Beale St.) and you and your pet can dine al-fresco while enjoying the sounds of the summer.
For leisurely sightseeing, Uptown Carriages (1051 North 2nd St.) offers horse-drawn carriage tours of interesting areas, including the Arts District and the Mississippi riverside; dogs are welcome if you book ahead. One of the cooler additions to the city in recent years is Crosstown Concourse (1350 Concourse Ave.), a renovated historical building turned shopping, arts and foodie hub. It’s pet-friendly and many of the eateries will let your dog join you, including Pizzeria Trasimeno and Farm Burger.
A 10-minute drive east of downtown lands you in Overton Bark, a designated 1.3-acre patch of Overton Park, that's open from dawn till dusk each day. Dogs can run free, while owners perch on log benches in this pretty green enclave. The park has water fountains so you can keep your dog hydrated and their water bowl full as they enjoy an off-leash romp.
Put on some Elvis tunes and head over the border to Mississippi; it takes less than two hours (115 miles/185 kilometers) traveling south east from Memphis on Interstate 22 to reach Tupelo.
The pilgrimage to Elvis Presley’s Birthplace (306 Elvis Presley Dr.) is the reason most people visit this small city, and dogs on leashes are welcome to walk around the tranquil parklands surrounding the two-room home where “The King” was born in 1935. A walk down Main Street takes you past Tupelo Hardware Co. (114 W. Main St.), where Elvis’ mother, Gladys, bought his first guitar.
There are options for more rural walks, too. Tombigbee State Park (264 Cabin Dr.) — 10 miles east — welcomes pets on leashes and the Tupelo Bark Park (North Veteran Boulevard) is also ideal for an unleashed run, though dogs do need to be leashed on your way in and out of the park.
Cross two more state lines en route to Atlanta, passing through Alabama and into Georgia on this 280-mile trip east. A paw-some pit-stop could be Red Mountain Park, close to Birmingham (3 miles west of Interstate 65), which is home to 6-acre Remy’s Dog Park, the state’s largest outdoor space for four-legged friends.
There are hiking opportunities at Sweetwater Creek State Park, in Lithia Springs (1750 Mt Vernon Rd.) about 30 miles before you reach Atlanta. This wild portion of Georgia countryside is a must for history fans; you can wander the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned down during the Civil War.
Dubbed the Capital of the South, outdoorsy Atlanta is an energizing place to take a summer vacation with a pet. Downtown is awash with trendy cafes, restaurants and hotels that will offer a cooling bowl of water for your pooch. Don’t miss Fetch Park (520 Daniel St. SE), which serves up cocktails to owners while pets enjoy a spacious doggy play area.
Piedmont Park (1320 Monroe Dr NE), a mile northeast of downtown, gifts pet owners' beautiful views of the park’s lake and Atlanta’s shimmering skyline. Plus, pets can go off-leash in the 3-acre dog park.
The next stage of this pet-friendly road trip — a four-hour, 250-mile (402 kilometers) trip from Atlanta to Savannah — sees some of Georgia’s prettiest scenery fill the windscreen. An hour along Interstate 75 puts you at High Falls State Park, where leashed dogs can join owners on shaded trails, and you can spy Towaliga River’s the majestic falls.
Elegant Savannah, Georgia’s oldest city, offers a warm welcome to travelers and their dogs with a lot of city walks among pretty architecture, public squares and those famous moss-covered oak trees. On River Street, in Savannah’s Historic District, the options for summer dining with your pet by your side are plentiful; order a feast at the District Smokehouse (400 W. River St.) or enjoy an ice cream from Leopold's Ice Cream as you stroll.
Tours are a great way to fill a morning, too, with many of the city’s guides allowing well-behaved hounds on their walking adventures. Try Oliver Bentleys Historic Dog Walk Tour, which actively encourages pooches to accompany their owners while they’re learning about Savannah’s enthralling past, with free treats included for pets. Take a detour to Fort Pulaski National Monument, where you and your dog can explore the fort and hiking trails of this historic destination. Dogs are allowed if on leashes no longer than six feet, per the National Park Service rules.
Charleston, South Carolina
The final leg of this summer vacation takes in the 100-mile (161 kilometers) journey between Savannah and neighboring coastal city Charleston. South Carolina’s Lowcountry idyll, St. Helena Island, provides a thought-provoking half-way point between the two cities, by way of a slight detour. It’s home to the Penn Center, where Martin Luther King Jr. penned the first draft of his “I Have a Dream Speech” and dogs are allowed to explore this nature-filled island on a leash.
Charleson, one of the oldest cities in the country, is a wonderful place to end any road trip; savor the old-world charm by strolling through the Historic District — including regal King Street — with your canine companion at your feet.
At King Street's southern end lies White Point Garden, a 5.7-acre public park brimming with Civil War artifacts, including cannons and mortars. Dogs are allowed to run leash-free from first light to 9 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Nearby, you'll also find The Battery, a Civil Wa-era defensive seawall that doubles as the perfect spot for a breezy evening pet promenade.
Fancy getting a little closer to the ocean? Leashed dogs of any size ride for free on the Charleston Water Taxi network.
From paying tribute to The King in Tupelo, Mississippi, to promenading oceanside in Charleston, South Carolina, a road trip across the Deep South ensures you and your pup will have fun-filled adventures and memories that last for years to come.
Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.