Banning State Park in Minnesota with tree reflections in water
Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minnesota

One of the best state parks and a family-favorite is Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minn. In fact, I chose hiking at Banning State Park for my birthday present a couple of years ago. Banning State Park is a great day trip or road trip from the Twin Cities or you can camp there or stop on your way up to the North Shore.

Note: An intense storm with tornado-force winds in early June 2022 caused severe damage at Banning State Park so use caution on the trails.

I live in the Twin Cities and I hiked all 66 Minnesota state parks in a year (to save my sanity during the pandemic). See my related posts:

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Top things to do at Banning State Park

Kettle River at Banning State Park Minnesota

Banning State Park is one of the best state parks for hiking along the Kettle River, kayaking, canoeing, birdwatching, camping, bouldering, and more. And this scenic state park features two different waterfalls: Wolf Creek Falls and Big Spring Falls.

Top 10 things to do at Banning State Park

Here’s a local’s guide and list of the top 10 things to do at Banning State Park.

  1. Hike 17 miles of scenic trails that take you along the Kettle River, rapids, sandstone rock formations, boulders, and historic sites – and one that leads you to a waterfall.
  2. Explore the ruins of a 130-year-old sandstone quarry. Mining began in the 1890s where sandstone was used for construction.
  3. Take in breathtaking views at one of several scenic overlooks along the Kettle River.
  4. Hike to Wolf Creek Falls – a remote waterfall in the woods.
  5. Drive into Sandstone, Minn. to check out another waterfall and rapids in a different section of the park– Big Spring Falls
  6. Learn how to kayak or canoe in Kettle River or watch in awe as expert paddlers shoot the rapids.
  7. Look for kettles in the sandstone – these are holes created by years and years of sand and water eroding the sandstone away.
  8. Watch for 184 species of birds and wildlife like white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, fox, snowshoe hare, beavers, ruffed grouse, and more.
  9. Go bouldering at Banning State Park – permit required.
  10. Watch the mesmerizing whitewater rapids – they range from Class I to Class IV.

Frequently asked questions about Banning State Park in Minnesota

Best hiking trails near Duluth deer in woods at Banning State Park
We came across this deer on our hike at Banning State Park.

The following are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Banning State Park in Minnesota

Where is Banning State Park located? What is the address for Banning State Park?

Banning State Park Minnesota Kettle River

Banning State Park is located just a few minutes off I-35 North – less than 100 miles north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MS) in the Twin Cities. The address for the main section of Banning State Park is 61101 Banning Park Road, Sandstone, MN.

To access the trail that leads to Big Spring Falls waterfall, you’ll need to drive into Sandstone via Highway 123 until you reach Pine Avenue South and take that for about a mile to the trailhead. When we visited, the road / parking was a little rough so use caution.

When is Banning State Park open?

Banning State Park is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Does Banning State Park have a lake, river, or waterfall?

Wolf Creek Falls waterfall at Banning State Park in Sandstone Minnesota best hiking trails
Wolf Creek Falls – Banning State Park in Minnesota

You won’t find a lake at Banning State Park; however, lots of other water views. Kayakers and paddlers love Banning State Park and its access to Kettle River – especially the rapids like Blueberry Slide, Mother’s Delight, Dragon’s Tooth, Little Banning Rapids, and Hell’s Gate. Don’t you love those names?

Kettle River is one of six rivers that are part of the Minnesota’s Wild & Scenic Rivers Program. And it holds historic significance as many people living in Sandstone took refuge in Kettle River during the Great Hinckley Fire in 1894.

In addition to the wild and scenic Kettle River, Banning State Park features two waterfalls. You’ll hike some steep and uneven terrain on a four-mile loop (Wolf Creek Trail) to the fairytale setting of the 12-foot Wolf Creek Falls. And you’ll need to drive to nearby Sandstone to access the trail that leads you to Big Springs Falls. The trail by the same name is fairly easy and is less than a half-mile one way.

Big Springs Falls Banning State Park Minnesota
Big Springs Falls at Banning State Park in Minnesota

Does Banning State Park have a swimming beach?

The Kettle River that runs through Banning State Park is much too powerful with a strong current so swimming is not recommended and there is not a designated swimming beach. I’ve read where people say the river is calm enough in a bay area along the Kettle River. However, after my friends and I had to be rescued while tubing down a different river, I now respect rivers and exercise extreme caution. A river may look pretty calm, but that current is going a lot faster than you realize.

Is Banning State Park buggy? Mosquitos? Flies? Ticks?

We hiked on a very hot and humid day, and I don’t recall it being very buggy with mosquitos, flies or ticks. However, it is Minnesota so highly recommend spraying to prevent mosquito, fly, and tick bites.

On that note, I recommend Aunt Fannie’s mosquito wipes and Ranger Ready tick repellent. As an Amazon affiliate, I may receive a small compensation if you click and purchase the products – at no extra cost to you. And I only recommend what I use. See my related post: What to pack for a day hike at Minnesota state parks.

Read: 12 surprising things about ticks

Take the tick quiz!

Can you fish at Banning State Park?

Yes, you can fish at Banning State Park. Most common fish in Kettle River are bass, walleye, and pike.

Is rock climbing permitted at Banning State Park?

Rock climbing bouldering at Banning State Park Minnesota

Yes, rock climbing and bouldering are both very popular on the 40-foot sandstone cliffs at Banning State Park – in designated areas (see map). Check in at the park office for a free climbing permit.

Here is a list of all the state parks in Minnesota where you can rock climb:

Does Banning State Park have a drive-up boat ramp?

Yes, Banning State Park features drive-in boat access as well as carry-in access for kayaks and canoes.

How long and how difficult are the hiking trails at Banning State Park?

Banning State Park Minnesota

You’ll find several trails that range from mostly flat to steep and uneven terrain.

My family and I loved hiking the more strenuous Hell’s Gate Trail – a short spur trail off from the Quarry Loop Trail. However, we must have missed where the trail becomes a dead end. Somehow we ended up among the tall boulders wondering how we got there. So our way back was a bit precarious with loose rock and some slippage. So definitely wear good hiking boots with traction and hiking poles. And stay alert so you don’t go past the trail like we did.

I do not recommend Hell’s Gate Trail for families with young children. But you’ll find other easy trails at Banning State Park that are great for families.

Distances for Banning State Park trails range from 0.4 miles to 4 miles. And I did find a 6.7-mile loop trail on the AllTrails app that is considered moderately challenging.

Are hiking poles needed on the trails at Banning State Park?

Hiking at Banning State Park Minnesota

My husband used a hiking stick and I wish I had brought my hiking poles with me especially on the steep trails around the boulders and the uneven terrain. We use the hiking poles as shown below. Love that they are adjustable, collapsable, and come with a convenient carrying case. Again, I may receive a small commission if you purchase these hiking poles – I only recommend what I love – and we each have a pair.

What are the best views at Banning State Park?

Kettle River Banning State Park Minnesota

I’m not exaggerating when I say every view is the best view at Banning State Park.

Rapids on Kettle River at Banning State Park Minnesota

As soon as you arrive, the sounds of the rapids will lure you to Kettle River. Blueberry Slide Trail offers a beautiful overlook of the rapids. Teacher’s Overlook is also popular where a handicap-accessible trail provides stunning views of the Kettle River and rapids. The Teacher’s Overlook also features interpretative signs and picnic tables.

And you’ll find several scenic views and perspectives at Wolf Creek Falls.

Are there ruins at Banning State Park?

Quarry ruins at Banning State Park Minnesota

Yes, if you love history and nature, then you’ll love hiking the Quarry Loop Trail at Banning State Park. This loop will lead you to the ruins of the Banning Quarry where as many as eight quarry operations and hundreds of men mined, cut, and blasted sandstone to make buildings and roads. You’ll find interpretative signs on this trail next to the quarry ruins.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Banning quarry site, visit the nearby Kettle River Quarry Company Site in Sandstone – a National Historic District at Robinson Park.

What are the best winter activities at Banning State Park?

Banning State Park features 13 miles of ungroomed cross-country ski trails and 4 miles of snowmobile  trails. You can also enjoy winter hiking and snowshoeing at Banning State Park.

Does Banning State Park have a visitor center? Modern restrooms?

While Banning State Park doesn’t have a visitor center, there is a park office as well as an informational kiosk. Note that the park office has limited hours; typically open Thursday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Flush toilets are typically available in the campgrounds; however, they may be undergoing some repairs as of this blog posting (check the Minnesota DNR website for updates). Additional vault toilets are located throughout Banning State Park.

Can you camp at Banning State Park?

Yes, drive-in RV, tent, and canoe camping sites (and two hike-in sites and group camping) are available at Banning State Park May 1 through Oct. 31. One seasonal camper cabin is also available to reserve April to mid-November (no electricity, no heat, no pets allowed).

Is firewood available at Banning State Park?

Yes, firewood is typically available at Banning State Park. I say typically only because firewood was not available when I went SUV camping at a different state park in Minnesota. The park office was closed and didn’t have any firewood. A sign directed me to the campsite host; but they were already closed down when I arrived.

Good to know: You can only use Minnesota-state-approved firewood (to help protect the trees from insects). And stay up-to-date on any fire restrictions. While California is known for its wildfires, Minnesota has its share every year also. In fact, more than 500 wildfires occurred in 2021.

Is Banning State Park dog-friendly?

Yes, leashed dogs and pets (six-foot leash or shorter) are welcome at Banning State Park except inside buildings and the seasonal cabin (exception: service dogs)

How far is Banning State Park from the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSP) airport? From the Mall of America?

Banning State Park is located less than 100 miles north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MS).

When was Banning State Park established?

Banning State Park was established in 1963 to protect the landscape along the Kettle River.

Who or what was Banning State Park named after?

Banning State Park was named after the sandstone quarry and town that grew up around the quarry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Banning was originally named after William Banning, a banker and the president of the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad that ran through the area.

Interesting to note: While you can see the quarry ruins at Banning State Park, nothing remains of what became a ghost town.

If you have any questions not addressed in this guide to Banning State Park, please contact me directly or leave me a question in the comments.

List of all 66 Minnesota state parks

Trail and steps leading through fall colors and trees along a river
St. Croix State Park is located just 28 miles away from Banning State Park. It’s also bordered by Kettle River as well as the St. Croix River.

Below is a list of all 66 Minnesota state parks and the distance from the Twin Cities / MSP International Airport.

Pin it for later: A local’s guide to hiking at Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minnesota

Hike Banning State Park Minnesota Kettle River

Waterfall at Banning State Park Minnesota

Box of DEET-free mosquito repellent wipes
I cannot recommend Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free Mosquito Wipes highly enough. I am a mosquito magnet, but they stay away when I apply these wipes. My link does include a referral code, which means I’ll receive a small compensation – but I only recommend products and services I would use myself. And I definitely use Aunt Fannie’s – I bought a case of them and give to family and friends. And they smell good and are good for the environment – biodegradable and no harsh chemicals!

See my full review of what to pack on a day hike.


Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. I never knew there were this many state parks in MN! And I love all the hiking trails in Banning State Park! I am making my from your article here! Will be in ND to see family in Aug heading to Montana for a visit. Next time, we’ll have to cruise over to MN!

  2. I haven’t heard of this park before but it looks amazing. Will have to see if my friends want to go the next time I’m back in Mn

    1. Awesome! I hope you and your friends get the opportunity to hike or kayak at Banning State Park the next time you visit Minnesota.

  3. we LOVE visiting state parks..esp. ones with water features..this looks like a great spot.and I am printing the index of all parks for future trips..thanks for gathering all the info in one spot.

  4. You always inspire me to visit my local state parks! This is such a great guide for someone visiting the area. It looks beautiful and the ruins look like an interesting spot to check out too. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list if I find myself in the area!

  5. Banning State Park looks beautiful, especially the Kettle River.
    I like that dogs are welcome here.
    I’d definitely enjoy a hike at this stunning park.

    1. I know you would love the hiking trails at Banning State Park. And it is nice that the Minnesota state parks are dog-friendly.

  6. Banning State Park looks like a great place to recreate and have fun! The hiking trails look amazing!

  7. I love that there are so many things to do at Banning State Park! I love to hike to the waterfall, explore the ruins, and kayak! Although, I won’t be kayaking down any rapids!

    1. I don’t think I could kayak in the rapids either. But love watching them from the hiking trails at Banning State Park.

  8. I have not heard of this park but I’m saving for later. It is stunning but how sad to hear about the damaging storm! I prefer rivers to lakes anyway so this spot seems perfect.

  9. Banning looks like a lovely place for some hiking and searching for waterfalls! I like all the trees and greenery as it looks so peaceful.

  10. Wow, hiking all these trails sounds like an awesome outdoor experience. I would enjoy having some me time in the quietness of nature.

  11. I love getting local recommendations for places to visit. The Banning State Park in Minnesota looks like a great spot to hike. And take a canoe trip. I love how much wildlife there is in the park.

  12. Banning State Park looks like a great place to spend the day! I’d love to check out the hiking trails and the views on the Kettle River!

  13. What an incredibly detailed guide!! Thank you – this feels like it was made for me. I’ve been dying to visit Banning State Park for so long so your post has reached me just in time 🙂

    1. Awesome! I hope you enjoy exploring Banning State Park as much as we did. It’s one of our favorite state parks in Minnesota.

  14. This looks like such an awesome adventure! And I can’t believe there are a whopping 66 state parks in Minnesota! 😱 I live in a concrete city and can only DREAM of such luxuries 😩

    1. Thank you! We do have a lot of state parks in Minnesota and Banning State Park is one of my favorites. And we have lots of green spaces – little oasis right in Minneapolis and St. Paul (Twin Cities) as well.

  15. Our goal is to visit as many state parks as we can. We have added Banning State Park in Minnesota to our list. Thank you for sharing.

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