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:
- Take the Minnesota State Park Challenge – hike all 66 Minnesota state parks
- How to plan and hike all 66 Minnesota state parks in a year
- Minnesota state parks with waterfalls – ranked!
- Minnesota state park free days
This post contains recommended links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may receive compensation if you purchase these products and services. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. All images taken by kmf are available for purchase via digital download.
Top things to do at Banning State Park
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.
- 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.
- Explore the ruins of a 130-year-old sandstone quarry. Mining began in the 1890s where sandstone was used for construction.
- Take in breathtaking views at one of several scenic overlooks along the Kettle River.
- Hike to Wolf Creek Falls – a remote waterfall in the woods.
- Drive into Sandstone, Minn. to check out another waterfall and rapids in a different section of the park– Big Spring Falls
- Learn how to kayak or canoe in Kettle River or watch in awe as expert paddlers shoot the rapids.
- Look for kettles in the sandstone – these are holes created by years and years of sand and water eroding the sandstone away.
- Watch for 184 species of birds and wildlife like white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, fox, snowshoe hare, beavers, ruffed grouse, and more.
- Go bouldering at Banning State Park – permit required.
- Watch the mesmerizing whitewater rapids – they range from Class I to Class IV.
Frequently asked questions about Banning State Park in Minnesota
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 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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
I’m not exaggerating when I say every view is the best view at Banning State Park.
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?
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
Below is a list of all 66 Minnesota state parks and the distance from the Twin Cities / MSP International Airport.
- Afton State Park | Hastings, MN (26 miles)
- Banning State Park | Sandstone, MN (97 miles)
- Bear Head Lake State Park | Ely, MN (240 miles)
- Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, MN (148 miles)
- Big Stone Lake State Park | Ortonville, MN (186 miles)
- Blue Mounds State Park | Luverne, MN (208 miles)
- Buffalo River State Park | Glyndon, MN (240 miles)
- Camden State Park | Lynd, MN (161 miles)
- Carley State Park | Plainview, MN (88 miles)
- Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, MN (257 miles)
- Charles A. Lindbergh State Park | Little Falls, MN (112 miles)
- Crow Wing State Park | Brainerd, MN (134 miles)
- Father Hennepin State Park | Isle, MN (113 miles)
- Flandrau State Park | New Ulm, MN (93 miles)
- Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park | Preston, MN (115 miles)
- Fort Ridgely State Park | Fairfax, MN (99 miles)
- Fort Snelling State Park | Bloomington / St. Paul, MN (2 miles)
- Franz Jevne State Park | Birchdale, MN (336 miles)
- Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, MN (62 miles)
- George H. Crosby Manitou State Park | Silver Bay, MN (231 miles)
- Glacial Lakes State Park | Starbuck, MN (156 miles)
- Glendalough State Park | Battle Lake, MN (194 miles)
- Gooseberry Falls | Two Harbors, MN (197 miles)
- Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, MN (308 miles)
- Great River Bluffs State Park | Winona, MN (136 miles)
- Hayes Lake State Park | Roseau, MN (343 miles)
- Hill Annex Mine State Park | Calumet, MN (197 miles)
- Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, MN (56 miles)
- Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, MN (219 miles)
- Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, MN (146 miles)
- John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, MN (99 miles)
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park | Grand Marais, MN (282 miles)
- Kilen Woods State Park | Lakefield, MN (153 miles)
- Lac qui Parle State Park | Watson, MN (141 miles)
- Lake Bemidji State Park | Bemidji, MN (230 miles)
- Lake Bronson State Park | Karlstad, MN (409 miles)
- Lake Carlos State Park | Alexandria, MN (152 miles)
- Lake Louise State Park | Le Roy, MN (113 miles)
- Lake Maria State Park | Monticello, MN (60 miles)
- Lake Shetek State Park | Currie, MN (168 miles)
- Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park | Soudan, MN (229 miles)
- McCarthy Beach State Park | Side Lake, MN (227 miles)
- Maplewood State Park | Pelican Rapids, MN (217 miles)
- Mille Lacs Kathio State Park | Onamia, MN (108 miles)
- Minneopa State Park | Mankato, MN (82 miles)
- Monson Lake State Park | Sunburg, MN (141 miles)
- Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, MN (116 miles)
- Myre-Big Island State Park | Albert Lea, MN (93 miles)
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | Nerstrand, MN (52 miles)
- Old Mill State Park | Argyle, MN (350 miles)
- Rice Lake State Park | Owatonna, MN (70 miles)
- St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, MN (105 miles)
- Sakatah Lake State Park | Waterville, MN (60 miles)
- Savanna Portage State Park | Northeast Aitkin, MN (149 miles)
- Scenic State Park | Bigfork, MN (232 miles)
- Schoolcraft State Park | Deer River, MN (198 miles)
- Sibley State Park | New London, MN (128 miles)
- Split Rock Creek State Park | Jasper, MN (202 miles)
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, MN (204 miles)
- Temperance River State Park | Schroeder, MN (239 miles)
- Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, MN (217 miles)
- Upper Sioux Agency State Park | Granite Falls, MN (122 miles)
- Whitewater State Park | Altura, MN (99 miles)
- Wild River State Park | Center City, MN (58 miles)
- William O’Brien State Park | Scandia / Marine on the St. Croix, MN (43 miles)
- Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, MN (345 miles)