Minnesota, the land of 10,000+ lakes (11,842 of them), is also home to 75 state parks and recreational areas. And the state offers four free entrance days to all Minnesota state parks and recreation areas every year. Visiting a state park is one of the best free things to do in Minnesota. Note that admission to MN state parks is free – any other fees associated with special tours, camping, activities, etc. are not included.
Free admission is now available to every Minnesota state park every day for Minnesota state tribal members. Many Minnesota state parks are home to sacred Native American sacred sites. Previously, tribal members could visit designated state parks with sacred sites; however, to improve tribal relationships with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), legislation passed to provide open admission to all Minnesota tribal nations beginning in 2022. Long overdue.
My travel blogger friend Wendy with Perth Travelers (Australia adventures), inspired me to include this sentiment. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners, first people, and tribal nations of these lands. As we visit Minnesota state parks, let’s pay respect to the elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of their tribal nations.
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The best Minnesota state parks to visit on free parks day
I hiked/explored all 66 state parks as part of my Minnesota State Park challenge (there are also 9 Minnesota state recreation areas). So which are the best state parks to visit, hike, snowshoe, horseback ride, kayak, canoe, picnic on the Minnesota free park days?
All of them.
Now that I have explored all of the most beautiful Minnesota state parks, I must confess that I have not met a state park I didn’t like.
The free entrance days event is a great opportunity for you to meet your favorite Minnesota state park. And it’s one of the best free things to do in Minnesota. Know what else is the best free thing to do in Minnesota? Visiting a sunflower field in the summer is one of the best free things to do in Minnesota.
When are the free entrance days to Minnesota state parks in 2023?
Here are the 2023 dates for the four free state park days in MN – best free things to do in Minnesota. Check the individual Minnesota state park’s website for hours and special announcements.
- Sat., April 22, 2023
- Sat., June 10, 2023
- Sat., Sept. 9, 2023
- Fri., Nov. 24, 2023
How much does a Minnesota state park pass cost?
Best almost-free things to do in Minnesota. An annual pass to Minnesota state parks is very affordable – only $35 a year with discounts for multiple vehicles ($26 and expire same month as first vehicle) and $30 a year for motorcycles. And daily passes are only $7 per vehicle or $5 per motorcycle (with unlimited park visits on the same day). Check the Minnesota DNR website for the most up-to-date costs.
Top-ranked Minnesota state parks to visit on free park days
So when people ask me to name my favorite Minnesota state parks, it’s a challenge as they each have their own personality and their own special something. I’ve now hiked/explored all 66 Minnesota state parks (the 9 Minnesota state recreation areas are up next) on my Minnesota state parks challenge. I am in the process of creating and publishing a local’s guide with reviews of all Minnesota state parks, and will include what I love about each one.
If you’d like to order a copy at a special discount, please sign up for my email list. I will email you details when my local’s guide to the best Minnesota state parks is published.
Until then, here is my list of some of the top Minnesota state parks that I recommend as the best things to do for free in Minnesota on one of the four Free Park Days. Honestly, I recommend all of them. My guide will include special Top 10 lists: Best Minnesota State Park Hiking Trails, Best Minnesota State Park Waterfalls, Best Minnesota State Park Lakes, Best Minnesota State Park Winter Hikes, Best Frozen Waterfall State Park Hikes in Minnesota, etc.
Which Minnesota state park is best for each free entrance day?
The best Minnesota state parks to visit on the free entrance days is another tough list. So I’ve come up with some criteria to help you choose based on where you live in the following regional areas.
Best Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day near Duluth
Top Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day near Mankato
Best Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day near Minneapolis and St. Paul
You may also like: The best hiking trails near the Twin Cities – one of my most popular posts that’s often featured on Google’s Interesting Finds. Additionally, check out my favorite winter hikes in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
Best Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day on the North Shore
Best Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day near Rochester
You may also like: The best hiking trails near Rochester, Minnesota
Best Minnesota state park to visit on free entrance day near St. Cloud
More of the best state parks in Minnesota
Choosing only some of the best Minnesota state parks was more challenging than any of the hiking trails I’ve trekked. This list doesn’t include the beautiful bluff trails and stunning views at Beaver Creek Valley State Park, Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, Whitewater State Park and Great River Bluffs State Park, Zippel Bay State Park, and so many more.
I hope you get the opportunity to use your free pass to one or more of Minnesota’s state parks this year. Hiking in these state parks is the best free thing to do in Minnesota.
List of the best Minnesota state parks
So take advantage of the free entrance days to Minnesota state parks and discover which one is your favorite.
Here is an alphabetical list of all the best state parks in Minnesota (all 66 of them). This list also includes the distance from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul – MSP airport) to help answer the question, “What’s the nearest Minnesota state park near me?”
- 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 | Finland, 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)
When can I get free passes to Minnesota state parks?
Which MN state park do you plan to visit on the next Free Parks Day – the best free things to do in Minnesota?
- Sat., April 22, 2023
- Sat., June 10, 2023
- Sat., Sept. 9, 2023
- Fri., Nov. 24, 2023
Where to stay near Minnesota state parks on the North Shore
Not a camper or glamper? Caribou Highlands Lodge is one of the best places to stay on the North Shore in Minnesota. This Lutsen, MN resort is the most centrally located place to stay on the North Shore. And it’s dog-friendly. The Minnesota state parks closest to Caribou Highlands Lodge are Cascade River State Park, George Crosby Manitou State Park and Tetttegouche State Park.
Check out my full review of our hosted Odyssey Resorts stay at a three-bedroom townhome at Caribou Highlands Lodge. Opinions are always my own.
- Beacon Pointe Condo Hotel on Lake Superior in Duluth, MN is the best place to stay near Jay Cooke State Park.
- Breezy Point Cabins in Two Harbors, MN is one of the best places to stay near Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
- Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, MN is the most centrally located resort on the North Shore and is the best place to stay near Lutsen Mountains (it’s right on the property), Temperance River State Park, George Crosby Manitou State Park, Cascade River State Park.
- East Bay Suites in Grand Marais, MN is the best place to stay near Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Grand Portage State Park and Cascade River State Park.
- Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors, MN is one of the best places to stay near George Crosby Manitou State Park, Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Tettegouche State Park.
- Larsmont Cottages in Two Harbors, MN is one of the best places to stay near Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.