One of the best ways to connect with nature and learn more about Minnesota history is to hike all 66 Minnesota state parks. Well, technically, one of the state parks doesn’t have a hiking trail, but you can walk through its museum.
If you’ve read my local’s guide to all Minnesota state parks, you know that before the pandemic hit, I had only visited 6 Minnesota state parks. And I had lived here for more than 25 years. When I couldn’t travel as the world healed, I challenged myself to visit all 66 Minnesota state parks (and a few of them a couple of times) within a year.
Here’s how I did it.
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Two-a-days: how to visit all Minnesota state parks in a year
The best tip in hiking all Minnesota state parks is to plan it so you can hit up two state parks in one day – hike one state park in the morning and another nearby state park in the afternoon. Of course, this does take some planning as you need to consider the following.
Things to consider when planning to hike all Minnesota state parks.
- Mileage between parks and mileage from your home or base camp
- The length and difficulty of the trails (and your physical ability)
- Time of year (the sun goes down fast in the fall and winter)
- Weather – heat, storms, rain, snow, ice
- Trail conditions
- Seasonal operating hours
- Road construction
You may need to adjust this plan to see all the state parks in one day from where you live or where you are setting up your base camp.
Set up a base camp when hiking all Minnesota state parks
I managed to explore the majority of Minnesota state parks on day trips from my home. A friend of mine also loaned me her cabin, and Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, MN hosted my husband and me during our frozen waterfall tour on the North Shore of Minnesota. Caribou Highlands Lodge is the best place to stay on the North Shore and is centrally located to all Minnesota state parks on the scenic Highway 61. See my related post: Most scenic road trip in Minnesota.
SUV camping at Minnesota state parks
And then I tried this thing called SUV camping (check out my experience) where I went on a 13-day road trip to finish hiking the remaining state parks that were more than a day trip from my front door. I didn’t camp the entire time as three Airbnbs graciously hosted me and spent a couple of nights in a hotel for some self-care (and because my husband joined me for the last few days and we couldn’t both fit in the back of the SUV).
Best Airbnbs near Minnesota state parks
Here are the best Airbnbs near Minnesota state parks that I have stayed at so far.
- Ivy Inn Airbnb – near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park
- Hermitage at Anam Cara Airbnb – near Glendalough State Park and Maplewood State Park
- Gathered Oaks Airbnb (renovated grain bin) – near Lake Carlos State Park and Glacial Lakes State Park
Sample Minnesota state park road trips or day trips
To help give yourself a visual, check out the map of all state parks by location from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. Note that this map also includes Minnesota state recreation areas and waysides. And then you can design a Minnesota state park road trip tour that best works for you.
Here’s a list of Minnesota state parks I paired up (or wish I had) in order to hike all of them in one year. And, you’ll note that I recommend visiting some separately for various reasons.
Fort Snelling State Park and Afton State Park
Distance between Fort Snelling State Park and Afton State Park: 22 miles
Frontenac State Park and John A. Latsch State Park
Distance between Frontenac State Park and John A. Latsch State Park: 43 miles (a very scenic 43 miles)
Great River Bluffs State Park and Beaver Creek Valley State Park
Distance between Great River Bluffs State Park and Beaver Creek Valley State Park: 27 miles
Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park and Lake Louise State Park
Technically, Forestville and Mystery Cave State Park are now considered one state park. And Lake Louise State Park is a smaller park so this state park road trip is doable if you get an early start. Note that Mystery Cave State Park is seasonal (typically open early May to late October).
Distance between Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park and Lake Louise State Park: 20 miles – Note that there are a few miles in between the Forestville and Mystery Cave sections.
Whitewater State Park and Carley State Park
Distance between Whitewater State Park and Carley State Park: 10 miles
Myre-Big Island State Park and Rice Lake State Park
Distance between Myre-Big Island State Park and Rice Lake State Park: 42 miles – Note: When I hiked all 66 Minnesota state parks, I actually hiked all day at Myre-Big Island State Park. And planned my two-a-day road trip at Rice Lake State Park and Sakatah Lake State Park.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and Sakatah Lake State Park
Distance between Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and Sakatah Lake State Park: 25 miles
Minneopa State Park and Kilen Woods State Park
Distance between Minneopa State Park and Kilen Wood State Park: 71 miles
Alternatively, you can visit Minneopa State Park separately to explore the two-tiered waterfall and check out the bison range and do some hiking like we did. We hiked Kilen Wood State Park on a separate day. You could also catch it on your way home from Blue Mounds State Park.
Check out my full review and seasonal hours to drive through the bison range: Minneopa State Park.
Flandrau State Park and Fort Ridgely State Park
Distance between Flandrau State Park and Fort Ridgely State Park: 19 miles
William O’Brien State Park and Lake Maria State Park
Distance from William O’Brien State Park and Lake Maria State Park: 73 miles (a bit of a drive, but doable)
Interstate State Park (aka Taylors Falls) and Wild River State Park
Distance between Interstate State Park and Wild River State Park: 15 miles
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park and Father Hennepin State Park
One of the best historic state parks in Minnesota, Mille Lacs Kathio State Park offers an interpretive hiking trails. For more cardio, climb the 100-ft. fire tower and you can see Minnesota’s second largest lake in the distance. Mille Lacs Lake covers 132,500 acres. Take a dip in the gorgeous lake at Father Hennepin State Park, which is only a few minutes away. Distance between Mille Lacs Kathio State Park and Father Hennepin State Park: 15 miles
Charles A. Lindbergh State Park and Crow Wing State Park
Distance between Charles A. Lindbergh State Park and Crow Wing State Park: 25 miles
Mosquito and tick alert: While I enjoyed both Charles A. Lindbergh and Crow Wing state parks, I was not a fan of the bugs. Mosquitoes devoured me at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park and I even had on bug spray. They bit me through my hiking leggings where I hadn’t sprayed! Crow Wing State Park is only one of two state parks where a tick hitchhiked a ride back with me. The other was Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.
My recommended DEET-free mosquito and tick repellents
These two state parks are notorious for ticks so use DEET-free picaridin: highly recommend bringing along a travel-size bottle of Ranger Ready and Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free mosquito wipes (perfect for the face, neck, and hands). If the links look broken, they’re not – and are safe to click through where I may receive a small commission. I only recommend products I use.
Monson Lake State Park and Sibley State Park
Distance between Monson Lake State Park and Sibley State Park: 15 miles
St. Croix State Park and Moose Lake State Park
Distance between St. Croix State Park and Moose Lake State Park: 48 miles
Alternatively, you could change out St. Croix State Park with Banning State Park and the distance between those two Minnesota state parks is only 20 miles. However, we hiked the entire day at Banning so that’s why I suggested this two-a-day state park pairing.
Banning State Park
Recommend taking a full day to explore Banning State Park. Or you could pair it up with Moose Lake State Park where the distance is only 20 miles.
Savanna Portage State Park and Jay Cooke State Park
Distance between Savanna Portage State Park and Jay Cooke State Park: 52 miles
Note: We actually hiked Jay Cooke State Park separately and I hiked Savanna Portage State Park during my two-week SUV camping road trip. However, this is a doable two-a-day state park road trip.
Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Distance between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: 4.3 miles (so close you can even hike or bike between the two)
Tettegouche State Park and George Crosby Manitou State Park
Distance between Tettegouche State Park and George Crosby Manitou State Park: 15 miles
Note: While it’s only 15 miles between these two Minnesota state parks, the distance is a little misleading – especially in the winter. George Crosby Manitou State Park looks like it’s right off Highway 61 (aka the North Shore), but it’s a little off the beaten path. It is still pretty much a remote, undeveloped wilderness state park.
And the gravel road leading to it can be a little slow going. Additionally, the winter hiking trails are not well maintained so encourage you to hike during the spring, summer, or fall. Although if you have a full day, then definitely hike George Crosby Manitou State Park in the winter – it’s magical! See my epic Minnesota frozen waterfall tour post.
Temperance River State Park and Cascade River State Park
Distance between Temperance River State Park and Cascade River State Park: 17 miles
Judge C.R. Magney State Park and Grand Portage State Park
Distance between Judge C.R. Magney State Park and Grand Portage State Park: 26 miles
Bear Head Lake State Park and Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park
Distance between Bear Head Lake State Park and the Lake Vermillion / Soudan Underground Mine State Park: 14 miles
Note: Lake Vermillion and the Soudan Underground Mine are near each other, separated by a few miles.
McCarthy Beach State Park and Scenic State Park
Distance between McCarthy Beach State Park and Scenic State Park: 54 miles
Hill Annex Mine State Park and Schoolcraft State Park
Distance between Hill Annex Mine State Park and Schoolcraft State Park: 32 miles
Note that Hill Annex Mine State Park is open limited hours (so plan accordingly). I had to circle back when I arrived on a Thursday and they weren’t open until Friday. And while you won’t find any hiking trails here, you can check out the former open mine pit and a really cool museum.
Itasca State Park and Lake Bemidji State Park
Distance between Itasca State Park and Lake Bemidji State Park: 38 miles
Check out my guide on things to do and see at Itasca State Park – headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Franz Jevne State Park and Zippel Bay State Park
Distance between Franz Jevne State Park and Zippel Bay State Park: 48 miles
Hayes Lake State Park, Lake Bronson State Park, and Old Mill State Park (three-a-day)
Distance between Hayes Lake State Park and Lake Bronson State Park: 55 miles
Distance between Lake Bronson State Park and and Old Mill State Park: 31 miles
The state parks in the northwest corner of Minnesota are spread out, so this will be a day of road tripping, but is doable. Tip: Stay near Hayes Lake State Park the night before so you can get an early start on hiking.
Buffalo River State Park and Maplewood State Park
Distance between Buffalo River State Park and Maplewood State Park: 46 miles
Glendalough State Park and Lake Carlos State Park
Distance between Glendalough State Park and Lake Carlos State Park: 41 miles
Glacial Lakes State Park and Big Stone Lake State Park
Distance between Glacial Lakes State Park and Big Stone Lake State Park: 63 miles
Lac qui Parle State Park and Upper Sioux Agency State Park
Distance between Lac qui Parle State Park and Upper Sioux Agency State Park: 33 miles
Camden State Park and Lake Shetek State Park
Distance between Camden State Park and Lake Shetek State Park: 36 miles
Split Rock Creek State Park and Blue Mounds State Park
Distance between Split Rock Creek State Park and Blue Mounds State Park: 20 miles
List of all Minnesota state parks and distance from the Twin Cities
Here is a list of all the best Minnesota state parks. Each one includes the location and the distance from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul).
- 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)
Of course, you can certainly take it more slowly and do one-a-days where you hike only one Minnesota state park a day. I did on several visits. And I plan to return to many of these Minnesota state parks and spend more time hiking different trails, SUV camping, and/or kayaking.
Hiking all 66 Minnesota state parks is a great way to explore the Land of 10,000 lakes (we actually have 11,842 lakes). Enjoy the diverse beauty and history of Minnesota!