Minnesota’s geological wonder: Taylors Falls State Park / Interstate State Park
At Interstate State Park in Taylor Falls, Minn., you’ll find five miles of hiking trails winding through trees and leading to scenic bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River. Taylor Falls is a geological wonder with world-famous potholes and ancient lava flows. Interstate State Park (aka Taylors Falls State Park) is also the perfect destination for kayaking, boating, camping and rock climbing. And on the opposite bank, you’ll find Wisconsin’s Interstate Park (that state’s oldest state park).
Before I take you on a tour of Interstate State Park, here’s a required disclosure. This post contains links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may – as a marketing affiliate – receive compensation if you link to or purchase products and services from some of my favorite places such as Amazon, Bluehost, Constant Contact, It’s a Lovely Life, HotelsCombined, etc.
Discover glacial potholes at Interstate State Park
Okay, technically, it is called Interstate State Park. But I have never heard anyone call it that. Here in Minnesota, it’s more colloquially known as Taylors Falls State Park. So I may use them interchangeably in this post.
I only live 75 miles from Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls. It’s a very popular destination for nature lovers, hikers, kayakers, rock climbers. And I have no valid reason or excuse why it took me 27 years to finally check it out. So thankful for my Minnesota State Park Challenge as I am discovering so many cool things to do in Minnesota on my staycation – and many within a day trip of my home.
What are glacial potholes?
Okay. Potholes? Glacial potholes? I had never heard of such a thing. I avoid potholes as much as possible while driving so was surprised they’re kind of a big deal. But these are special glacial potholes that draw people from around the world. Now these potholes are not something you would ever want to drive across as they are deep. In fact, you’ll find the world’s deepest glacial pothole in Taylors Falls. And you’ll find a lot of them – in fact Interstate State Park is home to more than 400 glacial potholes.
It’s actually a fascinating story of how the glacial potholes came to be – a long history beginning 1,100 million years ago. I encourage you to check out the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website to learn more about Interstate State Park’s history – from the earth crust shifting, lava flows, an ocean that covered Minnesota, melting glaciers and more.
In simple terms and fast forward to about 10,000 years ago, melting glaciers carved out river valleys in Minnesota. Turbulent and fast-moving water and sand swirled around creating high-power whirlpools, which, in turn, created deep holes into the volcanic rock. Those holes are what are known as glacial potholes.
What’s the deepest glacial pothole? What is the widest glacial pothole?
The Bottomless Pit is thought to be the deepest glacial pothole in the world (60 feet / 18 meters deep). They suspect a nearby pothole may be even deeper (more than 80 feet deep). The Cauldron near the Taylors Falls boat landing is the widest at 20 feet across. Too many boulders, rocks and sand exist to determine how deep this glacial pothole is.
Typically, you can step into one of the glacial potholes known as the Bake Oven pothole where you can follow the path of glacial meltwater. As an interpretative sign explains, you’ll walk inside a pothole within a pothole. Unfortunately, the Bake Oven pothole is currently closed.
Walk on ancient lava flows at Taylors Falls Interstate State Park
As soon as you enter Interstate State Park by the visitor’s center (currently closed during the pandemic), you’ll see an interpretative sign letting you know more about the exposed lava rock in the area. In fact, you’ll be standing where – for millions of years – lava flowed as a result of the Midcontinent Rift that kept cracking and nearly divided North America in two. That lava eventually hardened into what’s known as basalt rock (and what you’ll be standing and walking on in the park).
Another part of Interstate State Park’s geological history I found interesting is that 500 million years ago the basalt was buried under a tropical sea and a thick blanket of sand – and that’s how sandstone came to be. We’ve got a lot of sandstone in Minnesota also. In fact, Banning State Park, which I plan to visit at the end of the month, is located about an hour north of Taylors Falls State Park in Sandstone, Minn.
What if? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.
Coincidentally, I’m reading the book, “What if? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions“ by Randall Munroe. And one of the chapters / hypothetical (long) questions is: “I assume when you travel back in time you end up on the same spot on the Earth’s surface. At least that’s how it worked in the Back to the Future movies. If so, what would it be like if you traveled back in time, starting in Times Square, New York 1,000 years? 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? 1,000,000,000 years? What about forward in time 1,000,000 years?”
So what does Times Square and time travel have to do with Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota? The book talks about how melting glaciers from 10,000 years ago created some of the geological formations in New York.
Well, you’ll find several opportunities where you can imagine what life was like if you happened to travel back in time here in Taylors Falls, Minn. Interpretative signs along the glacial pothole trail will inform you that you are standing on top of ancient lava as well as what life was like back in the day.
And as this interpretative sign states, I was standing on an ancient river bottom where 100 feet of cold water once rushed above me. I found that vision fascinating (and a little spine-chilling).
At the previously mentioned Cauldron pothole, a sign revealed that if you were standing in that location 10,000 years ago, you would be nearly 200 feet (~60 meters) under water. Now that’s mind-boggling. Apparently, the glacial St. Croix River was one of the largest rivers in the world at that time.
Five miles of hiking trails with stunning views
So hiking is my favorite part of exploring Minnesota state parks. Each park has its own personality especially when it comes to trails. Interstate State Park is no exception. You’ll find five miles of trails that lead to breathtaking views of the St. Croix River and cliffs of ancient lava. Simply stunning.
Caution: The boulders and cliffs are breathtaking and tempting to walk close to the edge. And kids love them (a little too much as I heard one or two moms scolding their children out of love and concern for their safety). Just keep an eye on them so they don’t go exploring too far away on their own. And no cliff diving is allowed.
Glacial Potholes hiking trail at Taylors Falls State Park
The total distance of the Glacial Potholes area path is about one-half mile and is pretty easy. You will find some stairs. And you’ll also be able to walk on ancient lava. This area was a bit crowded as it’s close to the parking lot and easy accessible. But I found the trail still manageable – I’d just walk up on the lava rock or take in the scenic views until the crowd thinned out.
Walter F. Mondale hiking trail at Taylors Falls State Park
I spent most of my time on the Walter F. Mondale River Trail (most signs call it the River Trail). I’d rate this trail as pretty easy to moderate as you’ll encounter a few stairs and hilly and rocky areas. The park notes that the trails are narrow in areas so it may be difficult to social distance. I didn’t find it an issue when I hiked on a Tuesday. That may not be the case if visiting on the weekends.
The only exception was when I was walking across a makeshift bridge (not the one pictured) over a bit of water and a guy and his dog and family came up and attempted to cross at the same time. Even in the non-pandemic world I’d be telepathically saying to back up. But that was an outlier as I didn’t cross paths with many people and those I did were very respectful in sharing the trail at safe distances.
The River Trail at Minnesota’s Interstate State Park runs from the visitor center kiosk and up along the outlook next to Highway 8 (not accessible from the road). The River Trail then continues until you reach the campground. The total distance of this hiking trail at Interstate State Park is 1.3 miles (one-way); 2.6 miles (roundtrip).
Con: While you are surrounded by natural beauty, you will find that part of the River Trail runs pretty close to the highway so you will hear some road noise as you hike in some areas on this trail unfortunately. And you will actually see the highway in one section (you are protected by concrete barriers). However, it did not detract from the beautiful scenic views.
Pro: I don’t recall seeing many mosquitoes. Although I’m a big fan of the DEET-free Aunt Fannie’s mosquito repellent wipes so that helped. They’re effective, smell good, apply easily and don’t make you feel gross. I just ordered Aunt Fannie’s mosquito repellent in the DEET-free spray version so will give that a try.
Time did not allow me to hike the Railroad Trail or Sandstone Bluffs Trail; however, I plan to visit again during fall foliage season so will update my post then with new content and images.
Rock climbing at Taylors Falls State Park / Interstate State Park
You can also rock climb at Interstate Park in Taylors Falls, Minn. – like these two who graciously allowed me to take some photos. I don’t recall their names, but did leave them my card (at a socially acceptable distance on a rock). If you’re reading this, please leave your names in the comments! Rock climbers require a special permit and another section of the park is specifically dedicated to rock climbers only.
Other top things to do at Taylors Falls State Park / Interstate State Park
Other things to do in the 293 acres of Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park include camping, picnicking, kayaking, canoeing and fishing.
You can also take a cruise on the Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours (their website states they are currently open for daily excursions).
Where’s the Taylors Falls waterfall?
Even as a Minnesotan, I assumed Taylors Falls had a waterfall. Nope. A sign educated me (and other visitors) that you will find no waterfalls in this park. The town names of Taylors Falls and nearby St. Croix Falls are misleading. While the towns were originally named after large rapids, a dam covered the rapids in the early 1900s.
Minnesota State Parks and Trails hiking and passport clubs
- 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)
Minnesota State Parks and Trails offer a couple of cool hiking and passport clubs you’ll want to check out.
- Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club – check out this website page to learn more about the hiking club trails you’ll find at Minnesota state parks and recreational areas
- Minnesota State Parks and Trails Passport Club – join this fun program, get stamped, journal and earn rewards for free camping
Know before you go – Find out what’s open at Minnesota state parks
Find out what’s open at each park on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. They also recommend the following tips before heading to a Minnesota state park.
- Plan ahead. Make reservations and buy your permits in advance.
- Be prepared. Bring soap, toilet paper, water.
- Follow rules. Observe signage and practice social distancing – even outdoors.