Scenic view of river and park bench and trees
Scenic view of St. Croix River at Interstate State Park at Taylors Falls, Minnesota

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, BluehostConstant ContactIt’s a Lovely LifeHotelsCombined, etc.

Minnesota’s geological wonder: Taylors Falls State Park / Interstate State Park

Scenic view of river, trees and bluffs



Discover glacial potholes at Interstate State Park

Glacial pothole

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.

Glacial pothole

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

scenic boulders and trees
Interstate State Park at Taylors Falls, Minn. is full of geological wonder and history – from glacial potholes to ancient lava rock, and more.

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).

Lava rock sign

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

scenic view of river and boulders

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

rock bridge

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

rocky path in the woods

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.

bridge in the woods
scenic view of river and evergreen tree

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).

RV and motorcycle on road

Pros and cons to hiking at Interstate State Park in Minnesota

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

Couple rock climbing

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.

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

Other top things to do at Taylors Falls State Park / Interstate State Park

kayak on river surrounded by trees
Hammocking on the Wisconsin side of Interstate State Park
Hammocking on the Wisconsin side of 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.

steamboat on a river surrounded by trees

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


Minnesota State Parks and Trails offer a couple of cool hiking and passport clubs you’ll want to check out.


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.

Pin it for later: Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park

Scenic view of a river from a wooded and rugged bluff
Minnesota State Park Challenge: Top things to do at Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls, Minn.

Collage of top things to do at Taylors Falls State Park; a couple rock climbing, excursion boat on the river, kayers, scenic views of river and bluffs
Top things to do at Interstate State Park at Taylors Falls, Minnesota: Glacial potholes, ancient lava rock, scenic river views, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, camping and more

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Author

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

60 comments

  1. The Glacial Potholes are so cool. Does anyone else find them spooky or is it just me? The scenery in this park is quite beautiful.

    1. They are cool and a little intimidating. I saw two kids (probably in their 20s ha!) climbing the rocks near one of them and I almost put my mom hat on and told them to get down. I practiced the pause. There is one that you can actually walk inside (currently closed).

        1. I know they allow designated areas for rock climbing, but read that cliff diving and swimming at Interstate State Park in Taylors Fall, Minn. are prohibited. Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park has a sandy beach where you can swim, but their website also says cliff diving is prohibited.

  2. I’d love to hike and kayak this state park. I’ve found potholes in Vermont when I explored the waterfalls. However, they were harder to see because of the rushing water. The ones in this part are easier to see and understand which is really nice.

  3. Ahhh, yet another state park in Minnesota that I’ve love to visit!–I love that you’re doing this challenge because it’s letting me vicariously living through you for now, hehe. Your photos are beautiful (+ yayyy for rock climbing too! *-*)!

  4. I love this! First, what a confusing name – interstate state park hehe. I don’t know why, it makes me giggle. But secondly, glacial pot holes? Lava flows? What fascinating landscape!! Love your state park series, especially this one!

    1. Thanks…it’s so fun to share what I discover in Minnesota. I agree about the name…I didn’t even know it was named that until I started my Minnesota state park challenge. Everyone around here calls it Taylors Falls. I could think of some more suitable and creative names but it has been around since 1895. And then five years later, Wisconsin created their own Interstate State Park.

  5. There are so many things I love about this post…First the Minnesota State Park Challenge. What a fabulous idea! I also find myself saying things like I can’t believe I have lived so close but not seen….yet. Now I’m motivated to try my own challenge! I haven’t really seen much of Minnesota except for the occasional work trip to Minneapolis. These are some beautiful places and the photos are fabulous. And finally (time to wrap this comment up I think) thank you SO much for the DEET free mosquito repellent suggestions!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that…our state parks are pretty beautiful. And I do love Aunt Fannie’s so much…I’m walking through masses of mosquitoes – I can see them and hear them. And so far so good. I’m a huge fan.

  6. What a beautiful place! I have spent time in southern Minnesota, but this looks a bit prettier than the farmland I remember in that part. I too am spending the pandemic exploring local state and national parks that I have yet to visit . Seeing some great things!

  7. I’ve always known Minnesota to be beautiful, but I had no idea. Your images are stunning! I have put the MN State Park Challenge on my list of things to-do!

    1. I am learning so much about Minnesota history, geology and geography on my Minnesota state parks challenge series. The earth is indeed amazing.

  8. I have always heard about how pretty and picturesque Minnesota waters and parks are. Your pics didn’t disappoint. It looks gorgeous up there. So interesting to learn about the potholes and how they were formed. I never heard of them except on the road. What a fabulous geological landscape. I love how they went back in time to those same spots. Hard to even imagine!

  9. Love reading your posts on the Minnesota challenge! Interstate Park looks gorgeous and the perfect place for a hike. The glacial potholes are fascinating and crazy to think that area was completely under water. I can’t wait to tackle some of these hikes when I visit Minnesota next year!

  10. Wow Karen, this park really has it all! I’m learning so much about the nature in Minnesota and it’s fantastic. I also now know what glacial potholes are, thank you!

  11. Definitely some false adverting at work there with the falls name. But hey they have potholes they need to do everything they can to get tourists. Another really excellent park Karen. Loved your little trip back in time too. Where has all the water gone?

    1. I know…I kept wandering around thinking I’d find the falls. It was still beautiful. I’m learning a lot about Minnesota history and the glacial lakes…need to learn more where all that water went (still kinda freaks me out knowing there was once 100 feet of water above where I was standing).

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