Tree with visible roots on a lake shoreline
Frontenac State Park, in Frontenac, Minnesota, offers views of Lake Pepin – the largest lake on the Mississippi River.

Visit Frontenac State Park for scenic views of Lake Pepin – largest lake on the Mississippi River

One of the best MN state parks: Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota.

If you’re looking for a beautiful hike in lush forests with spectacular water views of Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River from scenic bluffs, then head to Frontenac State Park. This top Minnesota state park, located less than 70 miles southeast of the Twin Cities and about 35 miles east of Rochester, Minn., offers 2,300 acres of outdoor recreational activity. Frontenac State Park is perfect for day hikes, birdwatching, camping, picnics, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.


Bluffs overlooking lake
View of Lake Pepin from above In Yan Teopa rock at one of Minnesota’s best state parks: Frontenac State Park

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Beautiful vistas of Lake Pepin – the largest lake on the Mississippi River

Overlook on Lake Pepin with trees and blue sky
One of the best MN state parks with the best hiking trails, Frontenac State Park also offers stunning views of the Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River.

I’m discovering so many beautiful green spaces as part of my Minnesota State Parks Staycation Challenge. And loving that I’m finding so many so close to home like Frontenac State Park, which offers scenic views of Lake Pepin.

Minnesota state parks fun fact: According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, every Minnesota resident is within 50 miles of a state park.

See related post: Best Minnesota hiking trails within 50 miles of the Twin Cities

At 21 miles long, Lake Pepin is the longest lake on the Mississippi River.

Wait…what? The Mississippi River has lakes? I mean I know the Mississippi has many offshoots or tributaries from lakes and its headwaters are located at Lake Itasca (see related post), but didn’t realize there are actually 14 natural and artificial lakes on the Upper Mississippi. Lake Pepin is a natural lake.

Lake Pepin fun fact: Apparently, Lake Pepin, which borders Minnesota and Wisconsin, is the birthplace of water skiing – invented by Ralph Samuelson in 1922.


Frontenac State Park features 13 miles of hiking trails

Frontenac State Park trail with steps and trees on bluff
One of the best MN state parks, Frontenac State Park offers 13 miles of the best hiking trails in Minnesota.

You’ll find 13 miles of hiking trails at Frontenac State Park, a one-mile paved bike trail and a one-mile wheelchair-accessible trail.

My friend Tanya and I decided to hike Frontenac’s Lower Bluffside Trail and Upper Bluffside Trail as the two connected trails offered several overlooks. She and I used to do a small-group walk at lunch back when we worked in corporate America and could easily master four miles in less than an hour (I only did so because they all walked so fast). So we mildly scoffed at Frontenac State Park’s guidelines to allow 2.5 to 3.5 hours for this 2.9-mile trail.

Hiking trail in forest overlooking lake
Frontenac State Park near the Twin Cities, Red Wing and Rochester, Minnesota offers a number of switchback trails.

I do stop to take lots of pictures and video clips while hiking – especially on my Minnesota State Parks Challenge series – so I thought it might take us over an hour. I underestimated. I think we managed to complete the entire Bluffside Trail at Frontenac State Park in about 2.5 hours.  

You’ll find several switchbacks on this trail, which are zig-zag paths along the steep slopes. This pattern helps protect hills from erosion.

Downed tree in sunlight in forest
I’m fascinated with trees so the tree formations at Frontenac State Park makes it one of the best state parks in Minnesota.


Lower Bluffside Trail at Frontenac State Park

Rock steps on hiking trail in forest
Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park provides the best hiking trails for cardio.

If you have bad knees or not a fan of stairs, then I recommend staying away from the Lower Bluffside Trail as it could be a little challenging. This packed-dirt trail features lots of staircases, rock steps and steep slopes. Personally, I loved the cardio and step workout. If you’re physically up for it, then I consider it to be a moderately difficult trail. Be cautious especially if it has recently rained. Trails are very narrow in places with very deep ravines. Loved that we could hike down 425 feet to Lake Pepin’s shoreline.

Narrow trail safe distancing sign in woods
Trails at Frontenac State Park are narrow in some areas; it’s recommended to stay at least six feet away. That’s tough so it’s a good idea to find a clearing to let other hikers pass you by – just make sure to avoid poison ivy. Think everything looks like poison ivy like I do? Then you’ll want to download my favorite plant identification app.

Social distancing at Frontenac State Park

We were able to maintain safe social distancing at Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park as we didn’t cross paths with too many hikers on a Thursday morning. However, it may be a little more difficult if hiking at Frontenac State Park on the weekend when this beautiful area could attract more crowds. For the most part, we and/or others were able to step to the side on the narrow paths.

Stairs leading down to lake overlook in forest
You’ll find lots of overlooks of Lake Pepin at Frontenac State Park in Minnesota.

Upper Bluffside Trail at Frontenac State Park features historical In Yan Teopa Rock

Rock formation with hole in the middle in the forest
Many myths and legends surround the beautiful In-Yan-Teopa Rock at one of MN’s best state parks: Frontenac State Park .

The Upper Bluffside Trail ar Frontenac State Park is also packed dirt, but much wider and flatter than the lower hiking trail. This is where you can view the In-Yan-Teopa Rock. Although the Lower Bluffside Trail offers a better view of this rock (pictured).

In Yan Teopa Rock interpretative sign in Frontenac State Park
Love that many of Minnesota state parks offer self-guided interpretative signs like this one at Frontenac State Park.

You’ll find interpretative signs at Frontenac State Park. Here’s what the In Yan Teopa sign provided by the Minnesota State Parks and Trails says in part near the viewing platform. “The rocky arch before you is shrouded in myths, legends and rumors. Called In Yan Teopa (Dakota for rock opening), the rock is long believed to have played some significance in American Indian religious practices. However, these rumors are unsubstantiated and likely started when white settlers mistook a (now missing) section of the rock as an alter.”

This rock at Frontenac State Park is made of limestone (common in this area of Minnesota), which was formed at the bottom of a shallow sea about 500 million years ago.

Additional historical significance: In 1976, excavations at Frontenac State Park discovered archeological artifacts which are said to date back to the Hopewellian culture (400 B.C. to 300 A.D.). More recently, the Lake Pepin area was the hunting and fishing grounds of Dakota and Fox nations.

What to bring on your Frontenac State Park day hike

Tree trunks in forest
Doesn’t this hiking trail at Frontenac State Park remind you of a fairy tale?

The trails are relatively short so you don’t really need to bring much on your Frontenac State Park hike. I have a lightweight Arcadia Supply backpack that I love – I never travel or hike without it. It’s crushable and packable, two deep outside pockets to hold a water bottle, phone battery pack, and very roomy interior pockets.

Learn what else I recommend packing on a day hike.

Ferns in forest
Beautiful foliage at Frontenac State Park in Minnesota.

While Minnesota state parks are open, not everything is fully operational just yet. So here are some tips on what to bring on your day hike at Frontenac State Park – courtesy of the Minnesota State Park and me. Check out my full packing list for a day hike (for all seasons).

  • Water bottle – spigots are located behind the ranger station as well as on the campground loops
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper
  • Towels
  • Eco-friendly bug spray

My friend Tanya introduced me to Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free mosquito wipes. Mosquitos love my blood type and I did not get a single bite during our hike. Each biodegradable wipe lasts for four hours, smells good and perfect to use on the face. Note: I may receive a small commission from Aunt Fannie’s if you click on the link above. I only recommend products I would use myself. And I use Aunt Fannie’s mosquito wipes every time I go on a day hike or will be outside for a long period of time.


The best DEET-free and environmentally friendly mosquito bug spray in a wipe: Aunt Fannie’s Mosquito Wipes



The best lightweight and waterproof backpack for day hikes: Arkadia Supply sea & ski pack

Arkadia

Where is Frontenac State Park?

Frontenac State Park is located in Frontenac, MN. It’s only 52 miles from the southern metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul (60 miles from the MSP airport). For another scenic hiking trail, check out Barn Bluff in nearby Red Wing, MN (11 miles). And here’s a link to the best hiking trails within 50 miles of the Twin Cities.

Other top things to do at Frontenac State Park

Tent in forest
Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota offers several campground options, which are close to the hiking trails.

Here are a few more top things to do at Frontenac State Park in Minnesota. Check their website for the latest updates on hours and what’s open especially during the pandemic.

  • We only hiked the Lower and Upper Bluffside Trails at Frontenac State Park. Will definitely return to check out the fall foliage colors and hike the other trails such as the Prairie Loop, Interpretative Self-guided Tour, and the Sand Point Trail on the Lake Pepin beach and shoreline. Although you can take a staircase and switchback to reach the rocky shoreline of Lake Pepin on the Lower Bluffside Trail.
  • If you’re a camper or a glamper, you’ll find several different camping options at Frontenac State Park: campground, primitive group camp, cart-in campsites, backpack campsite, RV sites. You can see the campgrounds perched 430 feet above the water – with easy access to the Bluffside Trail.
  • Bring a picnic lunch – lots of picnic tables overlooking Lake Pepin.
  • Rent canoes at the Frontenac State Park’s office. Check their website to see if this service is currently available.
  • Go fishing on Lake Pepin – lots of walleye, pike, perch, sturgeon and more.
  • Bike riding is allowed on the paved and gravel trails at Frontenac State Park. You’ll also find nearby bike trails along Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minn.
  • Bring your pet – your beloved fur babies are welcome at Frontenac State Park (with the exception of the buildings and beaches). Make sure to keep on a 6-foot leash and pick up after your dog.
  • Go birdwatching as Frontenac State Park has recorded more than 260 species of birds in the area. Minnesota State Parks and Trails recommend hiking the Sand Point Trail for birdwatching. It’s a flat trail on packed dirt and a boardwalk through the forest that leads to the shoreline of Lake Pepin.
  • Seasonal nature hikes available (check website calendar).
  • Winter activities at Frontenac State Park include 7.1 miles of cross-country ski trails, 3 miles of snowshoe trails and a sliding hill with a warming house and stove.
  • Nearby you can find the only working lighthouse on the Mississippi River at the Lake City Marina (an area known as Minnesota’s south shore – see related post about Minnesota’s scenic north shore along Lake Superior).
  • Also in nearby Lake City (8 miles away) you can visit the waterskiing museum and take an 1880s paddle-wheeler riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River.


Picnic table overlooking lake
Frontenac State Park in Minnesota offers picnic areas overlooking Lake Pepin – the largest lake on the Mississippi River.

The best Minnesota state parks planning tips

Down tree in forest
Beautiful hiking trails at one of the best MN state parks: Frontenac State Park.

Before you visit any of the 66 Minnesota state parks such as Frontenac State Park, check out these helpful state park online resources.*

  • 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
  • Minnesota LakeFinder – online resource that provides information for more than 4,500 of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers  
  • Minnesota ParkFinder – easily locate any of the Minnesota state parks by map or alphabetically, take virtual tours and purchase your daily or annual vehicle permits online   
  • Minnesota River Levels – check river levels and conditions and locate a Minnesota water trail via a pdf or interactive map or alphabetically
  • Minnesota Fall Color Finder – perfect resource for leaf-peeping season in Minnesota
  • Minnesota snow depth and trail conditions – the perfect resource for MinneSNOWta winter adventures such as skiing, snowmobiling or snowshoeing
  • Minnesota boating – a helpful resource identifying thousands of trailer and carry-in water accesses for boaters – canoes, kayaks, pontoons, speed boats, etc.
  • Minnesota GeoPDF maps – a perfect resource for those of us who are directionally challenged. A variety of maps to download before your visit (and to access later without internet or cell service). Examples: Most Minnesota state parks, state trails and some state forests, Minnesota water trails and water access, Minnesota snowmobile trails.

*For the latest seasonal updates, check the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

Join me on my Minnesota State Parks Staycation Challenge

If you’re planning to stay closer to home this summer, join me on a State Park Staycation Challenge. I’ve hiked all 66 Minnesota state parks. See my related post: How to hike all Minnesota state parks in a year.

List of the best Minnesota state parks I’ve hiked so far

This list of the best MN state parks shows the distance from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

If you’d like to join me on my Minnesota State Park Staycation Challenge (or create one for your state), check out this Best State Parks in America guide. This guide contains 60 of the best state parks in the U.S. according to more than 30 travel bloggers. See if your favorite made the list.

Best Minnesota hiking trails within 50 miles series

View of Mississippi River from bluffs

Pin it for later: Top things to do at Frontenac State Park

Best state parks in Minnesota Frontenac State Park boardwalk trail

Overlook of the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin
Minnesota State Parks Staycation Challenge Series: One of the best MN state parks: Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, MN

Trees in forest
Hiking at the best Minnesota State Parks Staycation Challenge Series: Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, MN

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

57 comments

  1. love this staycation series Karen! Frontenac State Park looks lovely, with all the hiking trails! Also the light in your photos are just stunning. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love this staycation idea! I need to do the same here in North Carolina. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous though, makes me wish I could visit Minnesota this summer!

  3. So stunning & your colorful photos are gorgeous!! Did not realize there were so many parks in Minnesota- perfect idea for a staycation if you live in this part of the country.

    1. Thank you so much! I didn’t realize there were so many and I’ve lived here for 27 years. It’s a great staycation.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful writeup. I remember going somewhere on the Mississippi one night during the summer I spent in Minnesota but don’t remember where they took me. That park looks like a great place to hike around.

    1. My pleasure. There’s quite a few parks along the Mississippi in Minnesota. One of my favorites is Itasca State Park where the Mississippi starts.

  5. I have recently discovered how awesome state parks are, and I love this staycation challenge! I’ve never been to Minnesota, but the pictures here make me want to visit. Gorgeous!

  6. Those hikes looks gorgeous and fun! I love your idea of exploring your state parks; I feel like we often forget about the amazing adventures right near us!

  7. This is such a pretty area, and your pictures are beautiful! I’ve been curious about this area because of its Laura Ingalls Wilder ties. I’m a fan! I’d love to hike around this beautiful lake.

    1. I loved the Little House books and series. Walnut Grove is only 2.5 hours away…I’ll have to make that a priority.

  8. I’m surprised that every resident in Minnesota is within 50 miles of a state park. Minnesota seems so big and spread out! That’s pretty cool though.

  9. Your photos are so, so gorgeous–I love all the colors! That’s awesome that everyone’s within 50 miles of a state park! <3 I stopped by in Minnesota for a fairly brief time during my cross-country road trip last year but would love to explore more of it someday!

    1. Too funny! Do you spell it letter by letter or do you say it like me: M – I – crooked letter – crooked letter – I – crooked letter – crooked letter – I – humpback – humpback – I? And then spell it backwards? I – humpback – humpback – I – crooked letter – crooked letter – I – crooked letter – crooked letter – I – M? That took me much longer to type than to say! That’s how I learned to spell it as a child and I still do it.

  10. I had no idea there were so many Minnesota state parks! I definitely would love to check out Frontenac and hike some of these great trails!

    1. We have some beautiful state parks in Minnesota. Frontenac State Park is one of the best places to hike in Minnesota – love its switchback trails and the views of Lake Pepin.

    1. Thank you so much! I wasn’t much of a hiker either until 2020…gained a new appreciation for nature. Frontenac State Park was one of my first hiking adventures and one of the best trails in Minnesota.

  11. Oooh nice! I love the look of Frontenac State Park. Those beautiful shady trees are lovely to hike in, and I am always a fan of hiking up to bluffs to see the views.

    Your staycation challenge to visit all 66 State Parks is such a great idea too – what a fantastic way to spend your summer!

    1. Thank you so much! Frontenac State Park is one of the best Minnesota state parks especially for hiking. Love the switchback trails and the bluff views overlooking Lake Pepin.

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