Waterfall in autumn
You can find this cascade of the double waterfall at one of the best MN state parks: Minneopa State Park in Mankato, Minn.

I’m enjoying a staycation in Minnesota and discovering the best Minnesota state parks with so many beautiful places and fun things to do in Minnesota – the land of 10,000 lakes (technically 11,842). And I completed my challenge of hiking and exploring all 66 Minnesota’s state parks. Updated: 06.10.23; originally published 06.11.20.

Not only do we have a lot of water in Minnesota, more than one-third of our state is covered with forests – 17.6 million acres in fact. So that means Minnesota offers the best state parks and is the perfect destination for hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, fishing, camping, boating, and more.

Every Minnesota state park is on a top 10 list in some capacity – in my opinion. This is just a sampling of all the beauty you can discover and explore on the best state park trails in Minnesota.

When I first started my staycation, I learned that I had only been to a small fraction of our Minnesota state parks. We’ve got 66 of them (as well as 9 state recreational areas). So I set a challenge to see how many of the best Minnesota state parks I could explore by the summer of 2021.

Well, I have now hiked/visited all of the best (all 66) Minnesota state parks and have reviewed each in this post. I’m planning to publish a local’s guide to all of the best Minnesota state parks in 2023. Sign up to receive a special offer and advance notice of its publication.


This post contains recommended links to products and services. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may receive compensation if you purchase these products and services. All images are taken by kmf and available for digital download.


Save on your hotel - hotelscombined.com

What is the best mattress for SUV camping? This one! Highly recommended by a bed snob (it’s me…I’m the bed snob)

List of the best Minnesota state parks

steps leading into forest at Tettegouche start park
One of the best Minnesota state parks along the North Shore of Lake Superior: Tettegouche State Park.

Since I couldn’t travel during the pandemic, I decided to start hiking all the best Minnesota state parks within driving distance from my front door (2.5 to 3 hours). Once vaccinated, I took an epic SUV camping / Minnesota state park road trip to finish exploring the remaining ones that were more than a day trip away. I also stayed at three beautiful and unique sponsored Airbnbs.

Full disclosure: I haven’t met a Minnesota State Park I haven’t liked. So I’m recommending all of them as the best state parks to visit in Minnesota. I hope you enjoy this review of all the best MN state parks from A to Z: Afton State Park in Hastings, MN to Zippel Bay State Park in Williams, MN.

SUV camping at the best Minnesota state parks
So I tried this thing called SUV camping as I took an epic two-week road trip to hike and explore the remaining 23 of the 66 best Minnesota state parks. They make different SUV camping tent models for different types of vehicles – here’s the one that I used for my Nissan Pathfinder: Sportz Cove Full/Mid-Size SUV Camping Tent by Napier Outdoors



Best Minnesota State Parks: Afton State Park; Hastings, Minnesota

Afton State Park in Minnesota
Best state parks in Minnesota: Afton State Park in Hastings, Minn.

You’ll find a variety of trails and offshoot paths at Afton State Park in Hastings, Minn. – one of the best state parks in Minnesota and close to the Twin Cities. From the North River Trail along the beautiful St. Croix River to wildflowers and six-foot high grasses on the Prairie Loop to steep terrain overlooking rugged ravines and scenic bluff tops.

We hiked five miles and felt like we barely covered everything there was to see at Afton State Park. It was a hot and humid day and menacing clouds and thunder threatened (thunderstorms came much later) so my husband and I cut our hike shorter that we would have liked. I’m already planning a repeat visit perhaps in the fall during foliage season.

Afton State Park is the perfect Minnesota state park for some secluded beach time (no lifeguard and it was not crowded), kayaking, boating, backpack camping, birdwatching, horseback riding, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Note that there is no drive-up boat access from Afton State Park – it’s a half-mile portage.




Best books to read this weekend

Banning State Park ranks as one of the best MN state parks; Sandstone, Minnesota

Kettle River at Banning State Park Minnesota
For my birthday last year, I chose to do a family hike at Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minn. – one of the best state parks in Minnesota (in fact, I currently have it ranked in second place to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park).

Banning State Park is one of my top contenders among the top-ranked state parks in Minnesota. My family and I hiked just 7 of the 17 miles of trails that run along the scenic Kettle River – will definitely return to check out more of the hiking trails.

We found that Banning State Park has many personalities – from calm waters reflecting the towering pines to rapids to easy trails with wildlife to rugged and rocky trails to a 130-year-old quarry ruins and a remote waterfall.

4 kayaks on a river surrounded by trees and cliffs
Banning State Park is a favorite MN state park for kayakers.

Banning State Park, a favorite destination for kayakers especially, is located near Sandstone, Minn. and only a couple of miles off I-35: ~2 hours from the Twin Cities – definitely worth the road trip and a stop if heading to the North Shore along Lake Superior.

Best state parks in northern Minnesota: Bear Head Lake State Park; Ely, Minnesota

Bear Head Lake State Park
Visit the scenic Bear Lake State Park for a true Up North in Minnesota feeling – definitely one of the best MN state parks.

If you’re looking for a challenging hike and a beautiful and quiet lakeside beach with a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness feel, then I recommend Bear Head Lake State Park as one of the best state parks in Minnesota. Bear Lake Head State Park features 4,000 acres of lakes and a rocky landscape formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. While it was a bit windy the day I visited, you can rent paddle boards or bring your own canoe or kayak for a different perspective of this scenic lake. Speed limit on Bear Head Lake is 10 mph where you can fish for walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, black crappie and panfish.

Best MN state parks in the southeast corner: Beaver Creek Valley State Park; Caledonia, Minnesota

Stunning fall foliage shot at Beaver Creek Valley State Park in Minnesota
You’ll find spectacular views of trees, valleys, streams and bluffs at Beaver Creek Valley State Park in Caledonia, MN. This is one of the best Minnesota state parks to hike in the autumn for spectacular fall colors.

Beaver Creek Valley State Park is the most southeastern state park in Minnesota. While you can’t see Wisconsin or Iowa from the tall bluffs, you’re pretty close. This beautiful MN state park, located in Caledonia, Minn., offers easy to moderate hikes for spectacular views of trees, streams, valleys, and bluffs. And is located in a geological area known as the Blufflands Landscape Region and Driftless Area (meaning that it was untouched by most recent glaciers). When the glaciers melted, however, the torrential water created these beautiful ravines, gorges, and valleys.

This view pictured was taken from the top of the Switchback Trail, which, in my opinion, is one of the best hiking trails with the best views in one of the best state parks in Minnesota. While this Beaver Creek Valley State Park hiking trail is listed as moderate, use caution. The trails are narrow and sometimes precariously close to the edge of the ledge. I wouldn’t recommend this particular trail for children or if you have knee or balance issues.

Big Stone Lake State Park; Ortonville, Minnesota

Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota
Beautiful and quiet Big Stone Lake made the best of the best of Minnesota state parks list.

One of the best state parks in Minnesota, Big Stone Lake River, is home to the headwaters of the Minnesota River. The 12,610 acres offers every water activity imaginable and you can rent canoes or kayaks or fish or hike.

Big Stone Lake Park is unique as there are three distinct areas. The first is the Bonanza area with its wooded and prairie hiking trails, a learning center (which is separate from the Minnesota state park system), campgrounds, picnic areas and boat launch. About a mile south you can find an overlook reststop with a beautiful view of Big Stone Lake, which is about 10 miles northeast of the third area called Meadowbrook. Here you’ll find the beautiful Prairie Trail here along with a boat launch to Big Stone Lake.

For a related post, see my Best things to do at Itasca State Park post, which is home to the Mississippi River Headwaters (where you can actually wade across as it is so shallow).

Best MN state parks in southwest Minnesota: Blue Mounds State Park; Luverne, Minnesota

Tipi campsite at Blue Mounds State Park in Minnesota
Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, Minn. offers three cart-in tipi campsites for a different camping experience. With so much diversity, you’ll see why it’s one of the best MN state parks.

Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, Minnesota is home to the scenic 100-ft. Sioux Quartzite cliff, a bison herd, 1,500 acres of prairie grasses and wildflowers, birds and wildlife. You can also camp in one of their three tipis or in their regular campgrounds. While we didn’t see any bison during our visit, we did catch them grazing by the road when we visited another state park. Minneopa State Park in Mankato, MN is one of the best Minnesota state parks for bison, hiking and waterfalls.

Luverne, Minn. is also the setting of Fargo, Season Two. Check out my related post: Best shows to stream right now.

Things to do near Blue Mounds State Park: Visit the Nutcracker Museum

And if you’re history buffs or nutcracker collectors like us, make sure to check out Rock County History Center downtown Luverne, Minn. One of the resident exhibits features one of the country’s largest nutcracker collections (~5,000). I’ll share a separate post of our lovely conversation with the museum’s director who donated 3,000 nutcrackers.

Rock County History Center Nutcracker Museum largest in U.S.
One of the best and largest nutcracker museums in the United States is located near Blue Mounds State Park at Rock County History Center in Luverne, Minn. This place also includes lots of great historical information and exhibits about the area.

Best MN state parks: Buffalo River State Park; Glyndon, Minnesota

Deer at Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota
This was one curious deer as it watched me as I hiked at Buffalo River State Park in Glyndon, Minn. – located near the Fargo and Morehead, ND metro area. But you’ll feel like you’re miles away from any city.

You’ll find easy, flat and rolling hill hiking trails at Buffalo River State Park – mainly through open prairies, which I found quite serene. Pictured is a deer I came across on one of the more wooded trails.

The 4,568-acre park also features a chlorinated sand-bottom swimming pond, but currently closed (still emerging from the pandemic) as well as picnic areas and campgrounds.

I especially loved the Muskoda Trail with its interpretative signs and the trail that leads to the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Nature Area, which features more than 250 wildflowers and grasses.

Prairie hiking trail at Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota

Camden State Park; Lynd, Minnesota

Camden State Park hiking trail through the woods in Minnesota
This hike through the forest at Camden State Park was a serene respite on a very hot and humid summer day. Beautiful woodland trail featured a gentle stream with charming cascades.

Camden State Park is a beautiful park with hiking trails through woods and prairies and alongside wetlands, streams, and quaint cascades. We especially enjoyed the serene hike to the overlook of the Redwood River Valley.

You’ll also find campgrounds (regular and horse camps), a spring-fed swimming pond and lots of areas for cast and fly fishing. We saw several people trout fishing. Additionally, you can rent kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. And if you’re into biking, the Camden Regional 10-mile bike trail leads to nearby Marshall.

Carley State Park; Plainview, Minnesota

River crossing concrete blocks at Carley State Park in Minnesota
Carley State Park offers four miles of hiking trails. And the north branch of the Whitewater River is perfect for brown and rainbow trout fishing. Make sure to get your fishing license and trout stamp first. If you’re looking for the best Minnesota state park for solitude, Carley State Park is a hidden gem.

If you’re looking for an uncrowded and quiet state park, then Carley State Park in Plainview, Minn. is the perfect place for a nature walk. And it’s only 11 miles away from Whitewater State Park. So you could visit both in the same day like I did. See below for more details about Whitewater State Park. See my related post: How to hike all 66 Minnesota state parks in a year.

Carley State Park, located less than two hours south of the Twin Cities, offers beautiful nature trails, wildflowers, valley overlooks, unique river crossings, camping, and fishing.

Cascade River State Park; Lutsen, Minnesota

Snowy hiking trail in the woods with a tree overhanging
Cascade River State Park in Lutsen, Minnesota.

Cascade River State Park, located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, offers several hiking trails – from a 0.5-mile to a 7.8-mile loop. We first visited in the winter so were treated to some beautiful frozen cascades along the river. I returned in the summer on a solo hike where I could view the Cascade River as it made its way down 120 feet through a breathtaking gorge to Lake Superior.

Cascade River State Park waterfall cascades
Cascade River State Park in Lutsen, MN during the summer.

Make sure to take in the stunning Cascade River Overlook views on the Lake Superior side of Highway 61 near mile marker 100 (across from the waterfall trailhead). Or go fishing like these two brothers (father gave me permission to take their photos) or kayaking (if you’re skilled like the two in the distance).

Boy fishing on Lake Superior near Cascade River State Park

Boy fishing on Lake Superior near Cascade River State Park

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park; Little Falls, Minnesota

Bridge at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Minnesota
The family of Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. donated 110 acres to create the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Little Falls. His son, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., is well-known as the aviator who flew the first trans-Atlantic solo flight. If you love aviation history and nature, then Charles A. Lindbergh State Park is the best state park in Minnesota.

I had to cut my visit to the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park a little short because of some fierce mosquitoes (they didn’t bite me where I had applied mosquito repellent. They found a way to bite me through my hiking leggings where I failed to spray). Don’t let that deter you. Just spray your clothing or visit in the fall (which I plan to do) as it is a beautiful park with hiking trails through the woods.

You’ll also find a trail that runs along the Mississippi River next to the Charles A. Lindbergh historic home and museum. Both of those buildings were closed during the pandemic when I visited. However, they are now open. See my related post and more photos (including the field where the younger Lindbergh landed his Jenny WWI surplus plane in 1923).

Crow Wing State Park; Brainerd, Minnesota

Chippewa Lookout bench at Crow Wing State Park in Minnesota
Chippewa Lookout at Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd, Minn. offers a great view of the Mississippi River.

You’ll find several beautiful trails through pine trees, hardwoods and prarielands alongside the Mississippi River at Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd, Minn. This historic area is the site of the former 1800s frontier town of Old Crow Wing as well as the Red River Oxcart Trail, both named as historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. The 3,119 acres of Crow Wing State Park is also home to the historic site of the Battle of 1768 between the Dakota and Ojibwe nations as well as the Mississippi River and Crow Wing River confluence.

Be sure to wear tick spray with picaridin as this park is notorious for deer ticks especially. We hiked in late April and the ticks were already out and I brought one of its wood ticks home with me. (I forgot to spray even through I brought picaridin with me.)


Father Hennepin State Park; Isle, Minnesota

Pope's Point at Father Hennepin State Park in Minnesota on Mille Lacs Lake sunset
One of the best MN state parks: Father Hennepin State Park sits on the shore of one of the largest and prettiest lakes in Minnesota, Mille Lacs Lake.

One of the best MN state parks, Father Hennepin State Park, sits along one of the best MN lakes: Mille Lacs (which means Thousand Lakes in French). Father Hennepin offers 320 acres of trees, picnic areas, 2 campgrounds, boating access, a sandy beach and a rocky shoreline as well as three short and easy hiking trails. Pictured is the half-mile (one way) Pope Point’s trail that winds along the shoreline of Mille Lacs and through a beautiful wooded area.

And as long as you’re in the neighborhood, visit nearby Mille Lacs Kathio State Park (only 15 miles away).

Flandrau State Park; New Ulm, Minnesota

Sunset over a river with trees and fall colors on the banks
Flandreau State Park is one of the best state parks in Minnesota for beautiful sunsets; you’ll find several hiking trails along the Cottonwood River for some beautiful views.

You’ll find beautiful hiking and cross-country skiing / snowshoeing trails along the Cottonwood River, historic buildings, picnic areas, campgrounds and a sand-bottom pool/pond at Flandrau State Park in New Ulm, Minnesota.

Flandrau State Park fun fact: The pioneer/frontiersman this park is named after, Charles Eugene Flandrau, is credited for Minnesota’s nickname: The Gopher State.

A not-so-fun fact I learned is that Flandrau State Park served as a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp. However, that did not detract from the beauty of this park with all beautiful trees, trails and I timed it just right to capture a beautiful sunset (while chasing daylight). Will share more about what this park offers soon.

Forestville Mystery Cave State Park; Preston, Minnesota

Overlooking a bluff of fall foliage during the golden hour sunset
Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is one of the best MN state parks because of its diversity; beautiful wooded trails, limestone bluffs, a pre-Civil War cemetery, historic village, trout streams, cave tours and more.

If you’re looking for the best of the best MN state parks, then Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is in the top five. Located in southeastern Minnesota, this beautiful park consists of two sections: Forestville and Mystery Cave.

This park also includes a living history section where you can tour the historic village (it was closed during the pandemic when I visited). If you’ve been following me, you also know I’m fascinated with historic and beautiful cemeteries. And Forestville Mystery Cave State Park features one of the most peaceful cemeteries I’ve ever visited. You’ll find the Zumbro Hill Cemetery among tall trees in a secluded area of Forestville Mystery Cave State Park – with headstones dating back before the Civil War.

I was chasing daylight, but so happy I experienced the golden hour (right before sunset) at the scenic overlook on Sandback Trail. I did make it back to my vehicle at sunset and that’s when I heard this (spoiler alert: it wasn’t a dog).

If you’re hiking around sunset, you may hear this at Minnesota state parks.

And I heard the coyotes again when I returned to take a candlelight night tour of the Mystery Cave. So cool! Please note that the Mystery Cave takes reservations online only and is seasonal (typically mid-May to late October). That’s when the bats begin to hibernate. Highly recommend visiting!

Mystery Cave State Park
Mystery Cave is one of the best things to do at Minnesota’s state parks – Minnesota’s longest cave at 13 miles. Enjoy a maze of underground passageways underground pools, stunning stalactites, stalagmites, fossils, and more.

Fort Ridgely State Park; Fairfax, Minnesota


Fort Ridgely State Park in Fairfax, Minnesota, one of the best state parks for history buffs, features a museum, fort ruins, hiking and horse trails, campgrounds and a horse camp.

While the Fort Ridgely State Park museum in Fairfax, Minnesota is closed due to the pandemic, you may visit the grounds. Here you’ll find a circular interpretative trail among the ruins of the former fort as well as a monument to those who died during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Fort Ridgely at one point in history was a thriving outpost with more than 300 soldiers and civilian residents.

In addition to the historic fort site, Fort Ridgely State Park offers campgrounds, a horse camp as well as several hiking and horse trails. I began to hike one of the trails during my visit; however, I was dodging cloudbursts and 40-mph hour winds out on the prairie so am planning a return trip to check out the trails at Fort Ridgely State Park. Watch for a future post with more details.

Fort Snelling State Park; Bloomington / St. Paul, Minnesota

Canopy of green trees
Fort Snelling State Park, one of the best state parks with easy and beautiful trails with a history, is located right in the heart of the Twin Cities metro area. In fact, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is only two miles away from the scenic and historic Fort Snelling State Park.

The historict Fort Snelling State Park in Bloomington / St. Paul, Minnesota is right near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (like 2.1 miles away) so if you’re ever looking for things to do, this is a convenient state park.

My son visited Fort Snelling many times on school field trips. I had no idea the state park offered so much more. I was especially pleasantly surprised to learn about several hiking trails when my husband and I ventured out there recently.

Confluence on Minnesota River and Mississippi River sandy beach with trees on the river banks
I learned a new word on my Minnesota State Parks Staycation Challenge this year: Confluence – which means two bodies of water meeting. Pictured: Minnesota River and Mississippi River Confluence – making Fort Snelling one of the best state parks in Minnesota for river views.

Even with the threat of thunderstorms looming (only rained a little), I was determined to see the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers on Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park (a sacred place for the Dakota nation). Am I the only one who didn’t know the two rivers merged?

Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park, bordered by both the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River, was originally called Wita Tanka (or Big Island) by the Dakota people and they called the confluence/point Bdo Te, which means meeting of waters. The Dakotas considered this area sacred and believed this confluence was the center of the earth.

I’m definitely returning to Fort Snelling State Park as there are many other trails to hike, and I want to learn more about this sacred place as well as visit the historic Fort Snelling when it reopens.

Bridge over a river with blue sky
Fort Snelling, one of the best state parks in Minnesota, also offers access to the Minnesota River with a stunning view of the Mendota bridge from below (Highways 55 and 62 – the Crosstown).

Franz Jevne State Park; Baudette, Minnesota

View of Rainy River and Ontario at Franz Jevne State Park in Minnesota

If you’re looking for a hidden gem that’s secluded and serene, then Franz Jevne State Park in Baudette, Minn. is your kind of place. A scenic two-mile trail winds along Rainy River – which also borders Ontario, Canada. The trail then loops back around where you can also hike to Sault Rapids or the rock outcrop and through wooded areas.

Franz Jevne State Park also features a small campground as well as walk-in campsites – some along the hiking trail.

Frontenac State Park; Frontenac, Minnesota

Overlooking lake from a bluff
One of the best state parks in Minnesota for hiking and great water views (Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River) is the beautiful Frontenac State Park.

Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minn. offers hiking trails and switchbacks of all difficulty levels with scenic bluffs and stunning views of Lake Pepin – the largest lake on Mississippi River. I didn’t even know the Mississippi River had lakes.

Rock formation with hole in the middle in the forest
Frontenac State Park is the perfect day trip from Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN and one of the best state parks for a day hike near the Twin Cities (Minnesota).

Frontenac State Park is a perfect day trip from the Twin Cities (50-70 miles southeast) or Rochester, Minn. (35 miles east). Learn more about the top things to do at Frontenac State Park in my related post.

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota

Frozen waterfall on a frozen and snowy river surrounded by evergreen trees
Frozen waterfall at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park in Silver Bay, Minnesota

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is probably the most strenuous hike I’ve trekked at any of the state parks so far. Granted, we hiked in the winter and there was a warning that this remote park did not maintain the trails well. While we followed a narrow path, just an inch off the path and we were in snow up to our knees. That also happened when we decided to follow someone’s footsteps in the snow to what we thought would lead to an overlook and loop back to the main trail.

Nope. Didn’t happen. We ended up in snow up to our knees. But, hey, it was an adventure.

We did make it back to the main trail and while the one-mile hike took over an hour (that includes me taking photos, videos and off-roading), reaching the frozen waterfall was worth it! Make sure to wear waterproof hiking boots when hiking in the winter as well as metal spikes / crampons and bring trekking poles with snow baskets. There are a couple of steep inclines where ice and snow cover the steps.

Getting to this remote park also took some time as it was pretty snowy, icy and muddy gravel road. Be prepared that George Crosby Manitou State Park is not right off Highway 61 / North Shore scenic byway.

I returned in late June to hike George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – still a bit treacherous and challenging to hike, but worth the view.

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Waterfall
Waterfall at one of the best Minnesota state parks – George H. Crosby Manitou in Silver Bay, MN

Glacial Lakes State Park; Starbuck, Minnesota

Park bench view of Signalness (Mountain) Lake at Glacial Lakes State Park

You’ll find some scenic views, rolling hills, steep terrain, an oak forest, wetlands, three lakes and unique landcapes at Glacial Lakes State Park in Starbuck, Minn. Even the drive to this beautiful state park from the Twin Cities was stunning. It was a gorgeous sunny day and all the lakes were sparkling blue. Back in the day, glaciers created kettles (water-filled depressions), cone-shaped hills known as kames and large boulders. At the top of High Peak Trail, you can see for miles overlooking a prairie and oak savanna.

View from the top of high Peak at Glacial Lakes State Park

Glendalough State Park; Battle Lake, Minn.

Glendalough State Park Battle Lake in Minnesota

Glendalough State Park in Battle Lake, Minn. features five lakes and several hiking trails. A 3.3-mile trail takes you completely around non-motorized Battle Lake.

Previously a private retreat for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, Glendalough State Park is home to one of the largest non-developed lakeshore areas. It also tells a fascinating story about its ice age geological history.

We hiked at the end of June and it was pretty buggy in the wooded areas so my mosquito net made an appearance. It was also very hot and muggy that day and wished we had rented bikes (even a tandem bike). Glendalough State Park offers a nice bike trail that takes you around the lake, through the woods and three miles to downtown Battle Lake. You can also rent canoes, kayaks or paddle boards. If you’re looking for a unique camping experience, you can reserve a yurt.

Gooseberry Falls State Park; Two Harbors, Minnesota

Four waterfalls with trees and a bridge
Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, Minnesota is the most popular state park and one of the best MN state parks featuring not one, not two, not three, but four waterfalls.

Minnesota’s most popular state park, Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, Minn. features miles of hiking trails in 1,700 acres of forest and four waterfalls. And I’m wondering why the fourth one is called Fifth Falls. I’m looking into that name origin. See my related post: Best scenic drive in Minnesota: The North Shore.

Grand Portage State Park; Grand Portage, Minnesota

Frozen waterfall in the forest
Grand Portage State Park is home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, High Falls, which plunges 120 feet into Pigeon River.

If you love waterfalls, then you will love Grand Portage State Park in Grand Portage, Minnesota. This state park is home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, High Falls, which drops 120 feet into Pigeon River. We visited Grand Portage State Park so were treated to a frozen waterfall masterpiece.

It’s an easy one-mile roundtrip wheelchair-accessible hike to the overlook of High Falls. You’ll find two additional viewing platforms just a short distance away.

Grand Potage State Park High Falls
Grand Portage State Park High Falls in the summer – it’s worth the drive to one of the best state parks with waterfalls in Minnesota.

More waterfalls at one of the best state parks in Minnesota

For a more rugged hike, take the 4.5-mile (roundtrip) Middle Falls Trail to the 20-ft. Middle Falls waterfall. Time didn’t allow us to hike this trail during our visit, but definitely want to return later.

Another highlight of Grand Portage State Park is that you can see three nations from the park: U.S., Canada and the Grand Portage tribal lands. A short trail takes you to a sign marker and a selfie station.

Great River Bluffs State Park; Winona, Minnesota

Yellow wildflowers in a valley
In addition to beautiful trails through dense forests to scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River Valley, Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, Minn. is one of the best MN state parks for hiking, great views and birdwatching. This park is home to some unique species according to the Minnesota Department of Resources such as a six-lined racer lizard and the bobolink, a prairie bird.

Loved my visit to Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, Minn., about two hours southeast of the Twin Cities. I first hiked King’s Bluff for a picnic lunch while taking in the panoramic views of the Mississippi River and valleys of wildflowers. I then hiked through fairytale-like forests to two scenic bluff overlooks with more stunning views of the Mississippi River Valley.

If you like wildlife, you’ll find it here as the park (according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) is home to 35 different mammals, 17 species of reptiles and amphibians and more than 100 species of birds. Watch for a full review and photos of my time at the breathtaking Great River Bluffs State Park. It’s only 30 miles from John A. Latsch State Park, so I stopped there on my way home (save some energy for those 300+ steps).

Hayes Lake State Park; Roseau, Minnesota

Scenic pine forests next to Hayes Lake State Park in Minnesota
One of the best quintessential MN state parks is Hayes Lake in northwest Minnesota.

Hayes Lake State Park in Roseau, Minnesota is one of the best parks for a quiet and secluded hike or kayaking, fishing, swimming and camping. You’ll find scenic hiking trails in this quintessential Minnesota Up North experience with pine and poplar forests bordering crystal blue water. As you may know, I’m a bit of a history and cemetery enthusiast. If you are as well, then you’ll enjoy Hayes Lake State Park’s Homestead Trail that loops around the former Henderson Homestead including some gravesites.

Hill Annex Mine State Park; Calumet, Minnesota

Hill Annex Mine Open Mine Pit at State Park in Minnesota
Typically, Hill Annex Mine State Park offers tours of its mine. Although they are not offering tours at this time, you can still view the open mine pit (filled with water) on its observation deck on the Hill Annex State Park grounds (when open – check their website for hours).

One of the best state parks to learn about Minnesota’s mining history (regardless of how you feel about it today, mining was a huge industry for Minnesota back in the day). So we must recognize its place in history.

While the 1.5-hour open pit mine tour is currently closed as we are still emerging from the pandemic, you can visit the park grounds and view the open mine pit. I also recommend visiting the small museum that packs a lot of fascinating Iron Range history.

And this area may or may not be haunted. I’m what you call a scared skeptic. And someone may or may not have heard strange noises coming from the beautiful staircase in the building that used to house miners back in the day.

Note that the park grounds museum may have limited hours. Currently, it’s only open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Hill Annex Mine Museum at State Park in Minnesota
You won’t find any hiking trails at Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet, Minn.; however, you’ll enjoy a trip down memory lane when you visit its two-story history museum, which houses decades of memorabilia.

Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park; Taylors Falls, Minnesota

Scenic view of a river, bluffs and trees
Interstate State Park (aka Taylors Falls State Park) in Taylors Falls, Minnesota is one of the best state parks if you’re big on history and geology. Not only does Interstate State Park (Taylor Falls) offer five miles of hiking trails leading to scenic bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River, it’s also home to glacial potholes and ancient exposed lava flows.

Interstate State Park (also known locally as Taylors Falls State Park) in Taylors Falls, Minnesota overlooks the St. Croix River (with Wisconsin on the other bank). With nearly 300 acres, this popular state park in Minnesota features five miles of hiking trails, scenic river bluffs, rock climbing, exposed lava flows you can walk on and more than 400 glacial potholes.

Glacial pothole
This glacial pothole at one of the best state parks in Minnesota known as The Bottomless Pit, is thought to be the deepest one in the world (60 feet / 18 meters deep).

What are glacial potholes? About 10,000 years ago, melting glaciers carved out river valleys in Minnesota. Fast-moving and turbulent water and sand drilled deep holes into volcanic rock, which are now called potholes.

Interstate Park is a very popular park with lots of people and some narrow trails. However, there are lots of opportunities to hike in areas that are more secluded. See my full post on the top things to do at Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park in Taylors Falls, Minn.

Itasca State Park; Park Rapids, Minnesota

Mississippi River Headwaters in Itasca State Park, kids walking across rocks
Itasca State Park in Minnesota is one of the best state parks as it is the home of where the Mississippi River gets its start (headwaters). And it has beautiful hiking trails with a fire tower you can climb (during nonpandemic times).

Some people are surprised to learn that the 2,552-mile-long Mississippi River begins in Minnesota. And it has humble beginnings. The Mississippi River headwaters is in Itasca State Park (Minnesota’s oldest state park) running out of Lake Itasca (a glacial lake). It’s only about 20 feet wide and only knee-deep so you can actually wade across.

Travel tip: You’ll see all the kids walking across those rocks like it’s no big deal. I attempted and I may or may not have fallen into the Mississippi River. I’m hoping no one saw me on the Mississippi River Headwaters webcam. Trust me, it’s safer to wade. See my full post: Top things to do at Itasca State Park.

Jay Cooke State Park; near Duluth, Minn.

River waterfalls forest trees
Enjoy the great outdoors at one of the best state parks in Minnesota: Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth, Minnesota and the North Shore along Lake Superior ranks as the third best state park in hiking according to this day hiker (me).

If you’re heading to Minnesota’s North Shore, allow time to explore Jay Cooke State Park. This is near the top of my list of my favorite and best state parks in Minnesota. Technically, it’s located in the small communities of Carlton and Thomson, Minnesota; however, it’s just a few miles outside Duluth – where the North Shore starts. And it’s only a couple of miles off I-35 so definitely a top thing to do when visiting the North Shore in Minnesota.

Jay Cooke offers miles of hiking trails – from easy mowed paths to paved bike paths to rugged trails of rock and stone. My husband, our friends and I decided to hike 7.5 miles of the rugged trails. So worth it!

Leading to the beautiful trails is a swinging bridge that spans across the St. Louis River. You’ll also find wildflowers, beautiful waterfalls and a pioneer cemetery on one of the Jay Cooke State Park trails that dates back to the late 1800s. I’ll soon post my top things to do at Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota soon.

John A. Latsch State Park; Winona, Minn.

View of Mississippi River from bluffs
It’s only a half-mile hiking trail to capture this stunning view of the Mississippi River at John A. Latsch State Park. However, it’s all stairs (300+) and it was a lot more strenuous than I anticipated. But so worth the view of the Mississippi River – looks almost tropical. John A. Latsch State Park is one of the best MN state parks for a cardio hiking workout and rewarding view.

Absolutely loved my hike through dense foliage at John A. Latsch State Park near Winona, Minnesota, which (after 300+ steps straight up) opened up to a beautiful view of the Mississippi River. John A. Latsch is a relatively small state park with 450 acres, but definitely worth the stop and workout to get those stunning views. I stopped at John A. Latsch after hiking a few hours at Great River (about 30 miles away also in the Winona, Minn. area).

And while John A. Latsch State Park is small, it is one of my all-time favorite Minnesota state parks for hiking. I loved it so much, I returned in late fall for another great hiking adventure to the top of Mount Charity overlooking the beautiful Mississippi River. John A. Latsch State Park currently ranks at number 10 in the best Minnesota state parks to hike.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park; Grand Marais, Minnesota

Frozen waterfall in the woods
Devil’s Kettle waterfall at Judge C.R. Magney State Park in Grand Marais, Minnesota – winter view.

If you love a little stair-climbing cardio on your hikes, you will love Judge C.R. Magney State Park. The 4,000 acres of forest feature Upper Falls and Devil’s Kettle Falls. To reach both, you’ll hike down ~175 steps to see Upper Falls first. Then you’ll walk up a few more before it flattens out and you’ll hike another 700 feet to the viewing platform over Devil’s Kettle Falls. While it was pretty much frozen over when we hiked in the winter, the Brule River splits as it cascades down volcanic rock about 50 feet into a pool and the other half into a huge glacial pothole.

When hiking during the winter, make sure to wear metal spikes / crampons as the steps are ice- and snow-covered.

Devil's Kettle waterfall at Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Devil’s Kettle waterfall at Judge C.R. Magney State Park in Grand Marais, Minnesota – summer view.

Kilen Woods State Park; Lakefield, MN

Kilen Woods State Park, located in Lakefield, MN, offers a number of easy and moderate trails that take you through praries, an oak savanna and wooded areas.

If you’re looking for a quiet park with easy to moderate trails, check out Kilen Woods State Park in Lakefield, MN. You’ll find beautiful prairie wildflowers in the summer and a beautiful fall canopy among the oak savanna and woodlands. Such a pretty park even in the early days of spring when we hiked it. One of the trails also provides a view of the Des Moines River that runs through Kilen Woods State Park.

Lac qui Parle State Park; Watson, Minnesota

Overlook at Lac qui Parle State Park in Minnesota
Best MN state parks: Lac qui Parle translates to Lake That Speaks as named by Native Americans. That’s probably due to thousands of geese flocking here every fall as they migrate. This overlook is not far from where you can view Minnesota’s record-breaking cottonwood tree.

Lac qui Parle State Park in Watson, Minnesota, one of the best MN state parks, is a beautiful space where you can hike, fish, camp, horseback ride (bring your own horse), kayak, canoe and more. When translated from French, Lac qui Parle means The Lake That Speaks. They believe Native Americans gave it that name because this state park is a stopover for thousands of migrating Canadian geese in the fall. I live on a pond that attracts 100-200 Canadian geese every autumn and it is loud! I can’t imagine thousands of them.

Where is Minnesota’s tallest and biggest cottonwood tree?

One special feature of Lac que Parle State Park is that it is also home to Minnesota’s largest cottonwood tree – a must-stop! You’ll need to drive to the west side of the lake along County Road 32 to arrive at a trailhead (you can park across from it). There is a sign to mark the location that takes you up and down a steep area. I recommend hiking books with good tread as I just had on my Teva sandals and I was sliding all over the place. And I left my hiking poles in my vehicle.

It’s a short walk to the cottonwood tree at Lac que Parle State Park. You will not believe your eyes how massive this tree is. Pictures do not do this magnificent tree justice so highly recommend seeing it in person. You’ll also find Fort Renville nearby. We arrived after hours so wasn’t able to take a tour.

Minnesota's record-breaking tallest cottonwood tree at Lac qui Parle State Park
Lac qui Parle State Park (the lake that speaks) in Watson, MN is home to Minnesota’s tallest cottonwood tree – 106′ tall and 32′ around.

Lake Bemidji State Park; Bemidji, Minnesota

Boardwalk trail through the woods and bog at Bemidji State Park in Minnesota
Beautiful Lake Bemidji State Park is one of the best MN state parks as it boasts hiking trails around Lake Bemidji, a boardwalk trail to a bog (pictured) and a section of the Paul Bunyan State Trail (perfect for hiking or bike riding).

Last summer I hiked six miles at another beautiful Minnesota state park: Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji, Minn. (which is home to one of several lakes on the Mississippi River – yes, the Mississippi has lakes!).
.
While I hiked along the park’s namesake lake (Lake Bemidji), I especially loved the Bog Walk Trail – a boardwalk that winds through beautiful pine trees, plants and wildflowers.
.
I’ll soon publish a blog post with more details and photos and share why Lake Bemidji is one of the best Minnesota state parks for hiking. Until then, learn which Minnesota lake is the source of the Mississippi River.


.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues
And since you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll find the iconic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues on the southwest side of Lake Bemidji (about 7 miles away from Lake Bemidji State Park).

Lake Bronson State Park; Lake Bronson, Minnesota

Lake Bronson State Park in Minnesota Woman Kayaking
Saw several kayakers near my campsite at Lake Bronson. This is one who volunteered to be my Insta model.

Lake Bronson State Park in Minnesota Pioneer Cemetery
If you plan to hike to the Lake Bronson historical sites and the pioneer cemeteries on a hot summer day, please note that most of the trail is prairie grass and does not offer shade. It is a long hike. But I made it!

Lake Carlos State Park; Alexandria, Minnesota

Bicycles at Lake Carlos State Park in Minnesota
Looks like a perfect summer day at Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Alexandria, Minn. is home to a chain of lakes and also Lake Carlos State Park.

Here you’ll find the largest and deepest of the lakes with the same name. At 2,520 acres and up to 163 feet deep, Lake Carlos is a popular destination for swimming, boating, fishing, camping, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, hiking along the shore and more.

A self-guided interpretative trail leads you through tall hardwood trees, ponds and meadows. And for you wildlife enthusiasts, more than one-third of all Minnesota’s 80 mammals and more than 150 bird species call Lake Carlos home all year or seasonally. Look for beaver, deer, loons, grebes, ducks, herons and more.

Lake Louise State Park; Le Roy, Minnesota

Trees reflecting in a lake at sunset
Lake Louise – one of the best MN state parks – especially for social-distancing, is a tranquil setting located near the Iowa-Minnesota border.

If you’re looking for a quiet and private place, then check out Lake Louise State Park in rural Le Roy, Minnesota – one of the best MN state parks. Here you’ll find 1,168 acres home to a small lake with a beach and picnic tables, campgrounds, canoeing access, a pretty bridge, a dam and horse and hiking trails. The Shooting Star State Trail also runs through Lake Louise State Park.

Lake Maria State Park; Monticello, Minnesota

Blue sky, blue lake with kayaker
Lake Maria State is probably the best under-the-radar state park in Minnesota – and one of the best MN state parks if you’re wanting to stay away from crowds. This beatiful park offers hiking and equestrian trails as well as water activities such as kayaking or canoeing or backpacking to a secluded campsite.

I planned to go do a quick hike at Lake Maria State Park in Monticello after spending some time in relatively nearby Fish Sunflowers field in Rogers, Minn. However, I ended up spending several hours there.

I had never heard of Lake Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-uh) before starting this state park challenge so had very low expectations. What a gorgeous state park in Minnesota. I mean, you don’t even have to get out of your vehicle to enjoy the non-stop canopy of trees. Lake Maria State Park will make a very scenic drive this fall in Minnesota. I hiked the Bjorkland Trail (which also allows horses in most sections), which took me through lush forests, tall trees, rugged paths, backpacker camp sites and the smaller and calm Maria Lake (aka Bjorkland). And then I hiked the short half-mile Zumbrunnen Interpretative Trail along the larger Little Mary Lake (Maria), which provided information signs about all the wildlife you could see and/or hear at Lake Maria State Park.

Lake Shetek State Park; Currie, Minnesota

Causeway leading to Loon Island at Lake Shetek State Park in Minnesota
You can walk across the causeway at Lake Shetek Park and hike around Loon Island – one of five natural islands in the lake.

Lake Shetek State Park will always have a special place in my heart. This was my 66th out of 66 Minnesota state parks that I explored! And it was a gorgeous, blue-sky summer day.

Located in Currie, Minn., I especially loved hiking across the causeway to Loon Island where you’ll find a one-mile trail loop. Lake Shetek State Park is also popular for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding (which you can rent from the park office).

This protected land is also the site of a former pioneer settlement that ended during the tragic U.S. Dakota War of 1862. You’ll find a burial site of the early Shetek settlement pioneers as well as a memorial monument.

And Lake Shetek is not the only body of water in this state park. It’s also home to two other lakes, two ponds, a marsh and a slough

Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine; Soudan, Minnesota

Soudan Underground Mine at Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park
Experience what is was like working on Minnesota’s Iron Range back in the day – a half-mile below the earth’s surface – at Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Soudan, Minn.

You’ll find two different experiences at Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine.

Lake Vermillion State Park Minnesota in winter
Armstrong Bay at Lake Vermillion, Minnesota

Enjoy all kinds of water activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, swimming as well as hiking and camping along Minnesota’s fifth-largest lake (40,557 acres!). Or go in the winter for a little snowshoeing.

And then for you history buffs, I highly recommend taking the 90-minute tour of an underground mine in the heart of Minnesota’s Iron Range: The Soudan Underground Mine. Regardless of how you (or I) feel about mining today, this tour was fascinating!

A National Historic Landmark, the Soudan Underground Mine was operational 1884 until 1962. It’s a very fast and very loud (but very safe) ride down a mining shaft. I do not recommend if you are claustrophobic.

And if walking in a mine a half-mile below the earth’s surface and 689 feet below sea level among bedrock dating back 2.7 billion years ago freaks you out a bit, they do offer a cool above-ground self-guided surface tour. But you’ll miss out on the first-hand experience of seeing what mining conditions were like. They also turn off the lights so you can see how the miners had to work before electricity. The only light came from a candle attached to their helmets.

Maplewood State Park; Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

Lake view on Hallaway Hill Trail at Maplewood State Park in Minnesota
Take the one-mile (roundtrip) Hallaway Hill Trail at Maplewood State Park in Pelican Rapids, Minn. for stunning views of rolling hills, trees, praires and lakes.

Loved hiking the beautiful and serene Maplewood State Park in Pelican Rapids, Minn. One of my favorite trails, the one-mile roundtrip Hallaway Hill Trail, takes you to an overlook of the scenic South Lida Lake.

And you’ll find 30 miles of trails in this 9,200-acre state park where hills reach as high as 1,600 feet. I also recommend taking the five-mile scenic drive that winds through this beautiful state park with diverse landscapes created by the last ice age.

And for you horseback riders, you’ll find 20 miles of horseback trails.

You’ll also enjoy beautiful hiking trails along the shores of several lakes that call Maplewood State Park home. They include Beers Lake, Bass Lake, Cow Lake, Grass Lake, Fritz Lake, Cataract Lake, Field Lake, and more! You can definitely get your water fix at Maplewood State Park.

McCarthy Beach State Park; Side Lake, Minnesota

Side Lake at McCarthy Beach State Park in Minnesota
Beautiful Side Lake is one of two beautiful glacial pothole lakes at McCarthy Beach State Park in Side Lake, Minn.

You’ll find one of the best and uncrowded (at least when I was there) sandy beaches at McCarthy Beach State Park in Side Lake, Minnesota. It’s absolutely gorgeous and located on Sturgeon Lake.

But not the Sturgeon Lake located near Duluth. I’m a bit GPS-challenged so was momentarily confused that I somehow ended up on my way to the North Shore again! But with 11,842 lakes in Minnesota, you’re going to find some repetitive names. I mean we have more than 200 Mud Lakes here.

McCarthy Beach State Park was also one of my SUV tent camping sites where I overlooked the equally beautiful Side Lake. And it’s a quiet campground and so peaceful. So lots of opportunities to swim, boat, kayak, paddleboard, fish, camp, hike, etc. at one of Minnesota’s best state parks: McCarthy Beach State Park. And with more than 175 bird species and 33 mammals, wildlife enthusiasts will love this park.

Construction season: You may experience some road detours and boating limitations on Side Lake during construction from early August to late November 2021. Check the Minnesota DNR website for details.

Picture from inside SUV tent camping experince at McCarthy Beach State Park
View of Side Lake from inside my SUV tent camping experience at McCarthy Beach State Park in Side Lake, Minn.

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park; Onamia, Minnesota

hiking trail through tall pine trees and a blue sky
With more than 10,000 acres of hardwood and pine trees, Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is one of the best MN state parks for hiking and history. It’s also a National Historic Landmark that dates back to the 1600s.

I’m all about day hikes and history, and Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is all that and more. It’s recognized as a National Historic Landmark as this is where European explorers met up with a Dakota village back in the 1600s. Of special significance is the Landmark Trail that leads you to the site of ancient North American native villages along with interpretive signs. You’ll learn about Kathio – the ancient home of the Mdewakanton Dakota nation and the former home of a band of the Ojibwe nation.

Fire tower observation deck at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in Minnesota

This 10,000-acre park also features popular cross-country skiing and equestrian trails (watch your step as you’ll share paths in some areas), a 100-ft. fire tower, several other hiking trails, picnic areas, camping and swimming/playground area.

And if you’re in the area, hit up another one of the best MN state parks nearby: Father Hennepin State Park (only 15 miles away).

Minneopa State Park; Mankato, Minnesota

Bison grazing on range
Minneopa State Park near Mankato is one of the best MN state parks. It features a free-roaming bison range, a two-tiered waterfall, a historic windmill, hiking trails and the Minnesota River / Minneopa Creek confluence.

Yep, there’s free-roaming bison in Minnesota – and less than 90 minutes from my front door. My original draw to Minneopa State Park near Mankato, Minn. was how close it was and that it featured a two-tiered waterfall.

Waterfalls
Minneopa Falls at Minneopa State Park near Mankato, Minn.

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to see so many (23) bison grazing near the road on Minneopa Bison Drive. Learn more about what else we discovered at one of my top Minnesota state parks: Minneopa State Park.

Minneopa State Park is also one of the best MN state parks for frozen waterfalls. See my related post: Epic waterfall tour – best day trip ideas in Minnesota this winter.

Monson Lake State Park; Sunberg, Minn.

Monson Lake State Park view of lake
The trail loop at Monson Lake State Park is short…only 1.1 miles, but it’s very pretty, quiet and secluded.

In the spirit of transparency, I nearly got right back into my vehicle after arriving at Monson Lake State Park. I was immediately swarmed by gnats and mosquitoes – one went up my nose and several in my mouth. Although a face mask is not required outside (and I was the only one on the hiking trail at Monson Lake State Park), it came in handy to keep the insects at bay.

And I’m so glad I gave Monson Lake State Park a second chance. It’s a beautiful park with two strikingly blue glacial lakes, Monson Lake and West Sunburg Lake. Created by melting ice blocks, you can hike along the shorelines of both lakes through a quiet and secluded wooded trail. You may run across a fox (as I did…at least I think it’s a fox), deer, turtles, and birds like pelicans, grebes and herons. The lakes are perfect for paddling, canoeing and kayaking. Monson Lake State Park was established in memory of those who died herein the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Fox in the woods at Monson Lake State Park
I thought I felt something watching me as I hiked at the quiet and beautiful Monson Lake State Park. This image is a little blurry as it’s a screenshot from a video of what I believe is a fox.

Moose Lake State Park; Moose Lake, Minn.

Gold and yellow leaves on trees and on the ground and hiking trail in the woods
Moose Lake State Park in Moose Lake, Minnesota offers beautiful hiking trails along Echo Lake and the woods. Moose Lake is one of the best MN state parks for easy and peaceful hikes especially in the fall.

For the record, while Moose Lake State Park is in Moose Lake, Minn., Moose Lake (the lake) is not the one you’ll find in the park. That one is called Echo Lake. You can find Moose Lake in downtown Moose Lake a few miles to the west. In fact, Minnesota has 23 lakes named Moose Lake – and that’s not counting Little Moose Lake (5 of those), Moosehead Lake, Moosehorn Lake, Lost Moose Lake, etc. Minnesota has 11,842 lakes – there’s bound to be some repetition.

Moose Lake State Park is conveniently just a few miles off I-35 less than two hours north of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. You can paddle or fish on Echo Lake and Moose Lake State Park also features a small beach area along with a few hiking trails (that were stunning when I hiked in early October). I definitely want to return when the Agate and Geological Interpretive Center reopens (temporarily closed due to the pandemic).

Myre-Big Island State Park; Albert Lea, Minnesota

Prairie grass and sun
If you’re looking for a quiet place to hike, I recommend Myre-Big Island State Park in Albert Lea – one of the best state parks for solitude and quiet. I only crossed paths with three people and one deer three times (or maybe it was three different deer).

If I were to guess how many times I’ve crossed over Albert Lea Lake in Albert Lea, Minn. at 70 mph, I would say hundreds – maybe 1,000. And it wasn’t until recently (yesterday, in fact) that I took a detour off I-35 for a few miles to get closer to the lake during my hike at Myre-Big Island State Park.

While the lake is 2,600 acres with 20 miles of shoreline, there is much more than just lake life to experience at Myre-Big Island State Park. You will find wildlife (saw a deer three times…not sure if it was the same deer or different ones as it was in three different areas of the park) and so many butterflies, and birds, and insects. Hiking trails will take you through prairies of grasses and wildflowers, hardwoods, wetlands, even over a railroad crossing in a couple of places. Watch for a post coming soon about my nine-mile hiking adventure in 90-degree (F) temps at Myre-Big Island State Park in Albert Lea, Minn. It makes for one of the best Minnesota state parks for hiking.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; Nerstand, Minnesota

Looking up through tall trees at blue sky
You’ll find some really big trees and a beautiful waterfall in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, MN. This state park is one of the best state parks for families and especially popular for campers. .

I’ve lived only 34 miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, MN for the past 27 years. Finally made it there last week. It features easy hiking trails through beautiful woods, camping and a waterfall – Hidden Falls.

Waterfalls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
Minnesota is home to many hidden gems like this waterfall at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park – making it one of the best MN state parks.

Hidden Falls is not that hidden as you’ll find signs directing you and you’ll most likely hear the kids squealing in the waterfall pool. Hidden Falls wasn’t as big as I thought it would be (kind of like the Mona Lisa of falls). But have learned that it can be a trickle some days and then flow fast on others. Even though we visited Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on a weekday afternoon (Thursday), the parking lot was pretty full when we arrived. Lots of people gathered for picnics and on the playground.

There was a bit of a crowd around the waterfall. So if you’re hoping to do some social distancing perhaps try first thing in the morning or head out to the trails as we didn’t encounter many people on our day hike at Nerstrand Big Woods park.

I returned again in the fall and Nerstrand Big Woods was again very busy. However, when I did a snow hike in January, I only crossed paths with a handful of people – making it one of the best MN state parks for snow hiking or snowshoeing or chasing frozen waterfalls.

Old Mill State Park; Argyle, Minnesota

Settler's house at Old Mill State Park in Minnesota
Old Mill State Park features an old mill as well as a settler’s cabin from back in the day.

If you love history like me, then you’ll love Old Mill State Park. It features the original location of a water-powered mill as well as the settler’s cabin and other buildings. Additionally, you’ll find several hiking trails along a river, through forests and through prairies. I found Old Mill State Park quiet and secluded . In fact, I saw one person on a floation device in a pond. And it was like her own personal private resort. You’ll also find picnic areas and a campground at Old Mill State Park.

Pond at Old Mill State Park in Minnesota
You’ll find a secluded and private pond and picnic area at Old Mill State Park in Minnesota.

Rice Lake State Park; Owatonna, Minnesota

Bridge leading to a dock on a lake surrounded by marshland
Rice Lake State Park offers hiking, camping, boating, fishing and more.

So Minnesota has 11,842 lakes – that’s a lot of names so it wasn’t surprising to learn that many names are repeated. For example, Rice Lake is one of the most common lake names in Minnesota. I’ve read there are anywhere between 10 and 123 lakes named Rice Lake. Will need to do some fact-checking on that one.

On a side note: This Rice Lake in Owatonna, Minn. just happens to be the headwaters for Zumbro River – the same body of water which my friends and I had to be rescued from last summer during a river tubing experience that went awry.

Rice Lake is not too far from Sakatah Lake State Park (see below) so I visited both parks on the same day recently. This park offers camping, birdwatching and several beautiful hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobile trails. The 700-acre lake is also great for canoeing and kayaking.

St. Croix State Park; Hinckley, Minnesota

Fall colors at Bear Creek at St. Croix State Park
St. Croix State Park; Hinckley, Minnesota (bridge over Bear Creek)

Minnesota’s largest state park with 33,895 acres is one of my favorite places to hike. The beautiful St. Croix State Park features lots of hiking trails and two rivers run through it – St. Croix River and Kettle River.

Located about 90 miles south of Duluth, the St. Croix State Park in Hinckley, Minn. is a great place to take a side trip – or an entire day for some hiking. Check out my full post on the best photo-op stops on the scenic North Shore Highway 61 that hugs Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border.

St. Croix State Park Fire Tower
St. Croix State Park Fire Tower – climb 100 feet up above the tree canopy

And for a great view, climb up the 100-ft decommissioned fire tower (check website to see if it is open).

Sakatah Lake State Park; Waterville, Minnesota

Boulders in creek surrounded by green trees
Sakatah Lake offers boating, fishing, camping, hiking and a really nice bike path.

My friends and I went glamping at Kamp Dels on Sakatah Lake a few years ago. One friend brought Spam to grill on the campfire. It’s a Minnesota thing. Well, it’s a worldwide thing. Minnesota is just where Spam was born and raised. Check out my day trip to Austin, Minn. to explore the Spam Museum and more.

I returned to Sakatah Lake State Park to do some day hiking. This park located in Waterville, MN offers so many great trails – rugged paths as well as a nice bike path. I went on a Monday afternoon and only saw four people the entire time I was there so it’s a great place for some solitude and social distancing. Sakatah is a perfect Minnesota state park for hiking near the Twin Cities.

Savanna Portage State Park; McGregor, Minnesota

Continental Divide Overlook at Savanna Portage State Park
Continental Divide Overlook at Savanna Portage State Park offers a view of where water runs east to St. Louis River and St. Lawrence Seaway and west to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. I hiked here in late June so the landscape was thick and lush making it a little difficult to view, but still beautiful.

So if I were faster, you would be looking at a video of a mama bear leading her three cubs across the road about 50 yards in front of me. But as a responsible driver, I did not have my phone in hand to capture the moment.

BTW: 50 yards is much too close; you should be at least 100 yards from most wildlife.

I was driving in Savanna Portage State Park toward the boat launch on Wolf Lake. I stopped as soon as I saw the first black bear. I couldn’t turn around so I waited five minutes or so before cautiously proceeding. They were long gone. Or watching me.

Nevertheless, Savanna Portage State Park is one of the best state parks in Minnesota. I especially loved hiking the Continental Divide Trail. Here you can see where the water runs east to the St. Louis River and St. Lawrence Seaway and west to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Scenic State Park; Bigfork, Minnesota

SUV tent camping glamping at Scenic State Park
SUV camping at Scenic State Park in Bigfork, Minnesota – one of the best MN state parks to camp, hike and kayak.

In addition to hiking at Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minnesota, I also camped here in my SUV tent. It was such a peaceful and private campsite, yet close enough to showers and flushing toilets.

Scenic State Park features several lakes including Coon Lake, Sandwick Lake, Tell Lake and Lake of the Isles. You’ll also find beautiful hiking trails including a scenic boardwalk. Bring your own or rent canoes or kayaks. Pictured is a family who agreed to allow me to capture their lake outing in kayaks and paddle boards.

Family kayaking and paddle boarding at Scenic State Park
Family kayaking and paddle boarding at Scenic State Park in Bigfork, Minnesota – one of the best MN state parks for watersports.

Schoolcraft State Park; Deer River, Minnesota

View of lake at Schoolcraft State Park
You’ll find quiet solitude at Schoolcraft State Park in Deer River, MN.

If you’re looking for a hidden gem away from the crowds, you’ll find solitude at Schoolcraft State Park in Deer River, MN (also near Grand Rapids, MN). It’s a perfect getaway to get away from it all.

A short (1.75-mile) self-guided interpretative trail winds through tall pines along the Mississippi River. Schoolcraft State Park also offers a boat launch, picnic areas, and campground.

Sibley State Park; New London, Minnesota

Sunset at Badger Hill Outlook at Sibley State Park
Sunset at Badger Hill Lookout at Sibley State Park in New London, Minn. – one of the best MN state parks to hike.

I took my first winter hike at Sibley State Park in New London, Minn. It was an unseasonably warm December day (in the 50s F). While Lake Andrew was frozen, the trails were clear of snow and the sun was shining. The view from and along the way to Mount Tom is pretty spectacular. And there are two other lookout areas that I would recommend also: Little Mount Tom and Badger Hill (pictured).

Split Rock Creek State Park; Jasper, Minn.

Split Rock Creek State Park Beach in Jasper, Minnesota
If you’re looking for a quiet and private beach, then make Split Rock Creek State Park in Jasper, Minn. your destination.

A hidden gem, the small and quaint Split Rock Creek State Park in Jasper, Minn. is a peaceful and tranquil place. It’s perfect to hike, hang out on the beach, watch pelicans, picnic, kayak, canoe, play horseshoes or swing on their playground.

Not to be confused with the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Split Rock Creek State Park is located in the southwest part of Minnesota. Loved the beautiful 2.5-mile trail that runs along the scenic and calm Split Rock Lake and loops back through prairie grasses and wooded areas.

My husband and I did enjoy a quick break on the swings and also checked out the park’s stone bridge that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

And as long as you’re in the neighborhood, we highly recommend visiting Pipestone National Monument.

Winniwissa Falls at Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota
Pipestone National Monument is considered sacred to Native Americans because they have quarried red pipestone here for generations. This special pipestone is carved into pipes used for prayer. Pictured: Winniwissa Falls on the Pipestone National Monument Trail.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse on Minnesota's North Shore
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, Minnesota. Note that this cairn was already built; I’ve since learned that creating cairns are not good for the environment or wildlife.

The Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is one of my favorite places in the world. And it’s only seven miles north of Gooseberry Falls State Park (highlighted earlier). While the historic lighthouse keeper’s house and the lighthouse are currently closed due to the pandemic, you can visit the fog signal building as well as the many bike and hiking trails, including the famed Superior Hiking Trail.

And if you’re up for a cardio workout, take the nearly 200 stairs down to the pebble beach / rocky shoreline along Lake Superior for some pretty fabulous photos of the Split Rock Lighthouse (the best photo op for the lighthouse). They also provide some resting places on the way back up with great views to take additional photos. It’s definitely worth it – and why Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the best Minnesota state parks for hiking, fall foliage and photo ops.

Temperance River State Park; Lutsen/Tofte, Minnesota

Ice forming over a lake with trees in background
Trails at Temperance River State Park in Lutsen/Tofte, Minnesota lead you down to the shoreline of Lake Superior.

Temperance River State Park in the Lutsen/Tofte area in Minnesota may be my husband’s favorite state park – just because of the surprise element.

We loved our snow hike at Temperance River State Park and are so grateful we wore our metal spikes on our winter boots and brought our trekking poles. You’ll need them on the trail to Hidden Falls. It was pretty steep and icy. But so worth the effort for the view of the Temperance River gorge and the bridge. I returned in the summer to hike this trail. And I left my trekking poles in the vehicle. I wish I had brought them as there are some steep hills and some boulders later in the hike where they would have been useful. But I managed without them.

For a more challenging three-mile hike to Carlton Peak at Temperance River State Park, follow the Superior Hiking Trail along the Temperance River and gorge for some incredible views – in winter or summer.

And for the not-so-hidden gem part of Temperance River State Park, cross Highway 61 (or drive down to the picnic area). From the Highway 61 bridge, you’ll get a beautiful view of the gorge and river as it winds its way to Lake Superior.

Stairs lead you down to another viewing area/foot bridge as well as to an overlook that’s even closer to Lake Superior. A few more steps down and you’ll be right on the shores of Lake Superior at Temperance River State Park.

Temperance River State Park Lake Superior view on bridge
Summer view of Lake Superior at Temperance River State Park in Tofte, MN.

See my related post: Best things to do near Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota.

Tettegouche State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota

waterfall at Tettegouche State Park HIgh Falls
Tettegouche State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota

Continue north on the North Shore about 13 miles and you’ll reach the Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, Minn. This is one of my favorite Minnesota State Parks for day hiking day as the trails wind through beautiful forests that lead you to some waterfalls like High Falls (not to be confused with the High Falls at Grand Portage State Park) and Two Step Falls. Tettegouche is one of my top MN state parks for waterfalls.

Palisade Head in Minnesota tall and sheer cliffs overlooking Lake Superior
Palisade Head overlooking Lake Superior; Tettegouche State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota

Make sure you check out Palisade Head on the other side of Tettegouche State Park a couple of miles before the main entrance (they’re not connected). Here you can walk right up to the edge (not too close) for some stunning views of rugged cliffs and shoreline along Lake Superior. At its highest point, Palisade Head is 300 feet above the surface of Lake Superior.

Upper Sioux Agency State Park; Granite Falls, Minnesota

Hiking trail at Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Granite Falls,Minn.
You’ll find peaceful mowed-grass and packed-dirt trails through prairie grasses with scenic views and rolling hills at Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Granite Falls, Minn.

If you love history and peaceful trails through prairie grasses and over rolling hills, then you’ll love Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Granite Falls, Minn.

This 1,280-acre park preserves the history of the Upper Sioux or Yellow Medicine Agency, which was created to administer the terms of the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux of 1851. This treaty moved the Dakota Nation from Iowa to a Minnesota reservation. The agency was destroyed during the U.S.-Dakota War; however, ruins and a reconstructed employee duplex remain.

You’ll find interpretative signs along this trail as well as a historical marker designating the gravesite of Mazomani, the leader of the Wahpetonwan Dakota, who died in the Dakota (Sioux) War in 1862.

In addition to hiking trails, Upper Sioux Agency State Park offers trails for horseback riding, skiing and snowmobiling.

Whitewater State Park; Altura, Minnesota

limestone bluff overlooking ravine
Inspiration Point at Whitewater State Park in Altura, Minn. is the perfect place for a zen moment and a picnic lunch.

Whitewater State Park, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, is a perfect state park if you’re looking for some social distancing. Located less than two hours south of the Twin Cities, you’ll love the small secluded beach as well as the hiking trail to Whitewater State Park’s Inspiration Point.

Inspiration Point at Whitewater State Park is where I hiked recently and enjoyed lunch in complete solitude. I loved the rugged trails and views from the limestone bluffs – no signs of civilization here (unless you count the hawks and turkey vultures flying overhead) if you’re looking to get away from it all. More details about my experience at Minnesota’s Whitewater State Park coming soon. And I’ll share why it’s one of the best Minnesota state parks for hiking within a day trip of the Twin Cities.

Wild River State Park; Center City, Minnesota

Secluded sandy beach on a river with trees just staring to turn fall colors
Not sure if the St. Croix River was wild back in the day, but I found it to be peaceful in Wild River State Park in Center City, Minn. Loved this sandy beach spot along the river near the Nevers Dam overlook – once the location of the world’s largest pile-driven dam.

Wild River State Park is located in Center City, Minn. Two misnomers right there. St. Croix River is not that wild. And Center City is a pretty rural community (population 656). Regardless, Wild River is a beautiful park and definitely a place for some secluded time for yourself. I only crossed paths with four people, two dogs and a deer.

You’ll find a number of hiking trails, a really nice bike trail, boat launch, the Nevers logging dam, and more. Wild River State was also home to a prehistoric Native American camp, fur posts and a railroad. You’ll find interpretative signs along the way.

Wild River is one of five MN state parks located on the National Wild and Scenic Riverway – a state program that protects six rivers in Minnesota because they are designated as wild, scenic or recreational according to the MN DNR.

William O’Brien State Park; Marine on St. Croix, Minn.

William O’Brien State Park offers nearly 2,000 acres to hike along the St. Croix River, through prairies, an oak savannah as well as a small lake to swim or paddleboard.

You’ll find some diverse hiking trails at William O’Brien State Park’s 1,880 acres in Marine on St. Croix – paths that take you along the St. Croix River and wetlands and through prairies of six-foot natural grasses and wildflowers, hardwood and pine forests and an oak savannah. You’ll also find a small, but uncrowded, beach on the beautiful Alice Lake, camping sites, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding and more.

And one of the William O’Brien hiking trails leads you to a beaver lodge (pictured in the center of this pond – blending with its surroundings) – aptly called Beaver Lodge Trail. While I did not see any beavers, it was a tranquil setting.

William O’Brien is a great place to get away and unplug (service is pretty spotty, but with all this beauty, you’ll want to remain present). This type of vibe is why it’s one of the best Minnesota State Parks for hiking.

Zippel Bay State Park; Williams, Minn.

Lake of the Woods shoreline and beach at Zippel Bay State Park in Minnesota
Hiking along the pebble-beach shores of Lake of the Woods in Zippel Bay State Park in Williams, Minn. makes you feel like you are on the ocean. Lake of the Woods is Minnesota’s second largest lake (ranked after Lake Superior) and one of the largest lakes in the world. This ocean-like lake borders Canada and measures 70 miles long and up to 60 miles wide with a total of 765,238 acres.

Last and certainly not least: Zippel Bay State Park in Williams, Minn. ranks high on my list of the best Minnesota state parks to visit again. It’s set against the beautiful and ocean-like Lake of the Woods that borders Canada. Lake of the Woods is the second largest lake in Minnesota (ranking behind Lake Superior) and one of the world’s largest lakes at 70 miles long and up to 60 miles wide with a total of 764,238 acres.

With the area known as the Walleye Capital of the World, Zippel Bay State Park attacts fishing enthrusiasts all year long and is a very popular ice-fishing destination in the winter.

I was surprised how quiet this gorgeous pebble beach shoreline trail was in the middle of summer. And while northern Minnesota gets pretty cold, it was a hot, summer day in the 90s when I visited.

I will definitely return not only to enjoy the Zippel Bay State Park beach for a longer period, but to also explore one of the nine Minnesota state recreation areas that is located in Lake of the Woods. You can only get to Garden Island State Recreation Area by boat as it is located 17 miles off shore.

How many Minnesota state parks and recreation areas are there?

Evergreen trees overlooking St. Croix River
St. Croix State Park; Hinckley, Minnesota

Minnesota has 66 state parks and 9 recreational areas, and you can find the complete list on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. You can search alphabetically or by location/map. Individual links provide more details about each Minnesota state park such as location, directions, what’s open, hours, camping, trails, facilities and more. Note that some websites have conflicting numbers so I’m using the Minnesota DNR as my source.

List of Minnesota state parks

Here is an alphabetic list of the best MN state parks. I’ve included the distance from the Twin Cities to help answer the question, “What’s the closest Minnesota state park near me?



List of Minnesota State Recreation Areas

When people ask me, what’s next? This is my next challenge: to visit all nine of Minnesota’s State Recreation Areas.

  • Big Bog State Recreation Area | Waskish, MN (287 miles)
  • Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area | Ironton, MN (140 miles)
  • Garden Island State Recreation Area | Garden Island, MN (Google Maps says “Can’t find a way there” 😂 The challenge of getting to this remote and fairly undeveloped island is truly part of the allure for those wanting to get away from it all. Garden Island is located in the massive Lake of the Woods – 17 miles from Zippel Bay State Park, which is 342 miles from the Twin Cities.)
  • Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area | Litchfield, MN – (86 miles
  • Iron Range OHV State Recreation Area ( for off-highway vehicles)| Gilbert, MN – (198 miles)
  • La Salle Lake State Recreation Area | Solway, MN (238 miles)
  • Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area | Jordan, MN (27 miles)
  • Red River State Recreation Area | East Grand Forks (330 miles)
  • St. Croix Islands State Recreation Area | Stillwater (49 miles)

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.


Which Minnesota State Parks have waterfalls?

Waterfalls and fall colors foliage
Best Minnesota state parks with waterfalls: Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, Minn. features four waterfalls and is the most popular state park attracking featuring four waterfalls is –

One of the most common questions I get is, “Which Minnesota State Parks have waterfalls?”

Here is a list of the Minnesota state parks with waterfalls that I’ve seen myself.

  • Banning State Park; Sandstone, Minn.
  • Cascade River State Park; Lutsen, Minn.
  • George Crosby Manitou State Park; Silver Bay, Minn.
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park; Two Harbors, Minn.
  • Grand Portage State Park; Grand Portage, Minn.
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park; Grand Marais, Minn.
  • Minneopa State Park; Mankato, Minn.
  • Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; Nerstrand, Minn.
  • Tettegouche State Park; Silver Bay, Minn.
  • Temperance River State Park; Schroeder, Minn.

Frozen waterfalls
Minnesota’s best frozen waterfalls: Minneopa Falls at Minneopa State Park in Mankato, Minn.

And here’s a list of the best frozen waterfalls within a day trip of the Twin Cities as well as on the North Shore (state, regional, county and city parks).

I’ll add more of the best Minnesota state parks with waterfalls after each visit.

Which Minnesota state parks have the best hiking trails?

This list is outdated and needs a makeover because I have now hiked/explored all 66 Minnesota state parks! But I can’t decide which ones are my favorites for hiking so I’ll be back after giving it some more thought. Until then…this is what I thought a few months ago.

All of the Minnesota state parks I’ve explored so far have hiking trails – from wide mowed paths to narrow trails to rocky trails to steps to boardwalks. And each MN state park with hiking trails has its own personality. While difficult to rank (it took me forever to decide), here are my top 12 best Minnesota state parks for day hiking. I’m kinda sad that several fell off as I haven’t met a MN state park I haven’t – not only liked – but loved. But if a friend asked me to recommend the best hiking trails for a day hike, here is a list of the best Minnesota state parks I would recommend based on my experience.

  1. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, Minn.
  2. Banning State Park | Sandstone, Minn.
  3. Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, Minn.
  4. Gooseberry Falls State Park | Two Harbors, Minn.
  5. Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, Minn.
  6. St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, Minn.
  7. Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, Minn.
  8. Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, Minn.
  9. Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, Minn.
  10. John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, Minn.
  11. Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, Minn.
  12. Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, Minn.

Which Minnesota state parks are the best to hike in the winter?

Man hiking on a snowy path surrounded by towering trees
The best MN state parks for winter hiking: Grand Portage State Park in Grand Portage, Minn.

As I mentioned previously, I haven’t met a Minnesota state park I didn’t like. Therefore, I’m pretty sure every one is going to be the best Minnesota state park for winter hiking. However, since I haven’t hiked every MN state park in the winter, I’ll rank them based on what I’ve hiked so far. Here is a list of the best MN state parks for winter hiking.

  1. Sibley State Park | New London, Minn.
  2. Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, Minn.
  3. Temperance River State Park | Lutsen, Minn.
  4. Judge C.R. Magney | Grand Marais, Minn.
  5. Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, Minn.
  6. John A. Latsch State Park | Minnesota City, Minn.
  7. George Crosby Manitou State Park | Silver Bay, Minn.
  8. Gooseberry Falls State Park | Two Harbors, Minn.
  9. Minneopa State Park | Mankato, Minn.

Know before you go – Find out what’s open at Minnesota state parks

Find out what’s open at each MN state park (and if any parks are closed or have limited access for non-hunters during deer season) 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 MN state permits in advance (some Minnesota state parks may require a ski pass as well in the winter).
  • Be prepared. Some of the MN state park buildings and warming shelters may be closed. Dress appropriately and bring extra supplies such as sanitizer, hand soap, toilet paper, water. See also my recommended packing list for day hikes at MN state parks and trails (summer and winter).
  • Follow rules. Observe MN state park signage and practice social distancing – even outdoors.

TP kit toilet paper
One of my recommended things to pack while hiking at MN state parks: biodegradable TP kit. This On the Go toilet paper kit comes with five 2-ply jumbo tissues and two wet wipes per package. They’re portable and 100% biodegradable – ensuring you leave no trace while day hiking.

Minnesota State Park free days in 2023

You can visit all 75 Minnesota state parks and state recreation areas for free on the following days in 2023. See my related post for more details.

  • Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023
  • Saturday, April 22, 2023
  • Saturday, June 10, 2023
  • Friday, Nov. 24, 2023

Save on your hotel - hotelscombined.com

Best places to stay near Minnesota state parks

New feature! For those of you like me who love day hikes, but not into camping or even glamping, I’m going to start featuring the best places to stay near Minnesota state parks. Although, I must admit I did love my recent SUV camping experience.

Where to stay near Minnesota state parks in Lutsen, Minn. and on the North Shore

The beautiful North Shore of Minnesota is home to eight state parks (the popular ~149-mile scenic north shore along Lake Superior runs from Duluth, MN to Grand Portage, MN/Canadian border). This section will feature the best places to stay near the Minnesota state parks on the North Shore.

Caribou Highlands Lodge; Lutsen, Minnesota

Collage of a resort townhome
Who else agrees that going to the woods is going home? Know what else feels like going home? This charming three-bedroom townhome at Caribou Highlands at Lutsen Mountains is the best place to stay on Minnesota’s North Shore.

I am not a camper. And pretty much a reluctant glamper (although I recently did some SUV camping at Minnesota state parks – new post coming on that adventure). So I was excited when I had the opportunity to partner with Odyssey Resorts and one of their finest resorts on Minnesota’s North Shore: Caribou Highlands at Lutsen Mountains in Lutsen, Minnesota. While my stay at Caribou Highlands was sponsored, opinions are always my own.

First, my husband and I were extremely impressed with Caribou Highlands’ and Odyssey Resorts’ commitment to ensure a healthy and safe place to stay. At Caribou Highlands, they offer a no-contact checkin and checkout process, a plexiglass protection barrier at the front desk and a Cleaning with Heart pledge that follows all CDC and Minnesota Covid-19 and social-distancing guidelines. You’ll also find numerous hand-sanitizer stations and reminder signs throughout the entire property. Social-distancing restrictions have been lifted since our visit, but they’re still committed to a healthy environment.

Second, location, location, location! While I have hiked several of the state parks along the North Shore, I still had five of them on my list left to explore – and all were within driving distance of Caribou Highlands.

Entrance to Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, MN
One of the best places to stay on the North Shore in Lutsen, MN: Caribou Highlands Lodge on Lutsen Mountains.
How far is this North Shore Minnesota state park from Caribou Highlands Lodge?

Here is a list of the Minnesota state parks on and near the North Shore (north to south) and the distance from Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, Minn. – making it the best place to stay on the North Shore for families, couples, solo travelers, hikers and skiers.

  • Grand Portage State Park (61 miles)
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park (35 miles)
  • Cascade River State Park (10 miles)
  • Temperance River State Park (11 miles)
  • George Crosby Manitou State Park (27 miles)
  • Tettegouche State Park (33 miles)
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (45 miles)
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park (52 miles)

Because of its central location, Caribou Highlands was the best base camp for my Minnesota State Park Challenge and Minnesota frozen waterfalls series on the North Shore.

Third, our inviting three-bedroom townhome at Caribou Highlands was so charming – cozy, yet spacious. Returning to Caribou Highlands every night felt like going home with a full kitchen, dining area, a fireplace and a balcony overlooking the woods and ski runs. Caribou Highlands also offers ski-in-ski-out accommodations and is one of the best dog-friendly resorts on the North Shore in Minnesota.

The numbered list of all the great features about the best resort to stay at on the North Shore could go on and on. See my full review on why Caribou Highlands Lodge is the perfect destination for couples, families and solo travelers – and girlfriend getaways. While our stay at Caribou Highlands Lodge was hosted, my opinions are always my own.


Where to stay near Glendalough State Park and Maplewood State Park in Minnesota

The Hermitage cabin near Glendalough State Park in Minnesota
Ideal for one person or two (includes a trundle bed), this cozy guest suite is nestled on 20 wooded acres that you are free to roam. The unit comes with electricity, wifi, a mini fridge and other small appliances. One interesting note is the unique bathroom. It features a compost toilet. Not to worry. You’ll find detailed and easy instructions. Looking for the shower? It’s in the woods (see pic below). Pretty cool!

So as I mentioned, I’m not a camper and am a very reluctant camper. However, I did love my SUV camping experience and will do it again. But I didn’t know that when I planned my two-week road trip to finish hiking the remaining 23 state parks in Minnesota. So I thought I’d change it up and sprinkle in a few unique Airbnbs every couple of days. And I found a perfect cabin-like room only 14 miles from Maplewood State Park and 26 miles from Glendalough State Park. See the link at the end of this section to book The Hermitage on Airbnb.

Best places to stay near Minnesota state parks: The Hermitage – a cozy, woodsy getaway

Best places to stay near Glendalough State Park in Minnesota
Set off from the main duplex unit (the lower half is available to reserve on Airbnb), you’ll enjoy your own private retreat. Love the curtain-free windows and doors to take in the natural beauty of the gardens and trees that surround The Hermitage sanctuary.

The Hermitage is a charming and rustic retreat where you can write, sketch, read, think or do a whole lot of nothing to rest, reflect and recharge.

Since becoming a blogger two years ago and even more so during the pandemic, I’ve learned to accept that what’s meant for me will never pass me by. And that’s how I felt even before my stay at The Hermitage at Anam Cara. I was meant to experience this.

Anam is Gaelic for soul and cara means friend.

Soul friend.

How beautiful is that?

And that’s how I felt even before I arrived at The Hermitage. My Airbnb superhosts, Carole and Cindy, were so welcoming even through messaging and a late-night call in my SUV set-up. We also had great conversations during my short stay. I’ll share more in a dedicated post about this beautiful retreat. For now, I’ll give you a sneak preview of The Hermitage – it’s the best place to stay near Glendalough State Park and Maplewood State Park.

Best Airbnb near Minnesota state parks Glendalough
A few steps up from my SUV camping, this beautiful Airbnb near Glendalough State Park was the best place to stay.
Outdoor shower at near Glendalough State Park in Minnesota in the woods
Have you ever taken a shower out in the woods?
Unique tree near Glendalough State Park in Minnesota
Your stay at The Hermitage also gives you access to 20 acres of woodlands. Trees fascinate me and this one was calling my name. No. Seriously. I’m pretty sure this one talks. Can you see his face?

While my stay at The Hermitage was sponsored, my opinions are always my own. And I highly recommend staying here if you’re looking for a quiet and rustic getaway or wanting to make some soul friends. The Hermitage is the best place to stay near Maplewood State Park and Glendalough State Park in Minnesota.


Where to stay near Lake Carlos State Park and Glacial Lakes State Park in Minnesota

Unique grain bin hotel rooms at Gathered Oaks near Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, MN

The best and one of the most unique places to stay near Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, Minn. is in a repurposed grain bin at Gathered Oaks – book through their Airbnb Listing (link at end of this section). Only 8 miles away from Lake Carlos State Park, Gathered Oaks is also relatively close to Glacial Lakes State Park (34 miles).

While our stay was sponsored, all opinions are my own – and I cannot recommend this place high enough. The grain bin hotel-style room at Gathered Oaks is one of the coolest experiences ever and one of the best places to stay near Minnesota state parks!

Best places to stay near Minnesota state parks: Grain bins at Gathered Oaks in Alexandria, Minn.

Unique grain bin hotel rooms at Gathered Oaks near Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, MN

I come from a long line of farmers and I’m pretty sure they never thought of converting their grain bins into luxurious hotel-style rooms. Set in a rural area on a beautiful environmental lake, the eight grain bins blend in and offer beautiful views and comfortable rooms.

A look inside the Gathered Oaks grain bins – a unique hotel-style option in Alexandria, Minnesota

Our cozy grain-bin suite featured a queen bed, bathroom with a shower, television, mini fridge, dinette set and many other amenities. The clever and creative design, attention to details, outdoor green spaces and sustainability features makes Gathered Oaks grain-bin suites the perfect hotel alternative when you still want to be close to nature, but you’re not a camper and a reluctant glamper – like me!

Unique grain bin hotel rooms at Gathered Oaks near Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, MN

And that’s not all! If you’re looking for a wedding or family reunion venue, then Gathered Oaks is your place. In addition to the hotel-room grain bins, you’ll find several other buildings including a beautiful Scandinavian farmhouse with 10 bedrooms.

Coincidentally, we happened to be staying at the same time as the owners’ family members. So the owner invited my husband and me to join them on their property tour. Such a fascinating story to hear about how a vision became this beautiful and charming reality.

I fell in love with our Gathered Oaks grain-bin suite as it is one of the best, most beautiful and most unique places to stay near Minnesota state parks. Read my full review: Non-campers: Unique Airbnb near Minnesota state parks

If you’re looking for the best hotel, Airbnb or lodging in Alexandria, Minnesota or near Lake Carlos State Park or Glacial Lakes State Park, book your stay at Gathered Oaks through their Airbnb listing. Note: The link below looks like it is broken, but it does work properly.

Unique grain bin hotel rooms at Gathered Oaks near Lake Carlos State Park in Alexandria, MN

Where to stay near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex Mine State Park

The Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in Minnesota

For those of you planning a visit to Schoolcraft State Park (20 miles away), Hill Annex Mine State Park (17 miles away), the best place to stay is The Ivy Inn in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Best place to stay near Minnesota state parks: The Ivy Inn in Grand Rapids, MN

The Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in MinnesotaThe Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in Minnesota

You could even make this beautiful lower-level retreat your basecamp as you explore other nearby areas. The Ivy Inn is only 46 miles from Scenic State Park, 55 miles from Savanna Portage State Park and 58 miles from McCarthy Beach State Park.

The super cool Forest History Center and Judy Garland Museum (Grand Rapids was her hometown) are just a few minutes away from The Ivy Inn. And if you’re in town on business, this is like a home away from home.

The Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in Minnesota

Nestled on a huge, wooded corner lot, you’ll enjoy an entire lower level with your own patio and backyard swing. Inside is a spacious great room with a sofa, TV, bar and chairs and even a piano.

The Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in Minnesota

I’m a bed snob and I must say I loved The Ivy Inn queen-size bed. It was so comfortable! You’ll also find a large kitchenette area as well as a full bath with a shower.

The Ivy Inn near Schoolcraft State Park and Hill Annex State Park in Minnesota

And…drum roll…your own private sauna! That’s a perfect reason why The Ivy Inn is the best place to stay near Minnesota state parks.

While my stay at The Ivy Inn was sponsored, I always share my honest opinions. And I loved the inviting and spacious Ivy Inn. In fact, I’m planning to return with my husband as I ran out of time and would love to see the Judy Garland Museum.

I’ll share even more details in a blog post coming soon. Book The Ivy Inn for leisure or business on Airbnb!   


Best restaurants near Minnesota state parks

While I’m hiking at Minnesota state parks, I typically pack a lunch in my freezable lunch bag. But sometimes – especially after a really long hike, I like to enjoy a real meal and an adult beverage or two especially when hiking with friends or family.

Here are some of the best restaurants near Minnesota state parks that I have experienced.

Best restaurant near North Shore state parks

Moguls Grille & Tap Room; Caribou Highlands; Lutsen, Minnesota

Walleye fish dinner with asparagus and rice
One of the best meals at Caribou Highland’s Moguls Grille & Bar: Parmesan-crusted walleye with wild rice and grilled asparagus. You may opt to order your meals to go, like we did.

Before or after hiking at the nearby Minnesota state parks, enjoy fine dining in a casual atmosphere at Moguls Grille & Tap Room at Caribou Highlands in Lutsen, Minn.

Moguls Grille & Tap Room – a ski-in-ski-out restaurant – is conveniently located less than one-half mile from the Lutsen Mountains ski lifts and ~10 miles from two of Minnesota’s most beautiful state parks on the North Shore: Cascade River State Park to the north and Temperance River State Park to the south – and several others within a short scenic drive.

Open in all seasons, Moguls Grille & Tap Room at Caribou Highlands is perfect for couples or families or takeout. And you’ll find something delicious for everyone from appetizer classics like wings and cheese curds to tasty soups, salads and sandwiches to pizza to burgers and comfort food like surf and turf with garlic mashed potatoes and Swedish meatballs.

My favorite dish at Moguls Grille & Tap Room is their Parmesan-crusted walleye with wild rice and grilled asparagus, and, of course dessert. I highly recommend the strawberry-rhubarb pie. Moguls Grille & Tap Room also features a full bar with beer, wine and soft drinks. See my full review of our hosted experience with Moguls Grille & Tap Room.

All opinions are my own and I highly recommend staying and eating at Caribou Highlands or any of the Odyssey Resort properties for a safe staycation on the North Shore.

A list of Minnesota state parks near Moguls Grille & Bar in Lutsen, Minnesota (within 50 miles)

What state parks are near Caribou Highlands Lodge and Moguls Grille & Tap Room?

  • Cascade River State Park; Lutsen, Minnesota
  • George Crosby State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota
  • Grand Portage State Park; Grand Portage, Minnesota
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park; Grand Marais, Minnesota
  • Split Rock Lighthouse; Two Harbors; Minnesota
  • Temperance River State Park; Lutsen, Minnesota
  • Tettegouche State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota

Sven and Ole’s; Grand Marais, Minnesota

Mention Sven & Ole’s to anyone in Minnesota and I guarantee they’ll know who you’re talking about. Or rather what. Sven & Ole’s reputation as the best pizza on the North Shore is legendary – since 1982. Located in the charming town of Grand Marais, you’ll need to make a stop when visiting the North Shore of Minnesota. Be sure to call as they are not always open due to limited staff.

A list of Minnesota state parks near Sven & Ole’s in Grand Marais, Minnesota (within 50 miles)

What state parks are near Sven & Ole’s in Grand Marais, Minnesota?

  • Cascade River State Park; Lutsen, Minnesota
  • George Crosby State Park; Silver Bay, Minnesota (technically this state park is within 50 miles; however, it’s at least an hour due to road conditions)
  • Grand Portage State Park; Grand Portage, Minnesota
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park; Grand Marais, Minnesota
  • Temperance River State Park; Lutsen, Minnesota

Best restaurants near Rochester, Minnesota area state parks

Chester's Kitchen and Bar in Rochester, Minnesota exterior of a restaurant
Chester’s Kitchen & Bar, located in downtown Rochester, Minn., is near several Minnesota state parks.

Chester’s Kitchen & Bar; Rochester, Minnesota

lobster mac and cheese
One of the best restaurants near state parks in the Rochester, Minnesota area is Chester’s Kitchen & Bar. This restaurant features one of the best lobster mac and cheese dishes in Minnesota and in the U.S.

Looking for some carbs after a great hiking workout at one of the beautiful state parks near Rochester, Minnesota? Then I recommend the lobster mac and cheese at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar. I’m always on a quest to find the best mac and cheese, and this tasty dish from Chester’s Kitchen & Bar ranks up high on my best mac and cheese in the U.S. list. See my full restaurant review of my sponsored meal at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar. As always, all opinions are my own.

A list of Minnesota state parks near Chester’s Kitchen & Bar in Rochester, Minnesota (within 50 miles)

What state parks are near Chester’s Kitchen & Bar in Rochester, Minnesota?

  • Carley State Park in Altura, Minnesota
  • Forestville – Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, Minnesota
  • Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota
  • John A. Latsch State Park in Minnesota City, Minnesota
  • Lake Louise State Park in Le Roy, Minnesota
  • Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, Minnesota
  • Rice Lake State Park in Owatonna, Minnesota
  • Whitewater State Park in Altura, Minnesota

Do you have a favorite restaurant near a Minnesota state park? Or do you own a restaurant near a Minnesota state park? If so, leave a note in the comments for an opportunity to be featured.

Best products for hiking or camping at Minnesota state parks

Best SUV tent for camping at Minnesota state parks
So I did a thing! I tried this thing called SUV camping on my two-week road trip to hike Minnesota state parks.

I’m highlighting a few of my favorite and the top / best products to bring with you when you are hiking or camping at Minnesota state parks. Please note that I am a marketing affiliate with many of these products so I may receive a small compensation should you click through and purchase any of these products. However, I only recommend hiking and camping products that I use or try myself – and, in many cases, I have researched extensively. I mean, I don’t fool around when it comes to finding a comfy foam mattress or convenient tent when I go SUV camping.

I know…I know. I’m not a camper and a very reluctant glamper. But I tried a new way to glamp this summer on a two-week road trip and loved my solo SUV camping experience. Will share more on that adventure in a separate post. Until then, here are a few of my recommended products when hiking or camping at Minnesota state parks.

The best SUV tent for camping at Minnesota state parks

I’m not very skilled when it comes to putting stuff together so needed an SUV tent for my Nissan Pathfinder that was compact and easy to set up and take down for one person. I was traveling solo so this was a great option. I loved my Napier Sportz Cove SUV tent (mine was perfect for mid- to full-size SUVs. I’ll soon share the pros and cons of this particular SUV tent in a separate post.

The most comfortable and best memory foam mattress for SUV camping

I’m a bed snob and a very light sleeper so did a lot of research to find the best mattress for SUV camping. I highly recommend the Milliard tri-folding memory foam mattress with a washable cover to help ensure a cozy, comfortable night’s sleep while SUV camping. It’s so comfortable, I offer it as an extra guest bed. Make sure to measure your space (taking into account any obstacles like wheel wells, seat belts, tailgate, second row of seats width, etc.). There are DIY ways to cut and customize a foam mattress to make it fit. I’ll share more in a separate post.


Deet-free Aunt Fannie’s mosquito wipes offer the best protection especially when hiking Minnesota state parks

Box of DEET-free mosquito repellent wipes
I cannot recommend Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free Mosquito Wipes highly enough. I am a mosquito magnet, but they stay away when I apply these wipes. My link does include a referral code, which means I’ll receive a small compensation – but I only recommend products and services I would use myself. And I definitely use Aunt Fannie’s – I bought a case of them and give to family and friends. And they smell good and are good for the environment – biodegradable and no harsh chemicals!

See my full review of what to pack on a day hike.

Pin it for laterTake the Minnesota State Park challenge

Collage of nature scenes and views of lakes, rivers and valleys

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Tall trees in Minnesota state park

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

105 comments

  1. Sounds like the perfect challenge to me. I love exploring and I love state parks. We are actually planning a few trips in the next couple of weeks to ones we haven’t been to yet here in Indiana.

  2. We’ve talked about doing something similiar here in Kentucky. We don’t have quite as many state parks as Minnesota, but it would still take us awhile to visit them all. Sounds like a fun challenge.