Bridge in the woods with fall foliage
One of the best hiking trails in Rochester, Minnesota: Quarry Hill Nature Center

Third in a local guide’s series, the best hiking trails within 50 miles of Rochester, Minnesota feature switchbacks, hundreds of stairs to scenic outlooks and bluff trails leading to dramatic and stunning views of rugged valleys and the Mississippi River, nature walks among trees and wildflowers, peaceful paths hugging serene lakes and trout streams and a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Best hiking trails within 50 miles series

Here are the best hiking trails within 50 miles series posts.


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The top-ranked Minnesota hiking trails and nature walks near Rochester, Minnesota

Hiking trail up a hill during autumn with fall colors
One of the best hiking trails in Rochester, Minnesota: Quarry Hill Nature Center

I’m creating a series of the best hiking trails within 50 miles of several cities and regions in Minnesota. Why 50 miles? Because every Minnesota resident lives within 50 miles of at least one Minnesota state park. And that doesn’t include all the hiking trails at MN regional, county and city parks.

And several of the best (and favorite) state parks in MN are near Rochester. I’m in the process of hiking at all 66 Minnesota state parks.

Good to know before you go hiking at Minnesota parks in the winter

If you’re planning to hike at any Minnesota parks any time of the year – especially in the winter – check each park’s website for their seasonal or pandemic guidelines, hours and any access restrictions such as planned deer hunts (which are typically scheduled November through January).

Additionally, some Minnesota parks close facilities and restrooms or shut off water November through March each year). I also recommend downloading the maps of the parks you’re hiking ahead of time. My favorite day hiking app is AllTrails – here are the best apps for day hikes.

Hiking safety tip: Always check the sunset time. And, if you’re like me and always chasing daylight and/or that sunset, always bring a headlamp. The sun goes down pretty quickly in the winter as does the temperature.  

Join me as I take you on a photo gallery guide of the best hiking trails at Minnesota state parks, regional parks, city parks and county parks in and within 50 miles of Rochester, MN. I’ve ranked these Minnesota hiking trails in order by distance from the Mayo Clinic (Mayo Building and Gonda Building) in Rochester, MN – the top hospital in the U.S. cares for more than one million patients annually.

Quarry Hill Nature Center; Rochester, Minnesota

Cave in limestone rock with locked gate
One of the best hiking trails in Rochester, Minnesota: Quarry Hill Nature Center

You’ll find more than 8 miles of hiking trails among 329 acres of Quarry Hill Nature Center and Park. You can also head to the old quarry in this park to go fossil hunting in the limestone. And if you find a fossil, you can keep it! This park was originally part of the Rochester State Hospital Farm. Some other historical aspects include 100-year-old sandstone caves used to store vegetables for the hospital.

Distance from Rochester: 3.5 miles

Trail length: 1.3 to 2.4 miles (Quarry Ruins Trail Loop and Savannah Trail Loop)

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: You can add Quarry Hill Nature Center to your free things to do in Rochester, Minnesota list.

History Center of Olmsted County; Rochester, Minnesota

Fall foliage with path leading to red barn
History Center of Olmsted County offers two family-friendly hiking trails right outside Rochester, Minnesota on the historic George Stoppel Farmstead.

My husband and I loved our hosted stay as guests of the History Center of Olmsted County. We toured the historic George Stoppel Farmstead (and cave two families in the 1800s called home one winter) as well as the 1885 Hadley Valley one-room schoolhouse and the Dee log cabin built in 1862 (learn more in my Historical things to do in Rochester, Minnesota post).

You’ll also find a couple of short and easy hiking and snowshoe trails at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN. The George Stoppel Trail and the Scenic Trail are short in distance with easy terrains – perfect walking tours for families with young children or seniors.

Historic log cabin surrounded by fall foliage
You’ll find a historic log cabin from the 1800s at the History Center of Olmsted Country in Rochester, Minnesota.
  • George Stoppel Trail: Only a half-mile loop, this trail is perfect for families or beginners – taking you past the farmstead, the Hadley Valley Schoolhouse and through the woods.
  • Scenic trail: A little over a mile, this trail will take you around both the George Stoppel and Ralph Stoppel Farmsteads, the William Dee log cabin, the Rooster base ball field and more. (Yes, base ball is how it was written back in the day.)

Distance from Rochester: 4.1 miles

Trail length: 0.5 to 1 mile

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: Another free thing to do in Rochester, Minnesota: hike the trails at the History Center of Olmsted County campus.

Carley State Park; Altura, Minnesota

Concrete block crossing over river with green trees and blue sky and huge white cloud
Best places to hike near Rochester, Minnesota: Carley State Park in Altura, MN.

Carley State Park in Altura, Minn. offers six miles of hiking trails and is a popular destination for brown and rainbow trout anglers. One of the smallest and quietest state parks in Minnesota, Carley State Park features several dirt hiking trails through woods, along rock ridges and a valley. You’ll find a variety of trails from switchbacks, to steep stairs and a concrete block bridge (pictured) to cross the river.  

Distance from Rochester: 22 miles

Trail length: 6 miles (total; you can also hike shorter loops)

Trail difficulty: Easy to moderate

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Whitewater State Park; Altura, Minnesota  

Bluff overlooking a valley and a forest with a blue sky

If you’re looking to get away from it all, then go hiking at Whitewater State Park in Altura, Minnesota. This state park is set in the unique driftless area (no glaciers from back in the day; however, the meltwater from said glaciers created the dramatic landscapes). One of the most secluded points is called Inspiration Point (pictured). You can reach this scenic bluff area via Inspiration Point Trail, a steep and hilly hiking trail or stairs (also steep). Whitewater State Park also features several other rock and packed dirt trails including the popular Chimney Rock Trail. Remember to look up to catch the flight of turkey vultures and eagles. Bring your binoculars on this hike.

Distance from Rochester: 23 miles

Trail length: 0.7-mile to 4.2-mile loops

Trail difficulty: Easy to Difficult

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Rice Lake State Park; Owatonna, Minnesota

Trail leading through lush green woods

Beautiful Rice Lake State Park in Owatonna, Minnesota offers hiking, x-skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobile trails as well as boating, kayaking, fishing, camping, a playground and picnic areas. Especially loved this hike through this magical forest when I visited in the summer as well as a peaceful stroll along its fishing pier with long grasses whispering in the wind where wild rice formerly grew. The mostly flat trails hug Rice Lake and wind through prairies and hardwoods.

Distance from Rochester: 35 miles

Trail length: 1- to 2.4-mile loops

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Lake Louise State Park; Le Roy, Minnesota  

Trees reflecting in a lake at sunset

This is not the same Lake Louise as the popular Banff, Canada destination, but it definitely holds it own when it comes to peaceful serenity and quiet beauty. Lake Louise State Park is the most southern MN state park. Located in Le Roy, Minnesota, and set on 1,168 acres, Lake Louise State Park features a small lake with a beach, picnic tables, canoe access, a pretty bridge, a dam, camping and equestrian, snowmobile, snowshoe and flat hiking trails. The popular 19.7-mile Shooting Star State Biking Trail runs through the park as well.

Distance from Rochester: 37 miles

Trail length: 1.4 to 2.4-mile loops

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park; Preston, Minnesota  

Forestville Mystery Cave overlook

While Mystery Cave and the historic 1800s village of Forestville are currently closed due to the pandemic, you’ll find miles of beautiful bluff trails with scenic limestone cliff views throughout Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, Minnesota. And if you stay until sunset, you’ll not only catch a beautiful golden hour and sunset, but also hear the howls of the coyotes (hopefully from a safe distance). One of my favorite trails led me to the peaceful and historic cemetery with grave markers dating back before the Civil War.

Distance from Rochester: 40 miles

Trail length: Several 1- to 2-mile loops

Trail difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Frontenac State Park; Frontenac, Minnesota  

View of large blue lake with trees and boat on the water
Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota is one of the best hiking trails within 50 miles of Rochester, Minnesota. You can take in beautiful views of Lake Pepin (large lake on Mississippi River) from the switchback trails or hike down to the shoreline.

For some gorgeous views of Lake Pepin (large lake on the Mississippi River), especially check out the Lower and Upper Bluffside Trails at Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota. Expect very hilly trails of 425 feet of staircases and switchbacks that lead you down to Lake Pepin as well as trails made of rock and packed dirt.

You’ll also find a series of other hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails taking you through diverse landscapes such as bluffs, forests, wetlands, wooded ravines, prairies and fields of wildflowers. See my full post: Top things to do at Frontenac State Park – one of the best parks for hiking in Minnesota.

Distance from Rochester: 42 miles

Trail length: 0.7 to 2.7 miles

Trail difficulty: Easy to moderate

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

John A. Latsch State Park; Minnesota City, Minnesota

View of Mississippi River and green foliage
The 300+ steps up to the top of Charity Bluff at John A. Latsch State Park is a cardio workout, but the views of the Mississippi River are stunning and rewarding.

Small in size, but big in experience, John A. Latsch State Park in Minnesota City, Minnesota is one of my favorite state parks. If you’re looking for a challenging bluff trail and cardio workout, this is it. Be prepared to allow at least an hour to hike the half-mile trail up to the top of Charity Bluff and back down. Don’t scoff like I did. The roundtrip hike at John A. Latsch State Park took me 45 minutes and I had to stop a couple of times as I walked up the 300+ stairs to the top for a beautiful and rewarding panoramic view of the mighty Mississippi River from 500 feet above. Loved it so much, I hiked John A. Latsch State Park twice – once in the summer and then again in December.

Distance from Rochester: 43 miles

Trail length: 1 mile roundtrip

Trail difficulty: Difficult

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Barn Bluff; Red Wing, MN

View from the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River and a barge going under a bridge
A barge makes it way under a bridge on the Mississippi River. View from the top of Barn Bluff in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Barn Bluff in Red Wing, Minnesota is another rewarding hike with stunning views of the Mississippi River as well as the city itself. Please be respectful during your visit as the Dakota nation considers it sacred; Barn Bluff is home to many burial mounds. Much of the bluff was saved from blasting and destruction from concerned citizens in the early 1900s. Now a public park, you can reach the summit through a restored staircase and a former quarry road.

Distance from Rochester: 47 miles

Trail length: 2.9 miles

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; Nerstrand, Minnesota

Steps leading up through the woods with people near the top
One of the best places to hike near Rochester, Minnesota is Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, MN.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, Minn. is (from my two experiences) one of the busiest state parks – very popular when I hiked in June and then again in September. Social distancing is manageable and the park does not allow anyone to visit once the parking lot is full. And it fills up quickly especially on the weekends.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is pretty special as it protects the last of Minnesota’s Big Woods – ancient forests before the European settlements. You’ll find a range of beautiful and towering trees such as sugar maple, green ash, ironwood and basswood. One of the popular trails (only one mile one-way) takes you to the charming Hidden Falls waterfall.  

Distance from Rochester: 50 miles

Trail length: 1 to 4.5 miles

Trail difficulty: Easy

Admission: Admission to all Minnesota state parks is $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass (unlimited visits to all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for 12 months from the month of purchase).

Garvin Heights Park; Winona, Minnesota

Bluff overlooking lakes and city with a road
One of the best hiking trails with the best views in Minnesota is just 51 miles from Rochester at Garvin Heights Park in Winona, Minn.

Garvin Heights Park in Winona, Minnesota is outside the 50-mile marker from Rochester, Minnesota; however, it’s only 15 minutes from John A. Latsch State Park so recommend stopping here also.

While you can drive to the Lower Garvin Height Park Outlook, you will find the hike up the 200+ steps invigorating – and a cardio challenge. You’ll be rewarded with another panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley. Trust me; it’s worth the climb! On a clear day, you can see for more than 30 miles into Wisconsin. Pictured are West Lake, East Lake and the city of Winona, Minn., and in the distance is the Mississippi River (small thread of blue).

Distance from Rochester: 51 miles

Trail length: 1 mile

Trail difficulty: Challenging

Admission: Garvin Heights Park in Winona, Minnesota is free.

Caron Falls Trail; Caron Falls Park; Northfield, Minnesota

Hiking trail of green and yellow leaves

Caron Falls Park in rural Rice County, Minnesota near Northfield falls a little outside the 50-mile radius also, but as long as you’re in the neighborhood. This countryside park features a small, but pretty, waterfall at the end of the 1.5-mile hiking trail (3 miles roundtrip). We hiked at the end of September and the wooded paths provided a beautiful hike through the beginning of the fall foliage season.

Distance from Rochester: 53 miles

Trail length: 3 miles

Trail difficulty: Easy (although we did cross some stones to make our way over a low-lying creek, which I may or may not have stepped into)

Admission: Admission to Caron Falls Trail in Northfield, MN is free.


That concludes the guide of the best hiking trails in and within 50 miles of Rochester, Minnesota. As I hike more trails, I’ll add to this post. Let me know in the comments if you’ve hiked any of these and which are your favorite trails near Rochester, Minn.


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Wooden pedestrian bridge in the woods

Best places to hike near Rochester MN

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Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

65 comments

  1. I love learning about different hiking trails and their unique features. It looks like there are a lot of really beautiful ones in this area to get out and explore.

    1. Hiking trails and state parks definitely have their own personalities – and I haven’t met one I haven’t liked yet in Minnesota.

  2. I have not explored the midwest nearly enough! Just a hint of Michigan and Indianapolis and Iowa! Every step I place in these states and I am sure Minnesota is the same I find myself falling in love! Now that I live on the East Coast is feels closer than when I was living in California and my hubby dreams of seeing bears in MN so I know we are going to get there soon!

    1. Minnesota offers so much beauty and adventure! I’ve discovered so many incredible hiking trails, state parks and lakes on my staycation.

  3. What a beautiful collection of hiking trails! History Center of Olmsted County looks especially stunning! I’d love to try them out! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. My pleasure! So happy to hear that you’re inspired to hike beautiful Minnesota. The History Center of Olmsted County is pretty fabulous to learn more about the community of Rochester, Minnesota

  4. We visited Minnesota two years ago in Fall, and it’s so beautiful. We didn’t visit any of these hikes, but I will put Rochester on our list for our next visit!

    1. I hope you get the opportunity to visit Minnesota again. Our state definitely offers a variety of awesome parks and hiking trails.

    1. Rochester, Minnesota is about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities. It’s such a beautiful area and Minnesota definitely has some amazing lakes.

  5. We love hiking as a family and the kids love being out in nature. I really like how a lot of these seem to have so much history with the different buildings.

    1. I love learning more about the history behind all the Minnesota state parks. Great way to learn about where I live and get outside.

    1. I hope you get the opportunity to visit and hike around Rochester, Minnesota. The southeast part of the state of MN is so beautiful with all its bluffs, valleys and trails to enjoy throughout the year.

  6. All these places look gorgeous! I’m slightly fascinated with things like rock quarries so hiking around and digging in the old stuff there would be awesome! The only parts of Minnesota I’ve ever seen are around Minneapolis– looks like I definitely need to expand my horizons next time I’m up there.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to returning to Quarry Hill Nature Center as there is so much to do and see like fossil hunting. I published a similar guide for the best hiking trails in and within Minneapolis and St. Paul. You can enjoy lots of green spaces right in the Twin Cities.

    1. Carley State Park is one of my favorites. It was uncrowned and peaceful with lots of beautiful trails and scenic views. Love coming across steps on my hikes in Minnesota.

    1. Nerstrand Big Woods offers beautiful hiking trails in Minnesota. Trails are fairly easy and the waterfall is pretty special. You can actually swim near the falls in the summer.

  7. Wow!!! Your photos are amazing! We haven’t made it to Minnesota yet, but I will be pinning this post for later! Makes me long for Fall hiking season!

    1. That makes me so happy to hear and I hope you get the opportunity to hike in Minnesota. We have so many beautiful trails in every season and fall is especially beautiful.

    1. I plan to do more research on the burial mounds at Barn Bluff in Red Wing, MN. I learned about them after we hiked there. So much history in Minnesota.

  8. What a beautiful collection of hiking trails! It really looks like you’re spoiled for choice around Rochester! The view of John A. Latsch State Park looks stunning! Nerstrand Big Woods State Park looks magical too! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Thank you so much! People are surprised that Minnesota offers so many beautiful hiking trails. I especially love those near Rochester because of the bluff trails.

  9. Wow what an amazing variety of trails! I have never been to Minnesota, but when I do visit I’m now adding hiking to the top of my list of things to do! Personally, I think the Lake Louise State Park trail looks amazing – it’s not too difficult, but it’s beautiful!

  10. I have found during the pandemic that these local places to be outdoors types of posts are very popular. People are hungering to be outdoors and your post gives great tips of where they can go. Lovely photos.

    1. Thank you so much! Getting outdoors during my staycation especially during this pandemic has really nourished my soul. And I’ve discovered so many beautiful gems right in my own backyard.

  11. Because of the pandemic, we’ve spent more time outside than ever before. Local guides like these for hiking are so appreciated. Looks like I’m going to have to do more hiking in my state.

    1. Thank you so much! I enjoy hiking in Minnesota and actually didn’t do much of it before the pandemic. Love sharing my local’s guides.

    1. Thank you so much! Minnesota offers so many beautiful hiking trails throughout the state and especially love those near Rochester.

  12. My former in-laws lived in a tiny town 60 miles from Rochester. This would have been a great guide to have had back in the day! It was always a little hard to keep the family (and myself) entertained when we visited. I never even thought to look for State Parks

    1. I only discovered all the beautiful state parks near Rochester, Minnesota this past year. While the North Shore does offer some beautiful parks, I do love the ones around the Rochester area – beautiful bluff views are my favorite!

  13. Minnesota looks like a beautiful state for hiking! I’d love to visit (during summer) to explore the many national and state parks. These hiking trail overviews that you’ve been putting together are so helpful, Karen.

  14. I feel very lazy after reading this Karen! These are some fantastic hikes, and in beautiful parks in Rochester.

    1. Thanks! Red Bluff was a cool place to hike. I honestly thought they were dogs initially and then I thought no. It was a bit surreal.

  15. Your hiking collections never cease to impress me. You seem to get so much in. I’m amazed by the wildlife at some of these, hanging around to hear the coyotes would be something else.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I find your hikes of Ireland pretty inspiring and can’t wait to visit. Our friends actually had two coyotes running around in their backyard last week – only a few blocks away, which is a bit unusual for our neighborhood. We’re heading to some North Shore hiking trails later this month and hoping to catch a moose sighting – from a distance.

    1. My pleasure! So happy to hear that you find this post of value and hope you get to visit your nephew and check out my favorite hiking trails in Minnesota.

  16. Looks like there are lots of great hiking trails close to Rochester Minnesota. Now that spring is here, it’s the perfect time to get outside.

    1. Lots of great hiking trails near Rochester, Minnesota. And, yes, spring is finally here! So ready for more hiking.

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