Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails

If you’re seeking quiet solitude and simple pleasures, then Carley State Park is one of the best Minnesota state parks. Carley State Park is known for its spring wildflowers. In fact, they host the Carley State Park Bluebell Festival in early May every year. This small and rustic state park in southeast Minnesota also offers hiking trails, trout fishing, scenic foliage, and more fun things to do all year long.

See my related Minnesota state park series.


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Top 10 things to do at Carley State Park in Plainview, MN

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails park bench

Carley State Park, one of the smaller state parks in Minnesota, offers a quiet respite in the Bluffland Landscape Region. Here are the top 10 things to do at Carley State Park in Plainview, MN.

  1. Take a wildflower walk in the spring.
  2. Hike over the river and through the woods.
  3. Fish for brown or rainbow trout.
  4. Take in scenic valley views and canopies of trees.
  5. Go camping at Carley State Park – hammock-friendly.
  6. Walk across the unique concrete block river crossings.
  7. Check out the giant white pines.
  8. Pack a picnic.
  9. Go birding.
  10. Cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter.


Take a wildflower walk in the spring

One of the unique features of Carley State Park is the abundance of Virginia bluebells and other spring wildflowers. They typically hold the Carley State Park Bluebell Festival in early May. This fun event is perfect for families. In addition to the guided wildflower walks, families can participate in the trout fishing program, Mother’s Day activities, archery, and more. Check the DNR events website for more details.

Hike over the river and through the woods

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails

Carley State Park offers about four miles of hiking trails in what’s known as the Bluffland Landscape Region. The popular Wildflower Trail is flat on packed dirt that takes you through tall white pines, hardwoods, and lots of green foliage.

Watch for interpretive signs on the hiking trails to learn more about the region and Carley State Park.

And you will literally hike over the river in a few spots. A designated trout stream, the North Branch Whitewater River features unique concrete block river crossings. Use caution as the blocks are slippery.

If hiking Carley State Park in the spring, it’s a good chance your shoes will get wet. Highly recommend your hiking poles to navigate the concrete blocks, rocks, and logs.

As you hike farther away from the trailheads, you’ll come across steeper grades for a more moderately challenging hike.

Fish on the North Branch Whitewater River – a designated trout stream

Carley State Park is one of several Minnesota state parks with a designated trout stream. You can fish for brown or rainbow trout from the North Branch Whitewater River.

Take in scenic valley views and canopies of trees


Carley State Park offers some pretty views of the valley. An overlook provides a scenic view of a sea of green trees in the spring and summer. Special thanks to this lovely local family who gave me permission to post their picture.

During fall foliage, you’ll experience a color explosion of oranges, reds, and yellows.

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails scenic views

Go camping at Carley State Park – traditional tent, small Rvs, and hammock

For a rustic summer adventure, camp at Carley State Park. Campgrounds are typically open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Camping options at Carley State Park include:

  • 20 drive-in sites (RV limit is 30 feet – and only a couple of sites available)
  • 1 ADA drive-in campsite
  • 2 carry-in, tent-only group caps (no vehicles allowed)
  • A few hammock-friendly campsites


Walk across the unique concrete block river crossings

River crossing concrete blocks at Carley State Park in Minnesota

Full disclosure: When I hiked at Carley State Park the first time, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the concrete block river crossings. I thought it might be a way to cross the river. But with my history of falling on slippery rocks and into rivers and a river rescue another time, I turned around.

Safety over adventure that day. I learned my lesson to always listen to my gut. It was also getting late in the day so I thought I’d try the Carley State Park river crossings another time when I wasn’t hiking solo.

My husband and I returned to hike Carley State Park recently. The river was a bit flooded as were the concrete blocks. Although our shoes got wet, we successfully navigated across several river crossings. Definitely bring your hiking poles and an extra set of shoes and socks to change into later.

Check out the white pines stand

I’m fascinated with trees. And was so happy to hear the story of why Carley State Park became a protected space. The park was established to protect the giant white pines. You can still see a few of the original stand of white pines.

Picnic next to the river

Picnic bench at Carley State Park in Minnesota

Carley State Park in Minnesota offers a scenic picnic area near the North Branch Whitewater River. You’ll find picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Here’s where you’ll also find a large field nearby, an area to play horseshoes, as well as swings for the kids.

Go birding at Carley State Park

Pack your binoculars or look for a variety of birds at Carley State Park. Common sightings include great horned owls, woodpeckers and migratory songbirds.

Cross-country ski and snowshoe at Carley State Park

Carley State Park offers two miles of ungroomed trails for cross-country skiing in the winter. You can snowshoe anywhere in the park.

Frequently asked questions about Carley State Park in Plainview, Minnesota

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails trees

Where is Carley State Park located? What is the address for Carley State Park?

Carley State Park is located at 50366 Wabasha County Road 4, Plainview, MN 55964. Located in southeast Minnesota, Carley State Park is near Rochester and Whitewater State Park in Altura, MN.

When is Carley State Park open?

Carley State Park is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, campgrounds are closed, roads are not plowed, and trails are not groomed in the winter. But you can still x-ski, snow hike, or snowshoe at Carley State Park.

Is Carley State Park free? How much is the admission fee at Carley State Park?

Like all Minnesota state parks, Carley State Park costs $7 per vehicle per day ($5 per motorcycle). That includes unlimited visits to all Minnesota state parks on the same day. I highly recommend an annual pass, which gives you entrance to all Minnesota state parks. See the Minnesota DNR website for more information. And it’s highly recommended to pay online ahead of time. Minnesota state parks are no longer accepting cash self-payment envelopes on site.

Admission to every Minnesota state park is free for all Minnesota state tribal members.

You can also visit Carley State Park on any of the four free state park days in Minnesota. See my related post for this year’s free state park days.

Does Carley State Park have a lake, river, or waterfall?

Yes. The North Branch Whitewater River runs through Carley State Park. And the hiking trail runs alongside for great river views.

Can you fish at Carley State Park? What kind of fish are in Carley?

Yes. You can fish at Carley State Park. In fact, the North Branch Whitewater River is a dedicated trout stream. You’ll need a license and stamp to fish for rainbow and brown trout at Carley State Park.

Does Carley State Park have a swimming beach?

No. Carley State Park does not have a swimming beach. However, you can swim at the beach nearby at Whitewater State Park.

Can you boat at Carley State Park? Does Carley State Park offer a boat ramp with trailer access?

No. You cannot boat on the North Branch Whitewater River at Carley State Park.

How big is Carley State Park in Minnesota?

With only 200 acres, Carley State Park in Minnesota is one of the smallest state parks in Minnesota.

Is Carley State Park buggy? Mosquitos? Ticks?

I don’t recall that Carley State Park in Minnesota was particularly buggy when I hiked in the summer. But I always apply Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free mosquito wipes and picaridin to ward off ticks.

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.

How long and how difficult are the hiking trails at Carley State Park?

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails

Carley State Park features ~4 miles of hiking trails. They range from the easy and flat wildflower trail to steep terrain with switchbacks and stairs.

The easy dirt-packed Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail is about two miles. For a more moderately challenging hike, try the ~2.5-mile Whitewater River Trail loop.

You’ll also come across a couple of river crossings. Use caution especially when the river is high. The concrete blocks in the river crossing are slippery.

Keep children close especially around the river and the steep drop-offs.

Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing trails at Carley State Park?

Yes. Carley State Park offers snowshoeing and ungroomed cross-country skiing. Make sure you purchase a state ski pass.

Are hiking poles needed on the trails at Carley State Park?

Carley State Park in Minnesota

You will not need your hiking poles on the wildflower trail at Carley State Park. This trail is pretty flat. However, the trails do get steeper and a little more challenging as you hike farther. So you may want to bring your hiking poles.

Additionally, we found the hiking poles helpful while hiking across the river crossings at Carley State Park.

What are the best views at Carley State Park?


For the best views of Virginia bluebells and other wildflowers, visit Carley State Park in mid-spring (April / May). I loved the unexpected concrete block river crossing while hiking at Carley State Park. And you’ll find an overlook with panoramic views of a canopy of trees.

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails overlook observation deck

Are there bike trails at Carley State Park?

No. Carley State Park does not offer bike trails.

Does Carley State Park have a visitor center? Modern restrooms?

No. Carley State Park does not have a visitor center. You will find a park office at nearby Whitewater State Park.

Carley State Park is one of the more rustic Minnesota state parks. This park does not offer modern restrooms. No flush toilets and no showers at the campgrounds. However, vault and more primitive toilets are available year-round.

Is Carley State Park dog-friendly?

Yes, leashed dogs and pets are welcome at Carley State Park. All Minnesota state parks welcome dogs except inside buildings (with the exception of service dogs). Leashes must be six feet or less.

Are there bears at Carley State Park?

It’s highly unlikely you’ll see any bears at Carley State Park. Most black bears hang out in northern Minnesota.

The wildlife you’ll most likely come across at Carley State Park includes deer, beavers, coyotes, red and gray foxes, and birds.

Can you camp at Carley State Park?

Yes. You can camp at Carley State Park seasonally typically Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Reserve your rustic campsite from any of the 20 drive-in sites.

Carley State Park isn’t the best option for RV camping. However, you will find a couple of sites that allow RVs up to 30 feet.

Additionally, Carley State Park offers a few hammock-friendly sites as well as two carry-in, tent-only group camps. The first group camp accommodates 20 people. While the second group camp at Carley State Park is limited to 15.

Carley State Park offers one ADA drive-in campsite. None of the campsites offer electricity.

Try SUV camping!

A beginner’s guide to camping out in your SUV

Is firewood available at Carley State Park?

Yes. You can purchase firewood behind the entrance kiosk at Carley State Park. It’s self-service. However, since it is a remote park, you may want to buy certified safe-to-move firewood from a gas station.

Why can’t you bring in your own firewood? To protect Minnesota trees, you can only burn certified wood on MN DNR land. Collection is not allowed in state parks and you may not bring firewood from home. This helps prevent spreading harmful insects and diseases.

How far is Carley State Park from the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSP) airport?

Carley State Park is 88 miles south of the Minneapolis – St. Paul (MSP) International Airport.

What’s nearby Carley State Park? Things to do near Carley State Park?

View of Mississippi River and green foliage

You’ll find some really cool things to do near Carley State Park. Pictured: Hike a half-mile up Mount Charity at John A. Latsch State Park. This tropical vibe provides panoramic views of the Mississippi River.

  • One of the top-ranking state parks in Minnesota is near Carley State Park. Whitewater State Park is only 11 miles away in Altura, MN. If you’d like to hike all 66 Minnesota state parks in a year, these two state parks are close enough to explore in one day.
  • Another one of my favorite and best state parks for a scenic view of the Mississippi River is John A. Latsch State Park. Located 24 miles away from Carley State Park, John A. Latsch State Park is even smaller than Carley State Park. But I love the hiking trail here. There’s only one. And it’s only a half-mile. But this trail is not for the faint of heart. The hiking trail at John A. Latsch State Park includes nearly 600 steps up Mount Charity. A great cardio hike near Carley State Park.
  • For another cardio climb, conquer the Elba Fire Tower. It’s near Carley State Park – only 11 miles away. Note that the 110-ft fire tower is open seasonally typically late May to mid-October.
  • Still another cardio climb: Garvin Heights Park in Winona, Minnesota. Located 34 miles away, you can hike up and back down lots of stairs for a beautiful view of the Mississippi River.
  • National Eagle Center is located in Wabasha, Minnesota and 24 miles from Carley State Park. Check out their bald eagle webcam overlooking the Mississippi River.
  • Frontenac State Park is another top-ranked state park in Minnesota. Located 32 miles from Carley State Park, you’ll enjoy switchback trails overlooking Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River.
  • The charming community of Winona set on the Mississippi River is only 34 miles from Carley State Park.
  • Quaint Lanesboro – the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota – is located 38 miles from Carley State Park. It’s a great place to stay if camping is not your thing.

Top things to do near Carley State Park – visit Rochester, Minnesota
Fall foliage, mums and gate at the Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, Minnesota

Minnesota’s third-largest city, Rochester, is located near the remote Carley State Park. Rochester offers a lot of things to do and is only 21 miles away.


When was Carley State Park in Minnesota established?

Carley State Park was established in 1948 to preserve a stand of white pines.

How did Carley State Park get its name?

Minnesota State Senator James A. Carley and the family of Ernestina Bold donated the land that became Carley State Park. So they named the park after the senator.

Does Carley State Park host deer hunts? Is Carley State Park closed during deer season?

No. Carley State Park does not typically close during deer season. And does not host deer hunts. However, that could always change.

For a complete list of which Minnesota state parks are closed or limited to the public during deer season, see my post: Hiker safety: MN state parks that host deer hunts.

Hiking safety tip during deer season: Wear bright orange when hiking during deer season. I typically avoid hiking even when the state park is partially open to non-hunters.

A list of the best Minnesota state parks

Carley State Park in Minnesota hiking trails

All Minnesota state parks are the best in my opinion. You can read reviews of each one to create your own list of top-ranked Minnesota state parks: Take the Minnesota state park challenge.

  • Afton State Park | Hastings, MN (26 miles)
  • Banning State Park | Sandstone, MN (97 miles)
  • Bear Head Lake State Park | Ely, MN (240 miles)
  • Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, MN (148 miles)
  • Big Stone Lake State Park | Ortonville, MN (186 miles)
  • Blue Mounds State Park | Luverne, MN (208 miles)
  • Buffalo River State Park | Glyndon, MN (240 miles)
  • Camden State Park | Lynd, MN (161 miles)
  • Carley State Park | Plainview, MN (88 miles)
  • Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, MN (257 miles)
  • Charles A. Lindbergh State Park | Little Falls, MN (112 miles)
  • Crow Wing State Park | Brainerd, MN (134 miles)
  • Father Hennepin State Park | Isle, MN (113 miles)
  • Flandrau State Park | New Ulm, MN (93 miles)
  • Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park | Preston, MN (115 miles)
  • Fort Ridgely State Park | Fairfax, MN (99 miles)
  • Fort Snelling State Park | Bloomington / St. Paul, MN (2 miles)
  • Franz Jevne State Park | Birchdale, MN (336 miles)
  • Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, MN (62 miles)
  • George H. Crosby Manitou State Park | Finland, MN (231 miles)
  • Glacial Lakes State Park | Starbuck, MN (156 miles)
  • Glendalough State Park | Battle Lake, MN (194 miles)
  • Gooseberry Falls | Two Harbors, MN (197 miles)
  • Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, MN (308 miles)
  • Great River Bluffs State Park | Winona, MN (136 miles)
  • Hayes Lake State Park | Roseau, MN (343 miles)
  • Hill Annex Mine State Park | Calumet, MN (197 miles)
  • Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, MN (56 miles)
  • Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, MN (219 miles)
  • Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, MN (146 miles)
  • John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, MN (99 miles)
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park | Grand Marais, MN (282 miles)
  • Kilen Woods State Park | Lakefield, MN (153 miles)
  • Lac qui Parle State Park | Watson, MN (141 miles)
  • Lake Bemidji State Park | Bemidji, MN (230 miles)
  • Lake Bronson State Park | Karlstad, MN (409 miles)
  • Lake Carlos State Park | Alexandria, MN (152 miles)
  • Lake Louise State Park | Le Roy, MN (113 miles)
  • Lake Maria State Park | Monticello, MN (60 miles)
  • Lake Shetek State Park | Currie, MN (168 miles)
  • Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park | Soudan, MN (229 miles)
  • McCarthy Beach State Park | Side Lake, MN (227 miles)
  • Maplewood State Park | Pelican Rapids, MN (217 miles)
  • Mille Lacs Kathio State Park | Onamia, MN (108 miles)
  • Minneopa State Park | Mankato, MN (82 miles)
  • Monson Lake State Park | Sunburg, MN (141 miles)
  • Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, MN (116 miles)
  • Myre-Big Island State Park | Albert Lea, MN (93 miles)
  • Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | Nerstrand, MN (52 miles)
  • Old Mill State Park | Argyle, MN (350 miles)
  • Rice Lake State Park | Owatonna, MN (70 miles)
  • St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, MN (105 miles)
  • Sakatah Lake State Park | Waterville, MN (60 miles)
  • Savanna Portage State Park | Northeast Aitkin, MN (149 miles)
  • Scenic State Park | Bigfork, MN (232 miles)
  • Schoolcraft State Park | Deer River, MN (198 miles)
  • Sibley State Park | New London, MN (128 miles)
  • Split Rock Creek State Park | Jasper, MN (202 miles)
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, MN (204 miles)
  • Temperance River State Park | Schroeder, MN (239 miles)
  • Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, MN (217 miles)
  • Upper Sioux Agency State Park | Granite Falls, MN (122 miles)
  • Whitewater State Park | Altura, MN (99 miles)
  • Wild River State Park | Center City, MN (58 miles)
  • William O’Brien State Park | Scandia / Marine on the St. Croix, MN (43 miles)
  • Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, MN (345 miles)

Coming this spring!

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Pin it for later: A local’s guide to Carley State Park in Minnesota

Please share and pin this guide for when you visit Carley State Park in Plainview, MN – one of the best Minnesota state parks.

Carley State Park in Minnesota - overlook view

Guide to Carley State Park in Minnesota
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

26 comments

  1. I love that Minnesota has so many state parks. Looks like lots of fun things to do at Carley State Park. I’ve been getting into birding lately, great way to hike with a purpose;

    1. I love the variety of the state parks in Minnesota. And would love to learn the different bird songs and calls while hiking.

  2. I really love a good walk in nature, and this place looks exactly where I need to go right now! I loved your post..keep writing such amazing content!

  3. It looks like there are some good things to see on a hike in Carley State Park at all times of year. Some great views out over the canopy of trees. We are not really fishers but it is always fun to see others try their luck for trout. Another great park in Minnesota to visit.

  4. We love visiting state parks in each state. Carley State Park sounds like a great Minnesota park we will place on our list. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome and my pleasure. I love state parks also and hope you get the opportunity to visit Carley State Park when you visit Minnesota.

  5. Carley State Park looks absolutely serene. The Carley State Park Bluebell Festival would be a must do for me. I’m a sucker for wildflowers!

    1. I really want to check out the Carley State Park Bluebell Festival next year. We were out of town this year – but hoping I can hike there this weekend and still find some.

  6. I love the idea of a spring flower-filled walk in Carley State Park – it looks lovely!

    I sort of like the look of those concrete blocks for crossing the river. I am pretty sure I’d feel comfortable crossing them (especially if I had hiking poles with me!) But I totally understand about turning around when something like that feels iffy!

  7. I always hear about the lakes in MN..never knew about all the hiking…great list here..and the challenge is always a motivation! And I NEED mositquos wipes..thanks for the tips!

  8. Carley State Park looks like a relaxing place to spend the afternoon. I’d like to take a hike on the trail where concrete blocks are used as stepping stones for an added bit of adventure!

  9. Carley State Park looks like a lovely (and rejuvenating) getaway. It is so green – I would love to go hiking there. I hope I get to adventure in Minnesota soon.

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