So many parks (66), so many choices: Minnesota’s state park system includes sites on the prairie, among rolling hills and on the cliffs of Lake Superior. I camp with my family at several state parks each year and love to hike and explore. Here are nine of my favorites.
1 Banning State Park Seventeen miles of hiking trails wind along the Kettle River, by sandstone rock formations and to the ruins of Banning Sandstone Quarry. The hike to Wolf Creek Falls is my favorite; the waterfall is beautiful any time of year. If you have time, venture out of the main section to Big Creek Falls (also part of the park) in Sandstone, 90 miles north of the Twin Cities.
Banning State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
2 Blue Mounds State Park In summer, the prairie comes alive at Blue Mounds with prickly pear cactus, wildflowers, birds, bison and fireflies. The Sioux quartzite cliff provides fun hiking and incredible views at the southwest corner of Minnesota. If you get the chance, reserve one of the park’s tipi sites.
Blue Mounds State Park. Photos: Beth Mancuso
3 Glacial Lakes State Park The rolling hills and crystal-clear, spring-fed water of Signalless Lake in the west-central region of the state make this one of my favorite spots for family camping and swimming. Take the High Peak Trail for views of the park’s cone-shaped hills, called kames, and the water-filled depressions, called kettles.
Glacial Lakes State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
4 Crow Wing State Park I like Crow Wing’s roomy and private campsites; it’s also a great place to canoe, with a choice of getting out on the Crow Wing or Mississippi rivers. Take time to visit the Old Crow Wing Town Site, where signs tell about the history of this 19th century frontier town near present-day Brainerd.
Crow Wing State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
5 Tettegouche State Park Lava flows, like Palisade Head, rise 300 feet above Lake Superior, and a 60-foot waterfall rewards hikers along the Baptism River. My favorite hike is the one to Two Step Falls and High Falls, while the drive up to Palisade Head offers one of the best views of Lake Superior.
Tettegouche State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
6 Gooseberry Falls State Park The North Shore’s most popular park (and one of the most-visited parks in Minnesota) has 20 miles of hiking trails along the Gooseberry River and through the surrounding forest. Make sure you hike to the Upper and Middle Falls. Agate Beach, where the river meets Lake Superior, is a fun place to agate-hunt.
Gooseberry Falls State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
7 Grand Portage State Park An easy one-mile round-trip trail leads to Minnesota’s highest waterfall, the 120-foot-tall High Falls of the Pigeon River on the U.S.-Canada border. View the falls from three different platforms.
Grand Portage State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
8 Glendalough State Park Once a private retreat that hosted guests including former presidents, the park in west-central Minnesota centers around Annie Battle Lake, where no motors or electronics disturb fishing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming. Biking and hiking trails wind along lakes, woods and prairies, while cart-in tents, yurts and camper cabins offer a peaceful camping experience. Glendalough Lodge, built in 1905, contains exhibits on the park's history.
Glendalough State Park. Photo: Beth Mancuso
9 Interstate State Park The park along both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River, about 50 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, boasts dramatic views of the river gorge as well as hundreds of glacial potholes, formed when whirlpools of sand and water from melting glaciers carved deep holes in the rock about 10,000 years ago. Explore both parks to learn about the geology of the area as well as to hike to bluff views.
Interstate State Park, view from Wisconsin. Photo: Beth Mancuso