My Adventures at Minnesota's State Parks

Park Recommendations

Where Can I Find....??
Park Recommendations
Camping Checklist/Blog
Minnesota Wildflowers
Bear Head Lake
Beaver Creek Valley
Big Bog SRA
Big Stone Lake
Blue Mounds
Buffalo River
Cascade River
Charles A. Lindbergh
Crow Wing
Cuyuna Country SRA
Father Hennepin
Forestville/Mystery Cave
Fort Ridgely
Franz Jevne
George Crosby-Manitou
Glacial Lakes
Gooseberry Falls
Grand Portage
Great River Bluffs
Hayes Lake
Jay Cooke
John Latsch
Judge Magney
Kilen Woods
Lac Qui Parle
Lake Bemidji
Lake Bronson
Lake Carlos
Lake Louise
Lake Maria
Lake Shetek
McCarthy Beach
Mille Lacs-Kathio
Monson Lake
Moose Lake
Myre-Big Island
Nerstrand-Big Woods
Old Mill
Red River SRA
Rice Lake
St. Croix
Sakatah Lake
Savanna Portage
Split Rock Creek
Split Rock Lighthouse
Temperance River
Upper Sioux Agency
Wild River
Zippel Bay
Pipestone National Monument
Contact Me

If you've never been to Minnesota and are wondering what's the best park(s) to visit to get the most out your trip- hopefully this will help guide your decision.  

The most popular destination is (I'm assuming) the North Shore.  I'd recommend 3-5 days to really enjoy all the beauty of the area.  It also depends on whether you want to include nearby parks like Jay Cooke & Manitou into your trip.  My favorite part of many of these parks is simply the shoreline, especially at Temperance River & Gooseberry.  My ultimate beginner vacation would include this "I'm not here for super hardcore hiking" intinerary:
Day 1: Jay Cooke is 20 miles south of Duluth on I-35.  The river is beautiful here with scenic views from the trails and swinging bridge.  Great fall colors as well. If you've got time to kill after here it's fun to drive around Duluth.
Day 2: Gooseberry Falls is appx 40 miles NE of Duluth and 12 miles NE of Two Harbors.  This park is really busy pretty much all the time.  There are four waterfalls and a nice picnic area.  I really enjoyed the hike to Fifth Falls.  After Gooseberry it's about 5 miles to Split Rock Lighthouse.  You can pay extra to tour the lighthouse.  From here walk down to the spot where zillions upon zillions of people have taken their photo of the lighthouse.  
Day 3: Tettegouche!  Who doesn't love saying that name?  Ok...maybe just me.  Anyway, I know this itinerary is supposed to not focus on loooong hiking trips, but if you go here, try to go out on the trails.  There are some beautiful views of Lake Superior.  The main highlight of this park is, of course, Baptism Falls.  Be prepared for stairs and lot of them.  There are some other waterfalls here too.  It really depends on how long you're here on whether you'll want to visit Temperance River in the same day.  I'll put them together though with the thought that there will be light hiking.  They are about 25 miles apart as well.  Temperance River has a wonderful trail along the river that eventually leads to Carlton Peak (which I'd recommend if you have time).  Temperance also has the closest campground to the lake.    
Day 4- Cascade River.  This park is beautiful and the trail system is awesome!  It's very quick to walk from the parking area to the main waterfall.  If you have time, take the trail to Lookout Mountain for some excellent views of Superior and the surrounding forest.  From here drive appx 25 miles up to Judge Magney.  This has a very pretty trail along the Brule River to the Devils Kettle waterfall (there's also another smaller waterfall along the way).  There are a lot of stairs here as well!  From here it's another 25 miles up to Grand Portage.  This park has the "big one" in the biggest waterfall in MN.  There is a nice paved trail to the waterfall and different viewing areas to see the beauty.  I didn't go on the trail to the Middle Falls so I can't say if that's worth the time.  
If you're wondering..."should I check out George Crosby- Manitou?"  I'd say only if you have some time to kill.  Don't get me wrong, the park is pretty, but there's nothing there that I'd say is worth a special trip if you're crunched for time or aren't really in the mood to get off the main highway.  If you're traveling back south on I-35 I would recommend stopping at Banning.  The beautful Kettle River is worth the visit.               

Where else should I go?
  • Itasca!  If you go nowhere else, go here.  Many activities for adults and kids.  Beautiful scenery.  Near-ish Bemidji which also has a nice state park and things to do.  I would personally live at Itasca if I could, I love it that much.  The headwaters area tends to be overflowing with hoards of people during the summer, but if you get there early in the morning you can really appreciate the beauty of the place.      


  • Sibley This is a park for families.  If you have kids and enjoy swimming and playing games...this is your park.  There's not really a whole lot of scenery to speak of (Mount Tom isn't that great), but it's a very nice park that gets my "family favorite" recommendation.  Other family friendly parks I'd recommend are St. Croix and Lake Shetek.   


  • Blue Mounds Located in the southwest corner of MN, this park is quite unique considering its surroundings.  Beautiful prairie grasses, a quartzite cliff and a bison herd are all sights to see here.  There are also prickly pear cacti and several other pretty wildflowers.  If you're driving through MN on I-90 (please don't judge the state by that snorefest of a road)- stop here.  It gives you a feeling of how life must have been before the land was turned into farmland that surrounds the park. 


  • Whitewater For the southeast section of MN, I'd have to say this park is a must.  Most trails provide wonderful views of the blufflands and the ones that don't climb are usually by a nice stream.  The Elba fire tower is very near the park and also has amazing views.  Be prepared for a climb though.  The hill to the tower is probably a worse climb than the tower itself.  Worth it though!  This is the park I visit the most often (due to its proximity to my home) and am very glad to have it nearby.  If you're here in the spring, drive over to Carley State Park to see the Virginia Bluebells.   


  • Maplewood This park I'm putting on here as an Autumn Special.  Not that it wouldn't be good to visit all year, but if you're in the area in the fall, this park is an absolute must visit.  The colors are amazing.  The size of this park seems comparible to Itasca in some ways.  There's a "one way only" road like Itasca and goes by small lakes and scenic views as well as many hiking trails.       


  • ?Bear Head Lake? The only reason I'm putting this on the list is because a few years ago it was voted "America's Favorite Park" and you might be wondering...should I go there?  Let me preface by saying that I have only been to this park twice and each visit was very short.  What I did see was very scenic and I can see the appeal.  Would I make a special trip to visit here?  No.  While it is a beautiful spot, so are other parks that are a lot more convenient to get to with more to do. 


Hidden Gems

Ok, so I've highlighted the parks that a person should visit if they're cruising through and now I'm going to highlight a few other parks that I feel are just as nice as those mentioned above, but might not be worth the drive just to see it.

  • Beaver Creek Valley  Beautiful creek, nice bluff views.
  • Camden the Dakota Valley Trail is why this makes the list
  • Minneopa beautiful double waterfall and peaceful hiking trails
  • Nerstrand excellent trails, waterfall
  • Savanna Portage great fall colors, Loon Lake Trail is amazing
  • Upper Sioux Agency love the trails here, rolling hills, wildflowers
  • Zippel Bay my favorite park (yes, even above Itasca).  I've never been to a place more beautiful than that beach.  That being said, I'd still live at Itasca.