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The Best State Parks in Minnesota
Various spots along the North Shore of Lake Superior remind me of Maine, Vancouver, and Ireland. It’s absolutely breathtaking and it’s hard to believe it’s just a few hours away from the Twin Cities. There are many incredible places along the North Shore with stunning beauty, breathtaking ruggedness, and powerful waterfalls. How many have you been to?
1. Jay Cooke State Park
Best known for its iconic swinging bridge, Jay Cooke State Park makes an awesome stop on a trip to the North Shore. Just 20 minutes south of Duluth, Jay Cooke State Park offers unbelievable views of the St. Louis River.
There are several parking lots at the Jay Cooke State Park. Know that if you don’t see the swinging bridge from the parking lot, you’re not at the right entrance. Venture past the bridge to Oldenburg Point, where you’ll find a picnic area overlooking the river valley.
2. Gooseberry Falls State Park
If you’re looking for a hike that offers incredible views with minimal effort, Gooseberry Falls is the park for you. A very short walk from the parking lot brings you up close to a large waterfall. There is a paved path to the waterfall as well, making this spot wheelchair accessible.
Head towards the Lower Falls and stop to get some photos and a close-up view. Continue meandering along the river where you may see people fishing. You’ll encounter a small bridge that takes you across the river and into a secluded wooded path. Continue up the stairs and explore the falls from a new side. There are so many beautiful places to rest, take pictures, or have a snack. Eventually, you’ll see a large bridge that takes across the top of the falls and back towards the entrance of the park.
Pro tip: Nic and I tried to visit this park on a summer weekend, and we couldn’t even find a parking spot so we had to leave! This state park is very popular and for good reason! When I did get to visit, it was mid-April and fairly empty.
3. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
There’s no denying Minnesota is a beautiful state. One of the most scenic and photo-worthy spots in Minnesota is the Split Rock Lighthouse. There are a few different points of entry, all of which you can read about here. We love walking along Pebble Beach, which is about a ten-minute walk through a densely wooded path before the view opens up to breathtaking views of Lake Superior. This is a great spot to stop and take photos or cool off by dipping your toes in the cold lake water. You can also take a tour of the lighthouse and learn all about its history. Learn more here on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website.
4. Tettegouche State Park
One of my favorite spots along the north shore is Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park. Although the hike is just .75 miles each way, it’s almost entirely climbing stairs on the way up to the lookout point. The view is definitely worth the workout, and you won’t regret the climb.
Tettegouche State Park is the largest state park as you make your way along Lake Superior’s North Shore, and Shovel Point is just one tiny part of the park. The remaining 9,000+ acres of the park are inland and include the Baptism River, several lakes, semi-mountainous trails, undisturbed hardwood forests, over 20 miles of hiking trails, and a series of waterfalls.
5. Temperance River State Park
This massive state park has over 5,000 acres of diverse trails. With a rocky shoreline, a river that cuts through billion-year-old rock, and several waterfalls surrounded by dense forest, this is a park not to be missed.
Just a few steps from the highway you’ll encounter the first powerful waterfall. Continue on and you’ll find meandering, quiet riverside trails. Know that this park comes with steep drop-offs, fast-moving rivers, and pathways that can become slippery, which may be tough for children and dogs.
Another option is to hike Carlton Peak, which is a popular place to hike, rock climb, and snowshoe. This trail is especially lovely in the spring before the leaves have returned, blocking some breath-taking views. And, like most hikes on the North Shore, it’s gorgeous in the fall when the leaves turn vibrant colors.
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6. Cascade River State Park
Just a short 15-minute drive south of Grand Marais, Cascade River State Park is a must-see stop. A few steps from the parking lot, you’ll encounter your first waterfall. Continue deeper into the park, and stop a few minutes later when you pass another waterfall. Walk up the incline and encounter yet another cascading waterfall. Everywhere I looked, I wanted to stop and take photos.
Part of the Superior Hiking Trail snakes through this park so you can get a taste of that popular backpacking trail. This is a great park to visit in any season, but if you can visit in the spring when the waterfalls are ripping through the park, that would be the most breathtaking time. I went in April when everything was green, wet, and quiet. It was a beautiful walk in the woods.
7. Kadunce River State Wayside
The Minnesota State Parks and trail system includes nine waysides, and this is one of them. At any Minnesota state park, you’ll need to pay a daily fee or have the annual state park pass, however, you don’t need a state park pass to park at a wayside.
From the parking lot, you can walk a few steps onto a rocky Lake Superior beach. Have a picnic, skip rocks and listen to the waves crash. Or, walk across Highway 61 and head into a wooded and secluded path where you may encounter people fishing and a few other people hiking.
8. Judge C.R. Magney State Park
This park, in far northeastern Minnesota, is an oasis for waterfalls, wildlife, trees, and quiet trails. Many trails are rocky with uneven terrain so wear hiking boots for safety. You may see people fishing for trout or having a picnic by the extremely popular Devil’s Kettle waterfall.
The waterfall has stumped scientists for years as half of the waterfall seems to “disappear.” People have tossed sticks, GPS trackers, and ping pong balls down the falls waiting for them to pop up further down the river, only to be disappointed when they never show up again. A DNR hydrologist finally confirmed that the waterfall goes underground into a pothole and reemerges roughly 500 feet downstream!
9. Grand Portage State Park
Minnesota’s most northern state park brings you to the state’s tallest waterfall. Although it’s partially in Canada, it’s still in Minnesota! Take the one-mile round-trip paved path to the waterfall, which is what we did. If you’re looking for an expert level hike, take the 4.5-mile round-trip trail to Middle Falls, a 20-foot waterfall. This trail is heavily wooded and rugged. It will take you 3 to 4 hours to fully appreciate all its beauty.
Sleep Just Steps From Lake Superior
When you’re done with your hikes and adventures, rest and recover at the Cascade Lodge in Lutsen. We’ve stayed here twice and had a great experience both times.
Cascade Lodge has several options including a large lodge, small cabins, and even a few luxury homes. You can really find whatever level of comfort and price point you’re looking for.
We stayed in the main lodge, which was a very nice experience. The building was clean, quiet and the employees were friendly and helpful. There is an open and charming lounge with a lot of natural light. It has a real Minnesota feel with plaid pillows, a fireplace, and large wooden beams running across the ceiling.
We were lucky to get a room with windows that faced Lake Superior both times we stayed there. It’s a real special treat to wake up and see Lake Superior sparkling just a few hundred feet away. We didn’t get to go inside any of the cabins, but we walked past them. They looked super cozy and rustic and they back up to Cascade River State Park.
One of the most convenient things is a restaurant adjacent to Cascade Lodge, Cascade Restaurant and Pub, which has a large outdoor seating area with picnic tables and more great views of Lake Superior. To get our morning started we enjoyed strong coffee, fresh fruit, and egg sandwiches, and the restaurant even gives Cascade Lodge guests a discount!
Why I Love Time Spent Up North
The North Shore of Lake Superior is certainly unlike any other area in Minnesota, and it’s unlike most places in the Midwest. Its rugged beauty changes with each passing season and I can’t wait to return for my next trip. Looking for more North Shore inspiration? Check out my post on things to do in Duluth and Grand Marais!