Local Travel Writers Share Their 35 Favorite MN Parks

Things to do in Minnesota

Expert Advice from Those Who Know Best

I’m so excited to celebrate National Walking Day on April 7 by partnering with local Minnesota travel writers who love walking, hiking and exploring as much as I do. Together, we’ve rounded up the best parks in Minnesota. From the must-see state parks to the hidden gems you maybe never heard of, these locals know the best spots to explore. Read on for the inside scoop on where to find parking, which trails have the best views, which places are kid-friendly, and more. How many have you been to?

1. Afton State Park

Galavant GalI’m excited to share with you my adventures as I galavant around both near and far, exploring everyday adventures through my camera lens.

Afton State Park is one of the largest parks near the Twin Cities with a number of amazing trails to keep you coming back for more. However, if you’re short on time or are only able to visit once, I recommend the North River Trail to make the most of your visit! 

Park your car the farthest away from the entrance, (back by the picnic tables) to be closest to the start of the North River Trail. Once you get down the set of stairs, the trail flattens out and you have amazing views of the St. Croix River. You can either follow the loop (which in total is just over 3 miles) around the prairie or once you reach the barrier of the park, turn around and walk back along the river the way you came for a shorter stroll. 

There are plenty of opportunities to make your way along the beach, so if the weather is on your side, pack a blanket and hang out for a while by the water to really make the most of your day. 

2. Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area

Minnemama Adventures: Nicki Brunner is an avid adventurer and mother of three who lives in the suburbs of Minneapolis. As an advocate for kindness, a preacher of positivity, and a firm believer that family comes first, she wants you to feel confident that adventuring with kids shouldn’t slow you down. Rather, it should bring you up.

Located near Stillwater, Minnesota, a hike through the Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area is sure to be a family favorite. Park your car in a free, on-street spot and jump right into the “choose-your-own-adventure” of plentiful trails, dirt paths, and rugged landscape that will lead you to a scenic overlook of the St. Croix River and the Arcola High Bridge (don’t forget your camera). But you’re not done there – be sure to proceed down to the water area and enjoy the beachy spots, climbable rocks, and wade-worthy streams. The ups and downs of the paths, the downed trees that serve as “bridges”, the woodsy surroundings that make you feel like you’ve entered a magical fairyland, the water and sand and trees, and sun…

Arcola Bluffs is more than 30 acres of wide-open space ideal for energetic and adventurous feet. If you have curious kids, don’t forget water shoes, Band-Aids, and snacks. Or simply make a pit-stop at Nelson’s Ice Cream on the drive home for some of the nummiest (and oversized) ice cream cones on the planet. 

3. Banning State Park

Look About Lindsey: Hi there! I’m Lindsey – a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based travel writer. I spend my free time exploring the hidden gems of Minnesota and destinations all around the world.

Banning State Park is so fun to explore. Follow the signs in the park to get to the falls. Know that it’s a longer, but easier, walk to get there. Admire the falls from the sandstone, or easily get up close to the base. Once you’re done, take the same way back, or if you’re up for a challenge, walk along the river for some great views and glacial potholes! Located in Hinckley, this hike is 1.5 hours north of Minneapolis and moderate in its difficulty level.

4. Bean and Bear Lake Loop

Lacey Elsewhere: My name is Lacey and I love documenting and sharing how my simple daydreams of being elsewhere can turn into wonderful adventures and memories. You can follow my digital adventure journal at @lacey_elsewhere on Instagram. I wholeheartedly enjoy connecting and building authentic communities with folks who refuse to quit their daydreams!

If you want to feel like you are in the mountains but don’t want to travel by plane, you have to check out the Bean and Bear Lake Loop on the Superior Hiking Trail! It is a more intense hike, so pack plenty of water and snacks and make sure to wear sturdy boots with ankle support as you’re in for about 7 miles with 1,000 ft elevation gain while climbing up some rocky terrain.

To avoid the congestion on this popular trail, head out bright and early on a sunny Saturday morning or late afternoon on a Sunday in October. After passing Bean Lake, take a rest at the next lookout point! Most folks are so excited to get to the well-known lookout at Bear Lake they zoom right past this incredible view, we had the whole space to ourselves and it’s the perfect spot to rest before taking on the second half of the loop.

5. Bear Head State Park

A Day Off with AJHey, I’m AJ – a girl that just loves travel. My blog is a place to endlessly dream about your next day off. Currently based in Rochester, Minnesota, I travel with my husband Tae and pup Luna. Since moving to Rochester four years ago, I’ve become a travel and outdoor enthusiast. I am always planning my next adventure and hope I can help you plan yours.

One of the most scenic state parks, Bear Head State Park, is located in Ely. There are 23 miles of lakeshore with breathtaking views of the lakes on every trail. There are four main trails, Norberg Lake Trail, Becky Lake Trail,  Blueberry Lake Trail, and Cub Lake Trail.

I recommend the 3.5 mile Norberg Lake Trail, the trail starts with Norberg Lake views and you can catch a glimpse of Bear Head Lake. There are paved and rugged trails, rolling hills and with amazing scenery around you at all times. Large white and Norway pines provide cool shade during most of the hike.

There are trails of various lengths and you could pick a short half mile or longer 6 mile hike. In the summer, you can take out a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard to enjoy the crystal clear water.

Bear Head Lake State Park was my favorite park I visited in 2020 and definitely top five of all Minnesota State Parks. Head to Ely to experience the beauty of Bear Head Lake State Park.

6. Boom Island and Nicollet Island Loop

Expedition Kristen: Hi! I’m Kristen – a Minnesota-based travel writer. I love exploring Minnesota and all it has to offer. You can usually find me checking out Minnesota’s hidden gems by hiking, kayaking, and scouting out dog-friendly breweries and trails.

I love spending time in downtown Minneapolis, and I especially love walking around the Boom Island and Nicollet Island area. You’ll find a ton of unique bridges and colorful Victorian-style homes. There is also a lighthouse on Boom Island and a large grassy park where you’ll likely see dogs and children playing, and people throwing frisbees.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by nature and in an oasis that feels far from the noise of the city. Yet, at certain spots, you’ll find breathtaking views of the Minneapolis skyline as well as the Mississippi River.

Pro tip: The parking in this area is really easy. It is rarely difficult to find a spot unless there is something unique happening like a Vikings or Twins game. To save yourself a little time when parking in downtown Minneapolis, download the MPLS Parking app ahead of time. You can get your credit card and vehicle information entered before you even leave home. Then you can pay for parking and add more time directly through the app without having to rush back to the meter to add more time.

7. Caribou Falls State Wayside

Raarup Adventures: We’re a local adventure couple that enjoys all things travel, outdoors, and food-related.

Caribou Falls has hands down been one of our favorite hidden gems we’ve uncovered during our adventures (we almost feel guilty sharing it). Since we took our first hike there in the summer of 2019, we’ve been back a handful of times both in the winter and summer.

Technically known as Caribou Falls State Wayside, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of the road about 45 miles north of Two Harbors. The entire hike takes about 1.5 hours with a slow walking pace and time spent at the waterfall. Go in the summer for a refreshing swim and in the winter if you would like to see the waterfall in all its frozen glory. Our favorite time to go is during the winter when you’re able to take a shorter route up the frozen river. Please be careful when walking on the ice. Make sure to bring out everything you bring with you and be respectful of your surroundings.

8. Carley State Park

Paige Outdoors: Paige Outdoors is all about exploring the Midwest and beyond in search of the best adventures and views.

Carley State Park is located right outside of Plainview, Minnesota, and it’s a short 15-minute drive to the more well-known, Whitewater State Park. Although Carley State Park is a smaller park, don’t let that fool you because it is well worth the stop.

You will find that Carley has about 6 miles of hiking trails— the trails make something similar to a loop around the park creating a great opportunity to check out the park in its entirety during any season. One of my favorite things about this park is how underrated it is. There’s been a handful of times that I go hiking and I am the only one in the parking lot. I personally prefer to visit Carley State Park in the winter because it is well protected by the trees and wooded area, so it keeps you out of the wind. Also, the creek rarely freezes over and it is so peaceful to hear the running water as you make your way over the concrete block river crossings along many points of the park.

During the winter months, the road through the park is closed because it is not plowed. The first parking lot is the only lot where you can park your car. It gives you three different options for trails. Or, you can walk on the main road to get to the second parking lot, more trails, and camping areas.

9. Cascade River State Park

This Big Wild World: Susan believes there’s a sense of adventure inside of everyone, waiting to be discovered. From epic travel experiences around the world to outdoor adventures closer to home in Minnesota, her mission is to inspire others to discover their inner adventurer because life is better with adventure. This big wild world is waiting for you!
 

Do you love chasing waterfalls? If so, Cascade River State Park along Minnesota’s north shore of Lake Superior is for you! Now, what if I told you that this park also has some pretty epic views of Lake Superior and the surrounding area up to Canada? Mind blown?! 

Just a short drive from the popular harbor town of Grand Marais, Cascade River State Park makes for a perfect day trip. Also, the 300+ mile Superior Hiking Trail snakes its way through the park if you want to get a taste for this popular backpacking trail.

Be sure to check out the less than one mile Cascade River Lower Loop Trail for views of the park’s namesake – cascading waterfalls. If you want a longer hike, follow the signs for the Lookout Mountain Loop Trail which is 3.5 miles round trip. Be aware that this trail has a steep incline and often has muddy sections but you’re rewarded with a pretty incredible view at the end!

This is a great park to visit in any season, but if you can time it right to catch a glimpse of the fall colors you won’t regret it!

10. Chain of Lakes

Nattie Up North: Natalie Dillon, creator of “Nattie up North” is a Minneapolis-based writer, digital content creator, blogger, and TV producer and host. A lover of all things “North,” she uses her platforms to create content and tell stories that inspire, uplift, and empower others to get outside and enjoy life.

Welp, I’d be lying if I said my standard dose of “nature” took place anywhere but the well-paved and often busy sidewalks of Minnesota’s largest city – Minneapolis. Stay with me.

Yes, I am a true nature-lover. And yes, I spend much of my time within the city limits of Minneapolis. But walking “the lakes” has become my almost-daily outdoor refuge, supplying ample amounts of nature sights, nature sounds and soul-boosting nature feels.

The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, which includes Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake Harriet, Lake of the Isles, and Bde Maka Ska, combines miles of paved walking paths, plus beaches, parks, and ample waters for fishing and paddling.

Lake Harriet, Bde Maka Ska, and Lake of the Isles tend to be the most popular for walkers. Start anywhere, follow the easily accessible paths along the shoreline, and enjoy taking in the trees, blooming flowers, and wildlife, all with the added fun of some great people watching and views of the Minneapolis skyline.

Some helpful things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t be scared off if you tend to think “city” means difficult driving or parking. The Lakes are easy to get to, and the surrounding streets provide ample free parking.  
  2. If you like people-watching, go at peak hours of weekday evenings or weekend afternoons. Want a quieter retreat? Try late morning on a weekday.
  3. Watch for the blue signs that signal walking paths versus bike paths. In the winter, typically only the bike path is cleared of snow, and you’re good to walk there.

11. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

Minnesota Yogini: Lacey Doboszenski is a family travel blogger, freelance writer, and adult and children’s yoga teacher in the Brainerd Lakes Area of Minnesota. Follow her family’s adventures on her social platforms under Minnesota Yogini or on her blog at Minnesotayogini.com.

Cuyuna Country is a unique area of Minnesota that is a must-see. The red dirt against the bright blue lakes makes it a breathtaking area.

The area is known for its adventure sports, and for good reason. Here you will find amazing mountain biking trails and skill parks. You will also find crystal clear mine pit water for kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, and even scuba diving. The mine pit lakes are also excellent for trout fishing.

As great as the nature is in Cuyuna, the nearby towns are also fabulous. Crosby and Ironton both have excellent dining, local shopping, and specialty shops. They also both have really great playgrounds. The towns have both been steadily growing and every year it feels like there are cool new places to visit. 

Cuyuna also offers a lot of really cool and unique options for lodging, from tiny secluded cabins in the woods to yurts, cabin tents, and modern boutique hotels. There are also a few great campgrounds in the area. Truly, everyone will find something they love in Cuyuna Country. Whether you like shopping or adventure, nature or modern amenities, Cuyuna Country has something for you!

hike pike island loop at fort snelling state park

12. Fort Snelling State Park

Expedition Kristen: Hi! I’m Kristen – a Minnesota-based travel writer. I love exploring Minnesota and all it has to offer. You can usually find me checking out Minnesota’s hidden gems by hiking, kayaking, and scouting out dog-friendly breweries and trails.

There are many beautiful places to hike in Minnesota, but the Pike Island trail at Fort Snelling State Park is a bit of a hidden gem I only recently discovered. Pike Island is part of Fort Snelling State Park. You can either drive into the state park, where you will need to pay a fee, or you can park at Historic Fort Snelling, which is free. From there you can walk to Pike Island.

The trails are poorly marked and at times it is unclear which way to go. There are a few trail maps scattered around the island, but they aren’t super clear. We took the longer trail, which circles the entire island, however, there are a few options to cut across the island for shorter loops. Depending on where you begin and which path you take, your hike could be anywhere from one mile to four miles in length.

The Mississippi River side of the island has a sandy beach and people are often swimming and boating there in the summer. You can also see Crosby Farm Regional Park across the river on the north side. On the south side, you’ll see the Minnesota River surrounded by wildflowers and areas dense with trees.

It’s a beautiful spot and an easy way to get lost in nature without leaving the Twin Cities. Popular with hikers, runners, and families, Fort Snelling, and specifically Pike Island will only get more beautiful as the seasons pass, the river freezes and thaws, and the trees change colors.

13. George Crosby Manitou State Park

A Day Off with AJ: Hey, I’m AJ – a girl that just loves travel. My blog is a place to endlessly dream about your next day off. Currently based in Rochester, Minnesota, I travel with my husband Tae and pup Luna. Since moving to Rochester four years ago, I’ve become a travel and outdoor enthusiast! I am always planning my next adventure and hope I can help you plan yours!

Located near the North Shore of Lake Superior, George Crosby Manitou State Park is located in Finland. It is located 40 minutes away from the popular Gooseberry Falls State Park. 

One thing to know before heading to this park is to expect gravel roads and weak or no cell phone reception. While it’s a great way to fall off the grid, it’s best to be prepared for it. Also, all garbage is pack-in, pack out, and there are only primitive toilets on site.

When you arrive at the park, make sure to stop and read the information board. It shares travel tips, rules, and information about the trails. The park has three main trails – Humpback trail, Middle Trail, and Benson Lake Trail. The first two are steep terrain and moderate difficulty. Benson Lake Trail is mostly flat, with a boardwalk around the lake. The trail can have overgrowth and might be difficult to navigate so I highly recommend a saved map and compass to guide your hike.

Following the trails, you’ll hear the gentle streams of a waterfall nearby. Cascade Waterfall is one of the prettiest waterfalls in Minnesota and I suggest spending time walking by the falls and seeing it from various heights. I highly recommend visiting this treasure near the North Shore!

14. Glendalough State Park

Girl of 10,000 Lakes: Jenny from Girl of 10,000 Lakes takes you to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and other places connected to the outdoors. Her goal is to evoke inspiration and wonder through the beauty of the great outdoors.

Glendalough State Park is an easy but gorgeous hike at 3.3 miles. The trail surrounds beautiful Annie Battle Lake which is super clean and pristine. There’s even a sand beach along the way if you want to stop and enjoy the scene. We saw plenty of deer tracks pressed into the sand. The hardwood trees that surround the lake are all golden, orange and red tones in the fall. The trail begins and ends at the trail center and varies from hard-packed gravel to grass. There’s also a bike trail and a bike rental center right near the trailhead if you’re interested in exploring by wheels.

We ended up camping at Glendalough State Park in the Lil Hotdish. They actually opened the one RV site for a limited time because the park attendant who stays on-sight was off for the season. That being said, there are also two yurts, four cabins, 22 cart-in campsites, three canoe sites and one group campsite.

There is a bike rental place onsite called Galloping Goose Rentals. The folks there rent out bicycles, multi-passenger surreys, tandem bikes, and watercraft rentals of all kinds. We rented a rowboat to go fishing on Annie Battle Lake and ended up catching and releasing quite a few fish! Because the lake is a Heritage Fishery, there are no motors allowed. All largemouth, smallmouth and northerns are catch-and-release. There’s a limit of five for crappies and sunfish.

Be sure to visit the restored historic Glendalough lodge on the north side of the lake. You’ll learn about the park’s history as a private retreat and game farm for the Minneapolis Tribune.

15. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Lacey Elsewhere: My name is Lacey and I love documenting and sharing how my simple daydreams of being elsewhere can turn into wonderful adventures and memories. You can follow my digital adventure journal at @lacey_elsewhere on Instagram. I wholeheartedly enjoy connecting and building authentic communities with folks who refuse to quit their daydreams!

If you’re looking for an easy adventure with incredible views checkout Gooseberry Falls State Park in early October for peak fall foliage! I explored this park during a busy time of year on a Friday afternoon, there were tons of cars and people but this park is big enough that you can spread out and experience lots of solitude. Here’s how I did it!

Skip the overcrowded Lower Falls and after stopping to use the restroom in the visitor’s center, head straight up the trail to the Upper/Middle Falls. After wandering along the river for a while there is a bridge that I highly recommend crossing. This is where I found a completely secluded patch of rocky riverbed that I had completely to myself for stacking rocks and soaking in the babbling water.

Continue up the path and explore the woods. There are so many scenic places to settle in to hangout, snap some pictures, or have a snack. Eventually, you’ll see large rocks that act as a natural path across the stream that make a wonderful place to take a break and soak in some nature. Then, jump over to the other side and loop back towards the entrance of the park.

16. Interstate State Park

Jet Lagged Jenna: Hi, Jenna here! I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and am now living in the beautiful state of Minnesota. I am a Midwest girl at heart, and I love traveling all over the United States.

This last fall we went exploring at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls. I fell in love with the area quickly due to the awesome walking trails and the amazing views it offered. It is also located right on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, so if you are from Wisconsin it is easily accessible as well. I highly recommend going in the fall for endless views of colorful trees. There are so many great look-out points, and even if you step off the trail you can get beautiful views of the bluffs and the river.

One thing I want to warn, the trails are fairly narrow and sometimes steep, but I think it is a really do-able trail. For the geology nerds, like me, there are also glacial potholes and is so fun to see.

Lastly, this could also be an awesome spot for canoeing, paddle boarding, or rock climbing. Bring along a cup of coffee or hot tea and make a day out of it.

17. Itasca State Park

Katie Out Exploring: Katie of Katie Out Exploring is a Duluth-based outdoors (and beer) enthusiast.

A crown jewel of Minnesota state parks, Itasca State Park offers a huge range of nature and activities. The park’s main attraction is the headwaters of the Mississippi River. I particularly enjoy visiting in summer or early fall and bringing a beach towel so I can wade across the headwaters. It’s incredible to realize that the water will eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center near the east entrance provides a great overview of the historical search for the origin of the Mississippi and the park’s development, including the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The historic Douglas Lodge is a beautiful example of this work, and worth checking out, even if you aren’t staying there or eating in the restaurant.

Don’t miss gazing up at the beautiful pines of Preacher’s Grove, driving or biking the scenic Wilderness Drive, and climbing the Aiton Heights fire tower. With 16 total miles of paved biking trails, Itasca is great for casual cycling. A vendor at the Lake Itasca boat access offers bike rentals as well as boat, kayak, and paddleboard rental. All this park has to offer makes it one of my absolute favorites. 

18. Jay Cooke State Park

Katie Out Exploring: Katie of Katie Out Exploring is a Duluth-based outdoors (and beer) enthusiast.
 
Best known for its iconic swinging bridge, Jay Cooke State Park makes a fantastic stop on a trip to Duluth or the North Shore. From the park’s visitor center you can easily access the swinging bridge and then climb along the diagonal rocks framing the St. Louis River rapids. I think it’s so exciting to get up close to the powerful river (with appropriate caution, of course). Visit in the spring to see the river at full force.
 
While the bridge and surrounding rocks are a lovely highlight, I suggest venturing further into the park to Oldenburg Point, which offers a lovely picnic area and convenient access to gentle trails overlooking the river valley. Some of these trails are open to hikers and snowshoers in the winter.
 
In addition to a variety of hiking trails within the park, you can also access two incredible trail systems from Jay Cooke: the foot-traffic-only Superior Hiking Trail and the paved multi-use Willard Munger State Trail. From the visitor center, it’s about 10 minutes by bike on the Willard Munger State Trail to the picturesque Willard Munger Trestle Bridge. When I’m itching to get on the trail, Jay Cooke is where I go.

19. Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Impromptu Destination: Alena is originally from Belarus, and lives in Minnesota with her husband, four kids, her mom, and two dogs! She is a pharmacist and working full time. In her free time and on weekends she loves exploring Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond.

Lebanon Hills Regional Park is located in Eagan right off Cliff Road. I think it is a wonderful place for outdoor adventures, and it is one of my favorite parks to go to in the metro area. While pleasantly peaceful, the park has an abundance of activities available for everyone.

You can spend the entire day exploring and hiking all the trails, both paved and unpaved. Alternatively, you can also spend time swimming, fishing, grilling, and kayaking in the summer; and cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent from the visitors center if you do not own one. The park also has a nice network of mountain bike trails of varying difficulty levels. The bike trails are professionally maintained and are always groomed to perfection and marked very well. I recently mountain biked here with another mom friend to just get away for a bit and we absolutely loved it. My favorite time to visit and mountain bike here is in the fall when the colors are just starting to turn!

There are also miles of scenic and wooded equestrian trails that offer riders the opportunity to tour Lebanon Hills by horseback. How cool is that!? On top of it all, the park is free to visit, and the staff at the visitors center is always super helpful and nice. I love coming here and seeing people of many ages and lifestyles enjoying the park.

20. Minnehaha Regional Park

There Goes Jess: Just another girl who lives in Minnesota, but thinks traveling is best! Seriously, I’ve got a restaurant recommendation and an activity suggestion for anywhere you want to go!

Most people would agree that Minnehaha Falls is the perfect introduction to the Twin Cities, but it’s also a great spot for locals to discover as well. Less than 10 miles from Downtown Minneapolis, Minnehaha Regional Park is an urban escape with multiple trails, a disc golf course, bike rentals, a seasonal eatery (Sea Salt), and, of course, Minnehaha Falls.

If you’ve never seen the falls, there are two viewpoints you’ve got to check out. The first, from above the falls, is just behind the main building/eatery. There’s a bridge you can walk across to stand over Minnehaha Creek and look down over the falls. To get to the next viewpoint, cross over the bridge and take the stairs down to the base of the falls. This is my favorite view here! There are a few other trails from this point that bring you around the park if you’re wanting more of an adventure!

This is a popular park, so parking can be tricky. I suggest going mid-week if possible to avoid some of the crowds. There are a few parking lots and some street parking; most are pay lots.

21. Minneopa State Park

Leah B Lively: Leah loves to create, find and share memorable experiences that create joy! If she’s not traveling, she’s sure to be trying a new restaurant, exploring a park, or finding fun creative things to do at home!

Minneopa State Park is one of the most underrated parks near the Twin Cities in my opinion – and here’s why! The park is located in Mankato, just an hour and a half drive southwest of Minneapolis. Making it an easy drive from the Cities.

Once you get to Minneopa State Park, you’re almost instantly greeted by the stunning waterfalls over Minneopa Creek. The lower falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Southern Minnesota! The view is also one of the best, completely unobstructed.

In addition to chasing waterfalls and hiking, you can also see some wildlife at the state park. Minneopa features a 300+ acre bison range that can be enjoyed as you drive through in your vehicle. 

Don’t just take my word for it. Others seem to agree that it’s worth the trip – Minneopa State Park is currently rated 4.7 stars on Google!

The park is open all year round, but the bison trail is closed on Wednesdays and sometimes closed during the year, so be sure to check the park website for current hours. A Minnesota State Park Permit is needed for entry and can be purchased online for $7/day per vehicle or $35 for an annual permit.

22. Nerstrand State Park

Look About Lindsey: Hi there! I’m Lindsey – a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based travel writer. I spend my free time exploring the hidden gems of Minnesota and destinations all around the world.

Nerstrand State Park is a great family hiking spot that’s close to the Twin Cities. After an easy walk, you’ll make it to the falls, which are so pretty! We rested at the base of the falls and even found a few cool “ice caves” being we visited at the very end of winter!

This state park isn’t huge, but has nice wide paths and a great waterfall at the end of the trail. We even found a nice secluded spot right on the river to enjoy a brew.

Nerstrand State Park is just one hour south of Minneapolis and the trail is medium in difficulty.

23. Oberg Mountain Loop

Knead to Roam: Antonia Grant is a Minnesota mama who’s always in need of an adventure (and a latte!). Whether it’s in the kitchen or traveling the world, you can catch all of her adventures on Instagram at @knead.to.roam or at Families Love Travel.

Located near Tofte, Oberg Mountain Loop is a fantastic hike within the Superior Hiking Trail. This out-and-back loop scales Oberg Mountain and is about a 2.6-mile trek. You can access the parking lot off Hwy 61 (there is a sign indicating the turn). Amazing in every season (especially the fall!), Oberg Mountain Loop offers several panoramic stops showcasing stunning views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forest area, including Oberg Lake.

Be prepared for switch-backs, but Oberg Mountain Loop is doable for all skill levels (including kids!). Use caution along the trail, especially with kids in tow, as there are many cliffs and drop-offs without any guard rails. In the winter, ice cleats are recommended, as the trail can get very icy (especially during the melt/thaw season). In addition, leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.

This hike is one of the best options for anyone traveling along the North Shore looking for epic views of Lake Superior!

24. Pipestone National Monument

Minnesota Yogini: Lacey Doboszenski is a family travel blogger, freelance writer, and adult and children’s yoga teacher in the Brainerd Lakes Area of Minnesota. Follow her family’s adventures on her social platforms under Minnesota Yogini or on her blog at Minnesotayogini.com.

Pipestone National Monument is located in the town of Pipestone, in southwestern Minnesota. This park is part of the National Park Service. It is about one hour from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and 3.5 hours from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The 301 acre Monument consists of many quarry pits, 56 of the pits are active pipestone extraction sources. The park also is home to Pipestone Creek, beautiful quartzite cliffs, Winnewassa Falls, and the beautiful tallgrass prairie landscape that surrounds the quarries. Pipestone quarrying is reserved for American Indians who are enrolled in tribes recognized by the Federal government. Without proper permits, it is illegal to remove pipestone from the park. 

The Circle Trail is a great way to see the park. This is a .75 mile loop around the park. It’s a beautiful hike, full of a variety of nature and wildlife. The quartzite cliffs and Pipestone Creek are beautiful and the highlight is Winnewissa Falls. The different rock formations were a lot of fun and we all enjoyed climbing around and exploring. This trail is also great because it is mostly flat and very easy, great for all ages and abilities. There is also a nice picnic area by a small lake near the entrance to the park! A great place to hang out for a snack after your hike. 

If you are visiting with kids I highly recommend picking up a junior ranger booklet when you arrive. Help your child fill it out throughout your stay and watch them get sworn in as a junior ranger! The whole family will love it.

25. Scenic State Park

This Big Wild World: Susan believes that there’s a sense of adventure inside of everyone, waiting to be discovered. From epic travel experiences around the world to outdoor adventures closer to home in Minnesota, her mission is to inspire others to discover their inner adventurer because life is better with adventure. This big wild world is waiting for you!

Located just north of Grand Rapids in the Minnesota Iron Range, Scenic State Park offers loads of adventure on both land and water. It’s a popular destination for fishing for walleye, northern pike, and bass. In fact, some campers were catching their dinner each day I was there! Other popular water activities include canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

If you prefer hiking with beautiful views of glacially formed lakes, try the 1.8 mile Chase Point Trail and take a dip in the water to cool off on a hot day! The Fire Tower and Tell Lake Loop Trails are both beautiful but be mindful of mosquitoes if it’s humid or recently rained.

There are two different campgrounds in the park, Lodge and Chase Point. Book a campsite early and you just might snag one that is immediately across from the boardwalk and piers along the water. The piers make the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset or read a book while dipping your toes in the water.

Discover the beauty of Minnesota’s Iron Range and get a taste of the true North Woods experience at Scenic State Park!

26. Silverwood Park

There Goes Jess: Just another girl who lives in Minnesota, but thinks traveling is best! Seriously, I’ve got a restaurant recommendation and an activity suggestion for anywhere you want to go!

I first discovered Silverwood Park on a walk over my lunch break. Then one of my friends bought a house nearby and it became one of my favorite spots to explore. The park is nestled against Silver Lake, on the border of St. Anthony and Columbia Heights. It has walking paths, regional artwork, a sandy beach (with a roped-off swimming area), canoe and kayak rentals, and even some educational programming!

One thing I love about Silverwood Park is the self-guided sculpture/poetry/natural history tours. You can grab a park map that shows where all the stops are and learn something new while you’re here.

I suggest parking at the visitor center and then set out to explore. Most of the path is paved, but there are a few unpaved parts that branch off the main path. Make sure you cross over the boardwalk and onto the island while you’re here. It’s one of my favorite places in the park. If you’re here with a group of friends, pack a volleyball and play on the sand volleyball courts!

Pro Tip: The small café in the visitors center is a great place to grab a cup of coffee or a sandwich.

27. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

The Wanderlust Rose: Hi, I’m Emily Rose! I’m currently living out of my suitcase full time and working around the world. Follow along on the adventure, as I cross each experience off my bucket list.

Minnesota is such a beautiful state. But nowhere is as scenic or photo-worthy as the jaw-dropping North Shore along scenic Minnesota State Highway 61. If you’re planning a road trip, you’ll want to make sure you stop at several insanely “instagrammable” locations.

From waterfalls to towering rocky cliffs, the North Shore will impress and inspire you at every turn. One of the most iconic spots along Highway 61, Split Rock Lighthouse, is not only famous to the North Shore but Minnesota in general. You can either drive or walk to Pebble Beach. If you choose to walk, it’s about ten minutes 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!

28. Sugarloaf Cove

Raarup Adventures: We’re a local adventure couple that enjoys all things travel, outdoors, and food-related.

Sugarloaf Cove is a favorite and has been more of a yearly tradition since we began visiting the North Shore in 2015. We’ve visited this spot in the winter and summer, and it is gorgeous in all seasons, but our favorite is during the summer.

Be prepared for a bit of a steeper walk down to the cove, although most of the path has been redone with stairs. The cove is secluded and quiet, and most times there’s no one else there. We love hiking out to the point of the peninsula for gorgeous views of Lake Superior, bringing a picnic to eat there, skipping rocks, and hunting for agates.

Occasionally you’ll see some deer, minnows, and lots of chipmunks and squirrels. Please make sure to bring out everything you bring with you and be respectful of your surroundings.

29. Tettegouche State Park

Galavant GalI’m excited to share with you my adventures as I galavant around both near and far, exploring everyday adventures through my camera lens.

Tettegouche State Park is the largest state park as you make your way north along Lake Superior. Easily assessable from Highway 61, the stunning shoreline scenery includes two magnificent cliffs, Shovel Point and Palisade Head. 

The rest of the 9,346 acres of the park are more 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. 

The High Falls of the Baptism River, aptly named for being the highest waterfall located entirely in Minnesota, is absolutely worth the number of stairs you’ll need to climb in order to see it! Depending on where you start, the hike to the falls is either 1 mile or 3 miles round trip. 

30. Vermillion Falls Park

Leah B Lively: Leah loves to create, find and share memorable experiences that create joy! If she’s not traveling, she’s sure to be trying a new restaurant, exploring a park, or finding fun creative things to do at home!

If you’re looking for a fun, scenic, outdoor activity close to the Twin Cities, definitely check out Vermillion Falls Park. Located just 40 minutes southeast of Minneapolis, in Hastings, the park offers incredible views of a waterfall set right next to a gorgeous old factory. 

Vermillion Falls is also just minutes from the historic downtown area of Hastings. So, if you make the trip you could also explore the charming city while you’re at it!

The park is free and offers an observation deck, scenic waterfall views, walking trails, and rentable picnic pavilions.

We spent about an hour at Vermillion Falls, taking the trails to get up close to the waterfall, but you could spend more or less time depending on if you want to walk the trails or have a picnic!

From the observation deck, which is just steps from the parking lot, you can see the view pictured above! For more pictures see my full blog post on Vermillion Falls.

31. Voyageur National Park

Girl of 10,000 Lakes: Jenny from Girl of 10,000 Lakes takes you to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and other places connected to the outdoors. Her goal is to evoke inspiration and wonder through the beauty of the great outdoors.

Considering renting a houseboat for your trip to Voyageurs National Park? Look no further. I’ve put together a guide to help you bon voyage and embark on your national park journey into pristine wilderness, all while living on a boat. If you’re looking for a Northwoods getaway that actually feels like a vacation with an excursion, renting a houseboat and exploring Voyageurs National Park is definitely the way to go.

Minnesota is home to Voyageurs National Park. It’s located on the northernmost tippy tip of the state near International Falls. What makes this national park unique? Around 40 percent of it is water, there are 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and more than 500 islands. Talk about #lakelife. So what better way to discover Voyageurs than while living on a houseboat? 

I had so much fun on this Rainy Lake Houseboat trip to Voyageurs National Park. It was a vacation unlike any other I’ve been on. I got to spend time on a spectacular lake with my close friends, go fishing, have bonfires every night, hot tub while cruising, hike the national park trails, visit some of the historic sites and live on a boat.

32. Whitetail Woods

Impromptu Destination: Alena is originally from Belarus, and lives in Minnesota with her husband, four kids, her mom, and two dogs! She is a pharmacist and working full time. In her free time and on weekends she loves exploring Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond.

Whitetail Woods Regional Park is a hidden gem right in the center of Dakota County, just a mile north of Vermillion River. While this is a great place to take your dog and family for an easy hike, walk, or a run on a paved trail around a gorgeous lake, it also has an abundance of natural trails to explore.

Whitetail Woods features a large shelter pavilion, restrooms, and a super fun outdoor play area for children. In the wintertime, you can enjoy groomed cross country ski trails, snowshoeing, and a sledding hill. The trails are exceptionally well maintained and well-marked. This park also has camper cabins with immaculate wood architecture nestled back in the pines for rent all year round. These cabins are perfect for a nice getaway not too far away from the Twin Cities, but you do have to book far in advance, as these cabins sell out very fast.

If you are looking for a quaint and peaceful park with the “Up North” feel, make sure to check this park out. I promise you will not regret it!

33. Whitewater State Park

Paige Outdoors: Paige Outdoors is all about exploring the Midwest and beyond in search of the best adventures and views.

Whitewater State Park is located in southeast Minnesota and it’s one of my favorite Minnesota State Parks because of its diversity. Whether I’m hiking the bluffs for some of the best views, walking along the Whitewater River where I may spot someone trout fishing, or exploring some of southeast Minnesota’s driftless area are prairie grasses, it is truly a great park throughout all seasons.

This park gives visitors a wide variety of wildlife and unique experiences. I would suggest visiting during the week if you have the option, otherwise, you can expect it to be busy on Saturdays and most Sundays dependent on the weather. The nice part is that it is a large park so you should not cross paths with other visitors too much.

If you are looking to do some camping, Whitewater State Park offers a variety of camping options from group camp, cabins, accessible sites, electric sites, and more with vault toilets available all year-round. There are also showers, flush toilets, and a dump station available mid-April through mid-October.

The best views of the park can be found on Chimney Rock Trail, which is the most popular spot. I prefer the Coyote Point Trail because it offers more than one view of the park at multiple points along the bluff ridgeline. Both of these trails contain a large number of stairs at an incline. You will definitely get a good workout, but I promise the view is worth it!

34. William O’Brien State Park

Girl of 10,000 Lakes: Jenny from Girl of 10,000 Lakes takes you to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and other places connected to the outdoors. Her goal is to evoke inspiration and wonder through the beauty of the great outdoors.

If you haven’t been to William O’Brien yet, it’s a no-brainer. Take a hike and enjoy the fall colors. It’s so close to the Twin Cities, plus, Marine on St. Croix is the cutest little area worth exploring.

Riverside Trail at William O’Brien State Park is a 1.6-mile loop surrounded by gorgeous pines, maples, and other hardwoods. Much of the trail is surrounded by water including Lake Alice and the St. Croix River. The wildflowers and prairie grass are at peak color, while most of the trees are just starting to show shades of yellow, gold, or orange.

There are plenty of campsites, several camper cabins, and you’ll find a rest area along the trail every 900 feet. This trail is an easy one to do with kids, dogs, wheelchairs, with your significant other, girlfriends, or even by yourself. I brought along my girlfriends to hike this trail with me. It was such a fun girls’ day!

35. Wood Lake Nature Center

Knead to Roam: Antonia Grant is a Minnesota mama who’s always in need of an adventure (and a latte!). Whether it’s in the kitchen or traveling the world, you can catch all of her adventures on Instagram at @knead.to.roam or at Families Love Travel.

Wood Lake Nature Center offers an enchanting urban oasis nestled right along Hwy 35 in Richfield. There are over two miles of trails maintained within this 150-acre nature center.

Here, you can wander along crushed limestone trails, as well as a boardwalk that crosses the marshland. In the winter, you can also enjoy groomed cross-country ski trails. Couples, families, and solo walkers will love meandering through Wood Lake Nature Center searching for resident birds, turtles, and other local wildlife. Plus, adventurous visitors will love searching for the hidden geocaches waiting to be discovered! Wood Lake Nature Center also offers a variety of events out of the on-site interpretive center and managed by local naturalists.

If you’re looking for an easy-access hike within the Twin Cities, this one can’t be missed! From well-maintained trails to birdwatching to exciting events, Wood Lake Nature Center is truly a local hidden gem.

Lake superior minnesota north shore

Get Outside and Explore This Incredible State

I am so grateful to each of the travel writers who shared their favorite parks with us! I know there are so many fabulous spots around Minnesota that aren’t included on this list. We live in an incredible state that seems to have an endless amount of beauty.

With each passing season, hikes and views change, evolve, and become more breathtaking. Hopefully, this list is enough to get you started and exploring some new and exciting parks around Minnesota! Looking for more ideas? Check out this post on hiking and camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

6 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

shares