Exploring State Parks – Minnesota

When it comes to exploring Minnesota the best way is back to nature. And the best way to experience it is through our State Parks. There are over 66 State Parks in Minnesota and all of them include the water in some way.

Little known facts about Minnesota:
Minnesota is known for it’s “10,000 Lakes”. But according to Wikipedia it could be over 21,000? In 1968 there were 11,842 lakes surveyed that are at least 10 acres in size or bigger. And there are over 92,000 miles of rivers and streams with the largest rivers being the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers. Our water areas are just one place you can find peace, serenity and quality family time. Come Exploring Minnesota!


Exploring the 10 Most Popular State Parks In Minnesota

#1 – Fort Snelling State Park

Historic Fort Snelling and Fort Snelling State Park can be explored year round. Located near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport which attracts many tourists. For winter fun in Minnesota, there are trails you can wander and even rent snowshoes. However it is more likely that you are better off visiting during Spring through Fall as more of the attractions are available and the restrooms will be operating.

Another notable about Fort Snelling is the historic fort itself. There is over 10,000 years of history there as it was originally Dakota Sioux Indian lands. During certain times of the year they have Civil War re-enactments. This is a very popular venue during Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends for families. My own children did school visits when they were in elementary school and I always made sure I was a chaperone on those trips.

#2 – Gooseberry Falls State Park

This location was one of my mom’s favorite places to visit with the many picturesque locations throughout the park. Its a must-see for any visitor.


Gooseberry Falls State Park is the gateway to the other North Shore State Parks. Three levels of falls – Upper, Middle, and Lower, flow through an amazing gorge with a thunderous roar. There are a total of 5 falls flowing through the Gooseberry River and the gorge. The sites are amazing to view and even if you’ve been there before, you will find new sites throughout the park.

In winter the park can be enjoyed with winter camping – yes that is such a thing! Cross-country skiing, Snowshoeing, snowmobiling have trails available for winter use. Some of the trails are for the more experienced snowshoers.

Warmer months brings out much exploring with hikers and bikers. Be sure to bring your camera as there are many options for photo opportunities.

#3 – Itasca State Park

Known for being the home of the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River, this is a definite destination location in Minnesota for many visitors in the warmer months of the year. But did you know that it has camping spots and lodging available year-round? Why not head this way for some winter fun in Minnesota?

With 13 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, 31 miles for snowmobilers and snowshoes have free reign over all 32,000 acres and over 100 lakes, you may not run into another soul while visiting. While there head over to the headwaters and also enjoy remnant stands of virgin pine which were saved from the loggers in 1891 when the park was established.

#4 – Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche is another of our 8 North Shore State Parks with semi-mountainous terrain spread out over 9,346 acres of land. It includes a mere 1 mile stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, six inland lakes, several waterfalls and cascading rivers including the awe-inspiring High Falls, a 60 foot waterfall. It is no wonder that nature enthusiasts and the general public love coming here to visit and the hiking trails along Baptism River and a section of the Superior Hiking trail welcomes them. The hiking trails overlook Sawtooth Mountains. Yes, even Minnesota has mountains! You will also find yourself exploring the untouched hardwood forest, a true rarity and gem.

For those coming in the winter months, you can look forward to the 23 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, and 12 miles of snowmobile trails. You can find lodging if you book early or just get lucky and stay right in the park at Tettegouche Camp in one of four cabins. Which is only accessible by foot, cross-country skiing, snowshoes or mountain bike in the winter.

Another source of lodging is the cabin overlooking Illgen Falls. This is a cabin you can drive to rather than walking in like at Tettegouche Camp. And the bonus is that there is a bathroom INSIDE the cabin too! No midnight walks to the toilet outdoors.

#5 – Jay Cooke State Park

This hidden gem is just off of Interstate 35, south of Duluth and if you only have an hour to spend hiking, do it here. We have personally stayed here for a fall time Boy Scout camp-out where we biked some of the trails nearby. This park welcomes snow mobilers to connect up to the Willard Mungar State Trail where we did our bike trip, almost 7 miles for snowshoeing, 20 miles of well groomed trails for the cross-country skier with another 12 when snow and time permits.

In the non-winter months, the trails are perfect for the bikers, horseback riders, a specific mountain bike trail and 50 miles of hiking trails. And with the Willard Mungar State Trail connecting with it, it is the perfect blend to extend your stay.

Looking for a bit more adventure? Be sure to take a walk on the swinging suspension bridge that crosses over the raging Saint Louis River. If you are a history buff, this one is a definite must for exploring.

#6 – Whitewater State Park

Located in the bluff country of south east Minnesota. One unique view visitors will see year-round are Bald Eagles. The Mississippi and Whitewater rivers areas are expanding the Bald Eagle population. Seeing them in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring site for both young and old alike.

Although it has been years, I have made many visits to Whitewater State Park, but it was always in winter. They have a fabulous group camp area with cabins. We would hold our Multi-Troop campouts here, where the local Boy Scout troops would spend a weekend earning merit badges, learning skills and practicing brotherhood. When you put 100+ boys ages 10-17 plus a dozen or so dads together in an area for an entire weekend, along with a cabin set aside for us moms makes for amazing memories!

Some of the things the boys love to do are chopping wood, going exploring on night hikes with no flashlights, making rockets and launching them, sleeping outside in tents to earn the Zero Hero award and even . Saturday night would culminate with special awards for the scouts and skits by each of the troops. Afterwards the scouts are given the option of “lights out” or night hike. The boys learn to open their other senses as they hike around the bluffs.

In summer, this Minnesota state park is popular for its camping. RV sites, tent sites and even the cabins play host to the weekend visitors. The nearby sandy swimming beach attracts the kids while the trout streams offer an angler’s paradise with rainbow, brook and brown trout.

#7 – Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

A photographer’s dream any day you visit. See something different every time. Being best known for its historic lighthouse sitting majestically on the edge of the cliff. But the recreational activities available to all visitors are numerous.

Haul in your supplies for a night or weekend of camping along the North Shore, plan a day or longer for hiking or geocaching along the trails which link up with the Superior Hiking Trail, or drop a line for trout or salmon. There is nothing like relaxing around the campfire after a sightseeing hike and reeling in dinner. Create memories to last a lifetime with your family and friends.

Just be sure to prep your campsite for the wide variety of critters that you may come upon. You may have a chance to see a moose, black bear, raccoon, white-tail deer, red fox, bobcat, lynx or even the snowshoe hare. The elusive Jack-a-lope may even appear after a night of tall tales.

#8 – Interstate State Park

If you are looking for a place to wet your paddle, you need to make plans for exploring Interstate State Park. Located on the pristine St. Croix River in Taylor’s Falls just a short jaunt north of the Twin Cities, there are great locations for canoeing flat-water, kayaking through the rushing rapids or just taking a boat excursion. Landlubber? Feel free to explore the cliffs along the shoreline.

Between spring-time wildflowers and summer hikes to see the glacial potholes or one of 10 exposed different lava flows. The unique geology of this specific park brings geologists from all over the world, captivating them and drawing them in further for future visits.

During the winter start your exploring with snowshoes in the southern part of the park. The terrain is a bit too rugged for cross-country skis.

#9 – Temperance River State Park

Take yourself back in time to the 1660’s when one of the first visitors to this area that is now Temperance River State Park came upon it. The river received its name because unlike other rivers, it flowed so deep and hard into Lake Superior that there was nothing stopping it. No debris, known as a “bar” slowing the flow of water. It is a twist of words, it was a river without a bar and as the definition of Temperance means abstinence from alcoholic drink.

Outdoor winter enthusiasts come to enjoy the many hills for snowmobiling & snowshoeing. In warmer months, rock climbers come out to try the newly added Carlton Peak. Make a weekend out of it as there are campsites on both sides of the river for you to relax and get back to nature.

#10 – Flandreau State Park

Located in South Central Minnesota near the German heritage town of New Ulm, this is a popular destination for families of all ages. A sand-bottomed swimming pond keeps the kiddos busy during the warm, humid summer months of Minnesota. Like many of the other State Parks in Minnesota, this too has a river running through it. The Cottonwood River is more of a meandering waterway as it winds it’s way through the park.

In 1945, the name of the park changed from Cottonwood State Park to Flandreau after Charles E. Flandreau. He assisted in the first draft of the Minnesota Constitution, but was more instrumental in New Ulm during the US-Dakota War of 1862. Besides New Ulm already has Hermann the German so they couldn’t use that!

So Much Exploring To Do

After you have visited our various State Parks that are scattered around the state and you want something more to explore, don’t forget about our different summer attractions like the Mall of America, Minnesota Zoo, Como Zoo, Duluth Aquarium, Congdon Mansion in Duluth, and much much more.

Finding yourself in Minnesota during the winter? Be sure to check out my page on Winter Fun in Minnesota here!