My Favorite State Parks in Minnesota

If you enjoy the outdoors, buying a state parks pass every year is a must. In Minnesota, it’s $35 for an annual vehicle permit, giving you unlimited access to amazing parks all around the state. It’s a great way to support the natural spaces and resources, and so many state parks are underrated gems offering great hiking, swimming, and other outdoor recreation and fun. There are still many state parks in Minnesota I have not yet explored, but these are a few of my favorites I’ve been to in the last few years.

Wild River State Park

This is a great state park for a day trip or an overnight camping. It winds along the St. Croix River and is about an hour drive from the cities, making it easily accessible. There are good hiking trails, opportunities for canoeing, and the group campsites are nice and fairly secluded.

Note – it’s not the BEST camping and hiking of all MN state parks, but it’s great for a quick weekend away. One thing I did not know before making our reservation for a group campsite in Summer of 2022 was that there is a snake research facility somewhat nearby, and many visitors report seeing a lot of (non-venomous) snakes in the area. Thankfully, we did not see any snakes. If you’re deathly afraid of serpents, this would be a state park to avoid. Wild River State Park is also great for a short day trip from the cities, since it’s a quick drive.

A great nearby business to check out is Wild Mountain Winery! They made great pizzas and wines, had live music on site, and even had camping options so you could camp amongst the grapevines, and they have glamping options too. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re exploring this area of Minnesota.

Jay Cooke State Park

Located just outside of Duluth, Minnesota, Jay Cooke is a beautiful state park that deserves a visit when you’re exploring Duluth or other parts of the North Shore. It’s known for its iconic suspension bridge, ample hiking, cross country-skiing in the winter, camping, and being close to the city of Duluth. It’s perfect to visit on a day trip or to explore on a weekend spent in Duluth or other areas on the North Shore along Lake Superior. I’d love to camp here someday! Just be careful if visiting in spring – the flooding can close the bridge and the water can get wild.

Minneopa State Park

About a 90-minute drive south of the Twin Cities, Minneopa State Park in Mankato, is an excellent destination for a day trip. The hiking here is mostly flat — perfect for those who prefer a more leisurely nature walk instead of a hike. The unique features of this park include a bison drive-through (make sure to stay in your car, do not approach the bison!) waterfalls, and some forested and wetland areas in addition to the prairie. There were so many beautiful wildflowers and bison conservation educators at the park offering information about the herd.

On the way back to the cities, you can stop at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Jordan as a little detour. It’s a massive yellow barn, you can’t miss it. Here you can peruse aisles of not just candy but various baked goods, local goods, candles, artisan gifts, and more. It’s hectic and packed on the weekends, but worth a stop and a gander around — especially if you have a sweet tooth.

Tettegouche State Park

No outdoorsy-focused trip to the North Shore is complete without stopping at Tettegouche! This gorgeous state park in Silver Bay, Minnesota is known for its rocky coastline along Lake Superior, waterfalls, forests, and stunning viewpoints. You could easily spend an entire day exploring various trails and hiking paths. Admire the cliffs jutting out of Lake Superior, and enjoy the vast views of the largest freshwater lake in the world.

Mystery Cave State Park

I went camping here with a group of friends in Summer 2021, and it was an awesome state park. Not only can you embark on a long hike to the abandoned ghost town of Forestville, but booking a cave tour of the Mystery Cave is a highlight. This whole area of Southern Minnesota is super underrated – there’s a lot to see in Minnesota and you don’t always have to venture to the North Shore.

I would recommend spending at least one night at this state park, it’s far enough outside of the Twin Cities where a day trip would be too rushed. In addition to exploring Forestville and the actual Mystery Cave, check out Karst Brewing nearby in Fountain, Minnesota. They have great beers and a large patio with plenty of seating.

Banning State Park

Located in Sandstone, Minnesota, Banning State Park is a wonderful park for a day trip. It winds along the Kettle River and is home to some great hiking, waterfall views, and outdoor adventures like river rafting. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the Twin Cities, and is easy to access for a day trip.

One unique feature of this state park is the sandstone quarry remains which offer a unique historic look at this beautiful natural area. Banning State Park is a great choice for a day trip or a weekend of camping.

And those are some of my favorite state parks to check out in Minnesota! I hope to eventually cross all of them off the list, as well as make it to Voyageur’s National Park, the only official National Park in Minnesota. Some at the top of my list to explore next include Itasca State Park, Glacial Lakes State Park, and Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. If you’ve explored some great parks in Minnesota – please leave your recommendations below!

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