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Minnesota state parks you can enjoy any time of the year

Hikers stand along the Baptism River near the frozen High Falls waterfall at Tettegouche State Park on a winter afternoon.

Hikers stand along the Baptism River near the frozen High Falls waterfall at Tettegouche State Park on a winter afternoon. Tony Webster

Minnesota has a state park for all types of recreation, whether you’re looking for a relaxing lakeside weekend getaway or an extended backpacking trip. And with the state’s I Can! beginner outdoor skillsbuilding program and guide to accessible outdoor activities for people with disabilities, everyone can enjoy the outdoors—even now, as they’re staying open and encouraging you to visit while social isolating. Here are some of our favorite year-round state park destinations.

Tettegouche State Park
Recommended if you like: North Shore views, waterfalls, rugged terrain

Having to pick a favorite North Shore state park is like having to pick a favorite child: We shouldn’t, but we can, and we did. It’s Tettegouche State Park, about halfway between Duluth and Grand Marais.

Though you can hit all the popular scenic hiking spots in half a day, you couldn’t experience everything Tettegouche has to offer even if you spent a week there. Palisade Head and Shovel Point offer sweeping vistas of Lake Superior’s rocky shoreline, and the High Falls waterfall on the Baptism River is well worth the hike.

For more adventurous park-goers, Tettegouche offers a network of hiking trails varying from mild inclines to rugged terrain with forest overlooks and precarious muddy switchbacks, leading to year-round rentable cabins at the remote Tettegouche Camp. The Superior Hiking Trail passes through the park, but backpackers looking to settle in for a few nights might prefer the reservable hike-in campsites at nearby George Crosby Manitou State Park.

Tettegouche is a great winter destination, with groomed ski trails and snowshoes available for rent. The park is also popular with ATVers looking to access the surrounding trails and snowmobilers heading to the 146-mile North Shore State Trail.

Pro-tip: There can be tough competition for North Shore campsites, especially during long summer weekends and peak fall foliage season. But drive just 10 minutes inland from a packed Tettegouche State Park campground, and you might find the Eckland or Finland state forest campgrounds nearly empty.

The icy Kettle River winds through St. Croix State Park during a winter sunset.

The icy Kettle River winds through St. Croix State Park during a winter sunset. Tony Webster

St. Croix State Park
Recommended if you like: dirt road drives, river recreation

Situated between Minneapolis and Duluth, St. Croix is Minnesota’s largest state park and an excellent getaway all year long.

In summer, explore panoramic overlook spots above the Kettle River and walk up the steep steps of an old fire tower that pokes above the thick forest canopy. The centralized campgrounds can get boisterous, but canoes and kayaks are available to rent for a paddle to a secluded river campsite. The park also has an equestrian campground with access to miles of horseback trails.

In winter, much of the park is closed to vehicle access, but park staff promptly plows the main roads leading to reservable cabins, guest houses, and year-round campsites with electric hookups and access to 11 miles of ski trails, and a warming house next to snowmobile trails with indoor fireplaces and heated restrooms.

Zippel Bay State Park’s shoreline along Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota

Zippel Bay State Park’s shoreline along Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota Tony Webster

Zippel Bay State Park
Recommended if you like: ice fishing, snowmobiling

Each autumn, at the northern edge of Minnesota, bright-yellow and -orange trees meet the sandy beaches at Zippel Bay State Park. Popular with anglers, the park offers a marina with access to the massive Lake of the Woods. There’s not much hiking here, but it’s worth a stop for some fall color camping.

Winter is when the Lake of the Woods region truly comes alive. The park connects to hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, and ice roads on the lake lead to heated fish-house rentals offered by nearby resorts, and even a bar and eatery, which Zippel Bay Resort sets up on the lake every year as soon as the lake ice thickens.

Whitewater State Park

The middle fork of the Whitewater River winds around the campgrounds at Whitewater State Park in southeast Minnesota on a spring afternoon.

The middle fork of the Whitewater River winds around the campgrounds at Whitewater State Park in southeast Minnesota on a spring afternoon. Tony Webster

Recommended if you like: blufftop views, springtime fishing

 

Though Whitewater State Park in southeast Minnesota is a worthy escape year-round, springtime is especially delightful.

Enjoy the wildflowers on a leisurely stroll along a trout-filled creek, or do the strenuous hike to the top of the park’s limestone bluffs before the leaves fill in to see a more dramatic view as eagles soar above the Whitewater River valley.

The park offers educational programs on maple syrup making, fly fishing, gardening, and morel mushroom foraging, and the unique geology and swiftly moving water mean your stay will be nearly mosquito-free.

A hike-in camping shelter in autumn at Maplewood State Park.

A hike-in camping shelter in autumn at Maplewood State Park. Tony Webster

Maplewood State Park
Recommended if you like: wildlife viewing, fall color hikes

Thick forests of maple and oak meet prairieland covering the rolling glacial hills at Maplewood State Park in west-central Minnesota. A five-mile scenic drive loop offers picturesque landscapes and is an excellent wildlife and bird-watching spot as winter fades to spring.

Thirty miles of trails provide hiking up to scenic overlooks and down to rustic camping shelters nestled deep in the forest, and the park has mountain biking and equestrian trail loops as well. Like many state parks, Maplewood has an entirely different map for the winter season, with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobile trails winding through it.

Minnesotans hunting for that fleeting moment of peak fall color can enjoy it a little bit longer here as the vibrant pageantry of autumn makes its way across the varied topography.

Maplewood State Park has camping options for RVers and car campers, remote sites for backpackers, an equestrian campground, and camper cabins with heat and electricity. The park office has boats, canoes, and snowshoes available for rent.

Quartzite cliffs above the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park in southwest Minnesota.

Quartzite cliffs above the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park in southwest Minnesota. Tony Webster

Blue Mounds State Park
Recommended if you like: prairie life, climbing, biking

Quartzite cliffs tower over the southwest Minnesota prairie at Blue Mounds State Park, telling a story of two billion years of geological processes. Reserve a tipi for your camping stay, and head out for a hike above or below the cliffs. Or bike on paved trails into the nearby town of Luverne.

Blue Mounds is home to a herd of bison, and tickets are available on a guided tour into their enclosure. Park trails are not maintained in winter, but are open for hiking and snowshoeing. The park is also a destination for rock climbers, with free permits available in the parking lot.

A sweeping vista of fall colors surround the Pigeon River at the Minnesota–Ontario border, as seen from Grand Portage State Forest.

A sweeping vista of fall colors surround the Pigeon River at the Minnesota–Ontario border, as seen from Grand Portage State Forest. Tony Webster

Don’t forget the state and national forests

Minnesota’s state parks get all the attention, but the many state forests and the Superior and Chippewa national forests can offer some more adventurous recreation with a little less human interaction—especially in the Arrowhead Region.

Wake up at the edge of the Boundary Waters at the Trail’s End Campground in summer, or rent a heated cabin at one of the many resorts along the Gunflint Trail and head for a hike on the Magnetic Rock Trail any time of the year.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers GeoPDF maps covering most of the state forests and public water access sites around the state. Open it up in the Avenza mobile app, and you’ll see a dot showing where you are on the map—even when you don’t have cell service. A location map shows where all the state forests and state forest campgrounds are located, and campground information is online for both the Superior National Forest and Chippewa National Forest.

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