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Top 14 State and National Parks in Minnesota

Minnesota is an ideal destination for nature lovers because there are so many amazing ways to get active in the outdoors here. There are 75 state parks and recreation areas here to check out, as well as national park system sites and many county and city parks too. To help you get started on exploring the great outdoors, here are some amazing Minnesota parks to visit this year.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Two Harbors Split Rock Lighthouse on Northern shore of Lake Superior
Credit: Split Rock Lighthouse on Northern shore of Lake Superior by © Gerald D. Tang - Dreamstime.com

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Two Harbors

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is a great park to visit if you love waterfalls, picnicking, scenic views of Lake Superior and touring historic lighthouses. Top things to do here include taking a dip in the lake from Pebble Beach and snapping a few photographs of this iconic lighthouse. Gitchi-Gami State Trail is a top spot for hiking and biking and has a paved section that ends in Beaver Bay. You can also attend a ranger program here to learn about the shipwrecks that took place here. For camping, there are two wheelchair-accessible sites, four backpack sites, and 20 cart-in sites that are within 2,000 feet of a parking lot. Anglers enjoy fishing here, there are many types of wildlife to see, and the park has a fascinating history to learn about too.

Voyageurs National Park, International Falls Sunset reflected off the water near Ash River Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park
Credit: Sunset reflected off the water near Ash River Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park by © Patrick Barron - Dreamstime.com

Voyageurs National Park, International Falls

An incredible national park to spend time in while you’re in Minnesota is Voyageurs National Park, which is a top alternative to more crowded national parks in the U.S. This is a water-based park where you can take a ranger boat tour, reserve a watercraft, or bring your own boat. It is a series of interconnected waterways that is at the southern tip of the Northern Boreal Forest and filled with incredible views. Come here to fish, boat, take a tour, and hike. There are several commercial services that provide local guides, water taxis, and rental boats. All of the campsites here are accessible only by water, which means you’re in for a true adventure here. This is also a place to learn about geology through the park’s rock formations and perhaps even see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) on a clear night when the aurora is active.

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors Gooseberry Falls waterfalls at the state park in Minnesota
Credit: Gooseberry Falls waterfalls at the state park in Minnesota by © Mkopka - Dreamstime.com

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors

Another area near Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is Gooseberry Falls State Park, which is along the Lake Superior shoreline and features scenic waterfalls. There are also historic CCC log and stone structures to see here, a visitor center with a nature store, and multi-use accessible trails. There’s a 2.5-mile section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail that is paved and runs through the park and is great for biking. You can also access the Superior Hiking Trail between the visitor center here and the Split Rock River Wayside. Other fun things to do at this park are horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, cross-country skiing, and fishing. For camping, there are 60 drive-in sites, three pull-through sites, and a maximum RV length of 40 feet.

Whitewater State Park, Altura River and woodlands at Whitewater State Park
Credit: River and woodlands at Whitewater State Park by © Joe Ferrer - Dreamstime.com

Whitewater State Park, Altura

People in Minnesota visit Whitewater State Park for its rugged hiking trails, beautiful wildflowers in the spring, and great trout fishing in both summer and winter. Compared to other parks, there are far fewer mosquitoes here. There’s also a visitor center and year-around interpretative programs to check out. It’s a popular park in southeastern Minnesota with limestone bluffs and deep ravines. About 50 kinds of mammals and 250 kinds of birds live here. About two miles from the park is the Elba Fire Tower, a historic site east of the town of Elba. For camping, you can stay in one of the 148 drive-in sites, 16 pull-through sites, and 87 electric sites. The maximum RV length here is 50 feet.

Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, St. Paul View at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Credit: View at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area by Ken Lund via Flickr

Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, St. Paul

This National Park System destination is a 72-mile river park that’s in an urban setting and a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, hiking, biking, and birdwatching. Start your exploration of the area at the visitor center and then learn about the wildlife of the park. Throughout the recreation area, you can visit many different parks, overlooks, historic sites, and points of interest. To learn more about the area, check out the Mill City Museum, Science Museum of Minnesota, and Historic Fort Snelling. There are many places here to enjoy with your dog. There are no formal campgrounds here but primitive camping is allowed on some NPS-owned islands.

Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton Panoramic view of the St. Louis River rapids from the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park
Credit: Panoramic view of the St. Louis River rapids from the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park by © Susan Rydberg - Dreamstime.com

Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton

Jay Cooke State Park is great for hiking, camping, and seeing sights like the Swinging Bridge and Pioneer Cemetery. Get great views of the St. Louis River Valley from Olden Point. Backpackers, mountain and tour bikers, horseback riders, hikers, and cross-country skiers all enjoy this park. There are around 46 animal species and 173 types of birds that live here. For camping, there are 79 drive-in sites, one pull-through site, 21 electric sites, a maximum RV length of 60 feet, and four backpack sites.

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely Bear Head State Park in Northern Minnesota
Credit: Bear Head State Park in Northern Minnesota by © Jacob Boomsma - Dreamstime.com

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely

Bear Head Lake State Park offers a wilderness atmosphere and 23 miles of lakeshore in Minnesota. This park has awesome hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, fishing, and camping. The park is secluded in the Northwoods and has pristine lakes, black bears, wolves, moose, and eagles. It’s even a popular winter weekend getaway in Minnesota. There are three-bedroom guest houses and camper cabins to accommodate you at any time of the year. There are also 73 semi-modern drive-in sites, 45 electric sites, two canoe sites, and four backpacking sites for camping.

Blue Mounds State Park, Luverne Blue Mounds State Park is a small state park in southwestern Minnesota
Credit: Blue Mounds State Park is a small state park in southwestern Minnesota by © Jacob Boomsma - Dreamstime.com

Blue Mounds State Park, Luverne

Blue Mounds State Park is unique because it is home to a bison herd and also a great place for rock climbing. Prickly pear cactus and prairie grasses grow here. Birdwatchers enjoy watching the nesting blue grosbeaks at the park. There are about 13 miles of easy-to-moderate hiking trails and also a 2.2-mile paved bike trail at the park. Twenty miles of snowmobile trails are available within 10 miles of the park. For camping, there are 73 drive-in sites, 40 electric sites, and 14 walk-in sites.

Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone Pipestone National Monument in Southwestern Minnesota
Credit: Pipestone National Monument in Southwestern Minnesota by © Jacob Boomsma - Dreamstime.com

Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone

The land at Pipestone National Monument is sacred to the native people, who quarried the red pipestone here for generations. There are museum exhibits to learn about the site and no admission fees to enter. The park has 56 active pipestone extraction sources surrounded by tallgrass prairie. Members of federally recognized tribes can still apply for quarry permits to access the sacred stone. Pets on a leash are allowed at the park.

Grand Portage State Park, Grand Portage High Falls at US/Canadian border at Grand Portage State Park
Credit: High Falls at US/Canadian border at Grand Portage State Park by © NatmacStock - Dreamstime.com

Grand Portage State Park, Grand Portage

Visit Grand Portage State Park to see the highest waterfall in Minnesota and also the wildflowers in the spring and summer. High Falls plummets 120 feet down to the Pigeon River along the U.S/Canada border. It offers spectacular scenery and is a day-use park with hiking trails and hardwood-conifer forests. Overall, there are four miles of hiking trails and a 0.5-mile boardwalk that is accessible and offers a scenic overlook. Camping is not available here, but there are campsites at the Grand Portage Marina and RV Park that’s six miles away.

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona River Wetlands in the Fall
Credit: River Wetlands in the Fall by © Steven Prorak - Dreamstime.com

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona

When you’re in the Winona area, visit Great River Bluffs State Park for scenic blufftop views of the river valley and spectacular fall colors. The King’s Bluff Trail offers great views so bring your binoculars to look for eagles and hawks. There are over 35 mammal species and 100 bird species here. Enjoy the 6.5 miles of easy hiking trails and three miles of cross-country skiing trails in the winter. Camp in the 31 drive-in sites, four cart-in sites, or five bike-in sites.

Cascade River State Park, Lutsen Cascade River State Park in Minnesota
Credit: Cascade River State Park in Minnesota by © Sharon Day - Dreamstime.com

Cascade River State Park, Lutsen

Cascade River State Park is a scenic Minnesota park that has a series of waterfalls, Lake Superior shoreline, picnic sites, and trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Trails connect to the North Shore State Trail and the Superior Hiking Trails for an even bigger adventure. The hilly terrain is home to bears, wolves, and other wildlife. Come here to camp in the 40 drive-in sites, four pull-through sites, or five backpack sites.

Frontenac State Park, Frontenac Fall colors in Frontenac state park
Credit: Fall colors in Frontenac state park by © Aliaksandr Nikitsin - Dreamstime.com

Frontenac State Park, Frontenac

Frontenac State Park offers beautiful fall colors, birding opportunities, spring and summer wildflowers, and trails for hiking and skiing. There’s also a winter sliding here for snowy days. It’s on the Mississippi River and one of the best places in the country to view migrating birds. Over 260 species of birds live here. There are 13 miles of hiking trails and a mile-long paved bike trail. Camping is at 58 drive-in sites in four loops, 19 electric sites, and six cart-in sites.

Glacial Lakes State Park, Starbuck Day at Glacial Lakes State Park
Credit: Day at Glacial Lakes State Park by Jenny Salita via Flickr

Glacial Lakes State Park, Starbuck

Fishing and camping are the top two things to do at Glacial Lakes State Park, which has a swimming beach and Mardy’s Trail to hike around the lake. The park features vast, open prairie with prairie grasses and wildflowers. Signalness Lake is a 56-acre body of water with a picnic area overlooking it. Take a hike on the 16 miles of trails, ride your horse on 11 miles of trails, and bike on the paved trail from the park entrance to the city of Starbuck. Visitors to Glacial Lakes State Park can camp in the 37 drive-in sites, one pull-through site, four backpack sites, and eight horse campsites.

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