Did you know Minnesota has the second-oldest state park system in the United States? The Land of 10,000 Lakes entered the park game when Lake Itasca State Park was established in 1891. Since then, 66 more state parks have opened in Minnesota. Among them are immensely beautiful parks such as Fort Snelling and Gooseberry Falls.
But there are many others that are overlooked in favor of these popular destinations. That’s why we’ve identified 11 Minnesota state parks that need some love. Next time you’re on the hunt for a nature outing, check out these under-appreciated state parks.
1. Glendalough State Park - 25287 Whitetail Lane, Battle Lake, Minnesota
This park is in the lake-filled
Otter Tail County
, near the shores of Annie Battle Lake. In addition to crystal clear waters, the park offers excellent fishing, nature trails, and campsites. It's a fantastic place to get away from the crowds and get in touch with Mother Nature.
2. Bear Head Lake State Park - 9301 Bear Head State Park Road, Ely, Minnesota
This beautiful park is in northern Minnesota, right on the edge of Superior National Forest. But because it's so close to the Boundary Waters, it is often overlooked in favor of Minnesota's most famous wilderness area. That may be a big mistake. Bear Head Lake State Park was actually voted America's Favorite Park in an online poll. Why? Because of the bears that roam this gorgeous park.
3. Savanna Portage State Park - 55626 Lake Place, McGregor, Minnesota
Here's another great northern Minnesota park to add to your bucket list. This little-known destination is not too far east of Duluth, making it a great trip for those coming from just about any region. But think about planning more than just a single day. The park covers over 15,000 acres of bog and forest and contains a famously difficult canoe portage once used by early settlers. The park also contains an excellent overhead view of the Continental Divide.
4. Old Mill State Park - 33489 240th Avenue Northwest, Argyle, Minnesota
If you're curious about Minnesota's early milling history, you don't have to go to Minneapolis to do it. At Old Mill State Park, you can catch a glimpse of an 1882 homestead. Other buildings on the property are a bit newer, but they are all listed in the National Register of Historic Places. For a peek at Minnesota history, you can't do much better than visiting an early mill - especially one that still works.
5. Buffalo River State Park - 565 155th Street South, Glyndon, Minnesota
Located just outside of Fargo, this little park is a gorgeous slice of prairie. Hike through waving grass, then camp among the trees that grow along the Buffalo River. More than 250 species of wildflower have been found growing in this prairie, as well as countless animal species. For solitude among nature, you could do much worse.
6. Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park - 9700 170th Street East, Nerstrand, Minnesota
Ever heard of Hidden Falls? If you're one of the few who has visited this lovely state park, you probably have. The falls are nestled in among the Big Woods of southern Minnesota. If you can find it, it should provide a picturesque backdrop for a picnic, photoshoot, or just some quiet time.
7. John A. Latsch State Park - U.S. Highway 61, Minnesota City, Minnesota
Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona is certainly a popular spot to see Bluff Country, but it would be a shame to overlook John A. Latsch State Park just a few miles north. It contains three distinct bluffs that rise over the Mississippi River. An easy half-mile hike leads to a fantastic view. If you're in the area, definitely check out this under-appreciated park.
8. Kilen Woods State Park - 50200 860th Street, Lakefield, Minnesota
Just a few miles north of the Iowa border, Kilen Woods State Park is one of Minnesota's most unknown state parks. If you crave peace and quiet, it may be right up your alley. For a lovely river valley view, check out the Dinosaur Ridge Overlook. Several other hiking trails and fishing spots also make the park a favorite for those few who are in the know.
9. Split Rock Creek State Park - 50th Avenue, Jasper, Minnesota
You've heard of Split Rock Lighthouse, but have you heard of Split Rock Creek? If not, it's about time you do. This quiet park has only 42,000 yearly visits, making it one of the lesser known parks in Minnesota. But it's a pretty nature area that is definitely worth seeing. In between scouting for wildlife, check out the Sioux Quartzite bridge that spans the creek. Nearly 100 years old, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
10. Maplewood State Park - 39721 Park Entrance Road, Pelican Rapids, Minnesota
Another park in the heart of Lake Country, Maplewood State Park is truly beautiful. It is close to eight large lakes that provide ample fishing opportunities. Or if swimming is your thing, Lake Lida has a great sandy beach for summertime use. But the best time to go may be in the fall, when the maple forest turns brilliant yellow and orange.
11. Lake Shetek State Park - 63 State Park Road, Currie, Minnesota
Lake Shetek is the largest lake in southwestern Minnesota, so it's no wonder that a whole park formed around it. Yet many people who aren't from the area haven't heard of this park. The park covers about 1,000 of lake, forest, and historic sites. There's even a 45-acre island in the middle of Lake Shetek. It's accessible via a causeway across the lake. If you're looking for true peace and quiet, you'd do well to follow the path.
Are we missing anything? What are your favorite Minnesota state parks? Let us know in the comments!