The Land of 10,000 Lakes is blessed with incredible diversity in its landscapes, which range from tallgrass prairies and aspen parklands in the west to hardwood forests and big rivers in the central and southeastern parts of the state to the boreal forest and rugged Lake Superior shoreline of the northeast. With so many beautiful places to add to your must-visit list, we think the
natural wonders in Minnesota are some of the most amazing in all of America.
Best Gorges & Canyons In Minnesota
With so many rivers and streams running across volcanic rock and through limestone, it should come as no surprise that there are dozens of beautiful
gorges in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. You’ll even find several in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area – the Mississippi River gorge, of course, being the largest. But we think this trio of gorges are particularly… gorgeous. 1. St. Croix River Dalles
Interstate State Park, Milltown Road, Taylors Falls, MN, USA
Location: Taylors Falls, Minnesota Wow Factor: Billion-year-old volcanic cliffs line a national scenic riverway that flows past several state parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Cost: There is no cost unless you enter the state park by vehicle, in which case you will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35). Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
Formed by the mid-continent rift, a volcanic upheaval that occurred more than 1.5 billion years ago,
Dalles of the St. Croix River
is one of the most beautiful river gorges in the Midwest. The best way to experience the dramatic gorge of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is by boating or kayaking the river through it. But you can also get a good feel for it by hitting the hiking trails at Interstate State Park and experiencing the natural beauty of the gorge on foot.
2. Temperance River Gorge
Temperance River State Park, 7620 West MN-61, Schroeder, MN 55613, USA
Location: Schroeder, Minnesota Wow Factor: One of the most stunning and dramatic river gorges in the Upper Midwest. Cost: There is no cost unless you enter the state park by vehicle, in which case you will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35). Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
You can hike along the dramatic
Temperance River gorge
at the state park that bears its name. The river rushes violently through the basalt rock, creating cauldrons and whirlpools, as it speeds down toward Lake Superior. The hiking trails in the park will take you from the Superior Hiking Trail, up in the park’s highlands, down to a pebble beach at the mouth of the Temperance River.
3. Kadunce River Gorge
Kadunce River State Wayside, MN-61, Grand Marais, MN 55604, USA
Location: Grand Marais, Minnesota Wow Factor: Probably the deepest, hike-able slot canyon in Minnesota. Cost: Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
gorge is one of the few hike-able slot canyons in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Located between Grand Marais and Hovland on the North Shore of Lake Superior, you can explore more than a mile of this gorge when river levels are low. It’s particularly magical during winter, when the river and its small waterfalls are frozen solid.
Best Caves In Minnesota
Minnesota – the southeastern part of the state, in particular – is blessed with a karst topography that was untouched by the last glaciation. That means the limestone bluffs and valleys of
Minnesota’s “driftless” area are home to many caves and miles of cave systems. Most of them are located beneath private property or otherwise not open to the public. But those that are open represent some of the best nature in Minnesota, and you should definitely add them to your bucket list. 4. Niagara Cave
Niagara Cave, 29842 Co Rd 30, Harmony, MN 55939, USA
Location: Harmony, Minnesota Wow Factor: Stunning cave with a waterfall. Cost: Tickets are $13 (child general admission), $21 (adult general admission), and up.
is arguably Minnesota’s premier cave that’s open for public tours. Located in the small town of Harmony in Minnesota’s Bluff Country, Niagara Cave is full of classic karst formations, as well as an underground river. But its biggest attraction is probably its subterranean waterfall that rivals any cascade you would find along a surface river.
5. Mystery Cave
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, Preston, MN 55965, USA
Location: Preston, Minnesota Wow Factor: It’s the state’s longest cave and home to an underground river. Cost: You will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35) to enter the park. There is an additional fee for cave tours, ranging from $10 to $80 per person, depending on the tour you choose.
Now part of Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park,
is the state’s longest cave. It's also home to an underground river and open seasonally for public tours, which range from the basic park tours to four-hour caving tours.
6. St. Croix Boom Site State Wayside Cave
St. Croix Boom Site State Wayside, Stillwater, MN, USA
Location: Stillwater, Minnesota Wow Factor: Above-ground cave on a sandy beach. Cost: Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
cave at St. Croix Boom Site
State Wayside isn’t dramatic in the same ways that the other caves on this list are. But it’s a cave that’s both easy to access and stimulating to the imagination. The cave opens to a sandy beach along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. This part of the St. Croix River is managed as a park by both the National Park Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Although it sees a lot of traffic - and, unfortunately, a little vandalism - this cave is close to the Twin Cities and definitely worth exploring.
Best Waterfalls In Minnesota
The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the land of hundreds of stunning waterfalls. Many of the most beautiful cascades are located in the northeastern part of the state, but waterfalls in Minnesota can be found in the southern and western regions of the state, as well. Here’s a trio of our favorite
waterfalls in Minnesota. 7. Gooseberry Falls
Gooseberry Falls State Park, 3206 MN-61, Two Harbors, MN 55616, USA
Location: Two Harbors, Minnesota Wow Factor: A beautiful, easily-accessible waterfall in one of Minnesota’s most popular state parks. Cost: There is no cost unless you enter the state park by vehicle, in which case you will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35). Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
Located, unsurprisingly, in Gooseberry Falls State Park,
is one of the most visited and well-known waterfalls in Minnesota, if not the entire Midwest. As amazing as these falls are, there are several other waterfalls along the Gooseberry River, which you may actually get to yourself. You can reach these via the park’s many miles of hiking trails. Gooseberry Falls State Park is also home to some incredibly dramatic Lake Superior shoreline that should not be missed!
8. Minnehaha Falls
Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN 55417, USA
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota Wow Factor: Dramatic waterfall in an unlikely urban setting. Cost: There is a parking fee. Entering the park on foot is free. Minnehaha Falls
probably takes the title for the state’s most-visited waterfall, as it’s not only gorgeous, but it’s located in a popular urban park in Minneapolis. The falls, themselves, are on Minnehaha Creek, as it slices through a limestone gorge on its way to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The park is adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River National Recreation Area and Fort Snelling State Park, so its one of the the premier urban nature places in Minnesota.
9. High Falls, Pigeon River
Grand Portage State Park, 9393 E MN-61, Grand Portage, MN 55605, USA
Location: Grand Portage, Minnesota Wow Factor: Located on the state’s border with Canada, this is the tallest waterfall in Minnesota. Cost: Entering on foot from the wayside is free.
The Pigeon River forms the border between the USA and Canada. On the American side, you’ll find Grand Portage State Park, home to a short trail that will take you to the
High Falls on the Pigeon River
. This 120-foot waterfall, shared with Ontario, is the tallest in Minnesota. This waterfall is dramatic any time of year - whether swollen by spring floods or frozen into ice cascades in the chill of winter.
Best Overlooks & Scenic Vistas In Minnesota
With so much must see nature in Minnesota, one of the best ways to soak in the state’s natural beauty is from one of our many overlooks and scenic vistas. Here are a few fantastic
overlooks in Minnesota that afford visitors some our favorite views in the Bold North. 10. North Shore of Lake Superior
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN, USA
Location:Duluth to Grand Portage, Minnesota Wow Factor: A dramatic drive along the rugged northern shoreline of Lake Superior, punctuated by waterfalls, forests, and stunning views of Lake Superior. Cost: There is no cost unless you enter one of the state parks along the shore by vehicle, in which case you will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35). State waysides and entering parks on foot from waysides are free.
It’s really impossible to pick a single overlook along the
North Shore of Lake Superior
- it’s 150 miles of stunning views of Lake Superior, the Superior National Forest, the Sawtooth Mountains, and all the Northwoods grandeur in between. If we had to pick some favorite viewpoints along the route, they would include the vistas from Split Rock Lighthouse, Palisade Head, and the Mount Josephine rest area between Grand Portage and Minnesota’s border with Canada.
11. Great River Bluffs State Park
Great River Bluffs State Park, 43605 Kipp Dr, Winona, MN 55987, USA
Location:Winona, Minnesota Wow Factor: Sweeping vistas from 500-foot bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River valley and Wisconsin. Cost: You will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35) to enter the park by vehicle.
It’s kind of incredible that
Great River Bluffs State Park
doesn’t receive more visitors, because this uncrowded state park offers some of the most incredible views in the state. A short hike (or snowshoeing when snow is on the ground) from the trailhead will reward the visitor with views for miles from one of the highest bluffs on the Mississippi, up and down its broad valley and across to Wisconsin. This Driftless Area gem should be on every Minnesotan’s must-visit list, because it’s one of the best nature spots in Minnesota.
12. Eagle Mountain
Eagle Mountain Trailhead, Grand Marais, MN 55604, USA
Location:Grand Marais, Minnesota Wow Factor: The highest point in Minnesota offers sweeping views over the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Cost: There is no cost to visit this site.
The trail to the summit of
is a steep, rocky 6.6-mile out and back hike - but the amazing views make all the effort completely worth it. Plus, you get to tag the official marker indicating the highest point in Minnesota. It’s a long way to the top, but you earned it!
Best Rock Formations in Minnesota
Minnesota has a fascinating geologic history – some of which goes back well
over 3 billion years – that has contributed to many incredible rock formations throughout the state. From the volcanic basalt along the north shore to the mineral deposits of the Iron Range and the karst of the Bluff Country to the granite, gneiss, and quartzite upwellings in the southwest, you will find many stunning rock formations in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Here are a few to put on your must-visit list. 13. Palisade Head and Shovel Point
Tettegouche State Park, 5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614, USA
Location: Silver Bay, Minnesota Wow Factor: Dramatic and iconic volcanic cliffs that offer stunning views over Lake Superior from Tettegouche State Park. Cost: There is no cost unless you enter the state park by vehicle, in which case you will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35). Entering on foot from the waysides are free.
Like the Dalles on the St. Croix River,
Palisade Head and Shovel Point
at Tettegouche State Park are billion-year-old, volcanic rock formations that are remnants from the mid-continent rift event. Shovel Point is an iconic landmark on the Lake Superior shoreline, and at over 300 feet, Palisade Head is the tallest cliff on Minnesota’s North Shore. These natural wonders in Minnesota should definitely be on your must-visit list.
14. Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument, Reservation Avenue, Pipestone, MN, USA
Location: Pipestone, Minnesota Wow Factor: National monument with unusual rock outcropping and waterfall surrounded by tallgrass prairie. Cost: There is no cost to visit this site. Pipestone National Monument
, in southwestern Minnesota, protects a site that bears both geological and historical significance. The area is characterized by an upwelling of pink Sioux quartzite - as is Blue Mounds State Park, just to the south - lending unusual geography to this typically more-level area. There’s even enough elevation to create a small, but dramatic waterfall in the monument. In addition to being one of the best natural attractions in Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument is a culturally and historically significant site for Native peoples throughout the region, who would - and still do - mine the pink rock for use in making pipes (hence the name), other talismans, and jewelry.
15. Magnetic Rock
Magnetic Rock, Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, MN, USA
Location: Gunflint Trail, Minnesota Wow Factor: A magnetic monolith in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near the Canada border. Cost: There is no cost to visit this site.
Located a couple miles east of the western terminus of the Border Route Trail,
is an icon of the Minnesota Northwoods. This vertical column has actual magnetic properties, but the real draw is the gorgeous scenery on the
4.3 mile out-and-back hike
to Magnetic Rock.
Unique Natural Wonders in Minnesota
With four distinct biomes, billions of years of geological history, three continental divides, and incredible biological diversity, Minnesota is home to
natural wonders that are unique in the U.S.A. Here are a few natural wonders in Minnesota that set our state apart from others. 16. Voyageurs National Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA
Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, MN 55604, USA
Location: International Falls to Grand Marais, Minnesota Wow Factor: More than a million of acres of unbroken wilderness that includes a national park, thousands of lakes, and one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48. Cost: There may be fees associated with visiting the BWCAW if you intend to enter the wilderness and stay overnight between April and October, or if you intend to camp in Voyageurs National Park. Visit Recreation.gov
on the web for more information. When the glaciers receded, the landscape now known as
Voyageurs National Park
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
were blessed with boundless interconnected lakes, stunning rock formations, and deep Northwoods forests. Home to black bears, moose, gray wolves, Canada lynx, and hundreds of bird species - both resident and migratory - these adjacent areas stretch from International Falls in the west to the Grand Portage and Lake Superior in the east. Together, they represent some of the best nature in Minnesota and really should be visited at least once by all Minnesotans. These places are relatively unspoiled, renowned for their dark skies and quiet, making them excellent destinations for stargazers, aurora chasers, solitude seekers, and adventurers of all ages.
17. Headwaters of the Mississippi River
Itasca State Park, 36750 Main Pk Dr, Park Rapids, MN 56470, USA
Location: Park Rapids, Minnesota Wow Factor: The headwaters of the continent’s largest river and longest river system. Cost: You will need a daily ($7) or annual permit ($35) to enter the park by motor vehicle. Entering on foot or by biking is free.
Itasca State Park
, the oldest state park in Minnesota and its second-largest, you’ll find the humble headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River, which tumble as a small stream from an outflow of Lake Itasca. This unique natural wonder in Minnesota gives rise to the waterway that defines much of the state’s - and nation's - geography. And the park that surrounds the headwaters is a natural wonder unto itself.
18. The Lost 40
Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), Twp, Northome, MN 56661, USA
Location: Northome, Minnesota Wow Factor: Some of the oldest and tallest virgin red and white pines in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Cost: There is no cost to visit this site.
Thanks to a surveying error, what is now known as
The Lost 40
preserves some of the largest remaining virgin red and white pine trees in Minnesota. This grove of massive trees is jointly managed by the Minnesota DNR as a scientific and natural area (SNA) and the Chippewa National Forest. It’s home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the state, and a walk through the needle-dampened silence of the grove is both magical and humbling.
There are so many must-see nature places in Minnesota that we couldn’t possibly list them all in a single article, but we hope these 18 natural wonders will get you out to explore more of our amazing state. And before you
hit the road or the trail, make sure you have packed all the essentials you’ll need for a safe and comfortable journey. How many of these places and sites have you visited? Be sure to let us know – and share your own picks for the best natural wonders in Minnesota.
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