Though Minnesota first became a state in 1858, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is actually home to thousands of years of human history. From the American Indians who made homes here for generations to the earliest European explorers and traders, there is history just about everywhere you look in Minnesota. These 10 hiking trails are full of beauty, with the added benefit of leading to some incredible pieces of history.
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1. Quarry Loop Trail - Banning State Park
The Quarry Loop Trail at the beautiful Banning State Park is an excellent chance to take in some Minnesota history. The easy hike is about 2.5 miles long. Its main attraction is the beautiful Kettle River with famous rapids such as the Blueberry Slide and the Dragon's Tooth. Also notable is the thick forest, which hosts an 1880s-era building once used for quarrying.
2. Middle Falls Trail - Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage State Park is named for a nine-mile trail that American Indians once used to bypass the 120-foot waterfall in the area. Today, you can catch a small glimpse of the difficult portage by hiking the 5-mile Middle Falls Trail. The trail is rugged, with a several hundred foot elevation change, so it is not for everyone. But if you do choose to take the trail, you'll be greeted by some of Minnesota's most natural beauty - and some of its most interesting history.
3, Circle Trail - Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument is a sacred site for American Indians who have been quarrying quartzite here for many generations. The stone is traditionally used to make pipes used for prayer. The 3/4-mile loop trail takes about an hour to walk. It passes through prairie, interesting rock formations, and even a beautiful waterfall. The trail starts in the visitor center, where you can pick up a guide that will point out the most important sites.
4. Indian Mounds Loop Trail - Indian Mounds Regional Park
This St. Paul park is home to thousands of years of human history. Some of Minnesota's earliest inhabitants created burial mounds that you can still see to this day. These impressive structures are thought to be around 2,000 years old. When first discovered, researchers found artifacts of these ancient people, including shells, copper ornaments, and even a burial mask. Today, the park is a quiet way to reflect on the area's long history by taking a walk along the 2.7-mile loop trail.
5. Aiton Heights Fire Tower Trail - Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is a part of Minnesota history as our first state park. A family photo near the Mississippi Headwaters sign is practically a rite of passage for a Minnesota family, as is crossing the rocky headwaters. But the half-mile trail to Aiton Heights Fire Tower is another piece of history at Itasca. The historic 100-foot-tall fire tower was once used to spot forest fires in the thick woods of northern Minnesota. The trail is marked with interpretive signs, and the top of the tower offers incredible views.
6. St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail - Father Hennepin Bluff Park
This 1.8-mile path through Father Hennepin Bluff Park is full of both history and beauty. Informative signs line the way, offering information about what the area was like in the past. You'll also catch glimpses of Nicollet Island, the Stone Arch Bridge, and more.
7. Savanna Portage Trail - Savanna Portage State Park
Savanna Portage State Park was created in the 1960s to preserve an old portage trail once used first by American Indians, and later by traders, missionaries, and other early settlers. A difficult portage, the 6-mile trail crosses a large swamp between two lakes. Today, hikers can still cross the trail - now with the benefit of a small boardwalk through the swamp. Still, it is a difficult path only suitable for those up for a long hike.
8. Fur Post Trail - North West Company Fur Post
This trail, while short, will give you a glimpse of some of east central Minnesota's most interesting history. Interpretive signs offer information about the early fur traders of this area, and the natural surroundings will give you an idea of what it was like when they lived here. This easy trail is less than half a mile long.
9. Long Prairie Trail - Jeffers Petroglyphs
Jeffers Petroglyphs is one of the most unexpected sites ever found in Minnesota. A flat sheet of pink quartzite sitting low among the prairie grass, stumbling upon it is literally like looking into the past. The rock is riddled with ancient carvings and markings from Minnesota's first people, as well as old wagon trails from when the area was first being settled by Europeans. The Short Prairie Trail is 1/4 of a mile from the parking lot and leads straight to the petroglyphs. If you prefer a more scenic route, the slightly longer Long Prairie Trail continues through wildflower-riddled tallgrass prairie to show you what the area was like in Minnesota's early days.
10. Landmark Trail - Mille Lacs Kathio State Park
This short, flat trail is great for getting a whiff of history without delving in too deep. It's a 1-mile loop trail over gravel that will take you on a trip back Minnesota's early times. It leads to the site of ancient American Indian villages. Signs along the trail also explain how the area changed when French explorers came through the area. It's an interesting, beautiful hike. As an added bonus, Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is home to a 9,000-year-old archaeological, and old fire tower, and more. The entire park is brimming with history.
Have you hiked any of these trails? Do you have any other favorite historic sites in Minnesota? Let us know in the comments! If you’re looking for more interesting historic hikes, check out this
abandoned railroad hike in Minnesota.