Minnesota has dozens of fantastic state parks, but most people gravitate towards a select few. Gooseberry Falls and Itasca get a lot of love, but what about the 65 others? While they do get a healthy share of visitors – Minnesotans are outdoorsy people, after all – they are still lesser known spots that many are not aware of. Here are our 11 favorites:
1. Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park
If you're in the Twin Cities metro, this southern Minnesota state park is an easy 57-mile drive - perfect for a day trip. But no matter where you live, this lovely park is well worth visiting. Its main attraction is a secluded waterfall hidden deep in the woods.
2. Blue Mounds State Park
A personal favorite of the author, this state park is unlike anywhere else in Minnesota. It consists of a series of pink quartzite cliffs that rise above the endless southwestern Minnesota prairie. Numerous hikes lead along the top of the ridge, and the path below offers gorgeous views of the cliffs. Visit in the warmer months, and you're likely to see prickly pear cacti no matter which route you take.
3. Bear Head Lake State Park
Because it is located in Ely, Bear Head Lake State Park does not get as many visitors as it should. After all, many visiting the area are on their way to the Boundary Waters. But if you have a little extra time, it's well worth visiting this little park for its gorgeous lake views and excellent wooded trails.
4. Big Stone Lake State Park
Way on the western edge of Minnesota, Big Stone Lake State Park draws visitors for its beautiful wildlife, serene views, and great camping and hiking. It's located right on the headwaters of the Minnesota River, so it's a great place to visit after you've had your fill of the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca. Whatever you do, make sure you pack a tent. You're going to want to spend the night.
5. Buffalo River State Park
Here's another western Minnesota state park that is full of hidden beauty. It consists of one of the largest remaining prairies in Minnesota, making it much different from the wooded state parks we are all used to. But there are plenty of trees to be seen here, and campers will be happy to discover a sand-bottom swimming pool on the premises.
6. Hayes Lake State Park
Unless they live near the town of Roseau, most Minnesotans haven't heard of Hayes Lake State Park. That makes it the perfect spot for a quiet getaway. Among the main events is a boardwalk that leads through a bog. Needless to say, this park is teeming with wildlife.
7. Kilen Woods State Park
Here's a southern Minnesota park that is well worth visiting! Located near the town of Lakefield, it is full of beautiful attractions. A series of trails lead to views of wildflowers, prairies, and the rushing rapids of the Des Moines River. It's the perfect spot for campers who desire a long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
8. Scenic State Park
This northern Minnesota park is full of attractions. Old-growth pines make it a perfect, untouched area of spectacular beauty. Pristine northern lakes will make you want to stay forever. And on the off-chance you get tired of looking at nature, a series of cabins on the National Register of Historic Places will make you feel right at home.
9. Wild River State Park
Located in Chisago County, Minnesota, this lovely state park is perfect for a day trip from the Twin Cities. Strap on your hiking boots and take a stroll through the forest. Its thick canopy will offer shade, and the breeze off the St. Croix River will cool you on a hot day. This park is beautiful, easily accessible, and severely underrated.
10. Zippel Bay State Park
Way up on the Canadian border, this state park may be one of the least known in the state. It owes part of that to its out-of-the-way location, but it is still well worth visiting. White-sand beaches on Lake of the Woods make for excellent swimming. And of course, the fishing and hiking in the area is also incredible. If you crave a quiet place to get away, this park may be your ticket.
11. Glacial Lakes State Park
In west-central Minnesota, the tiny town of Starbuck plays host to one of the most beautiful - and underrated - state parks in Minnesota. Glacial Lakes State Park offers gorgeous views of rolling prairie, complete with sparkling, fish-filled lakes. Take your boat out for a cruise, catch some fish, and enjoy Minnesota at its finest.
We know we left plenty of incredible Minnesota state parks off the list! Which ones would you have added? Let us know in the comments below!