Minneapolis has amazing city parks. They’ve won awards and are celebrated as some of the best in the nation. But what about all of Minnesota’s beautiful State Parks? Of the 75 stunning State Parks, these 7 are absolutely fantastic and easy to get to from the Twin Cities. Whether you’ve visited them before or need a new adventure destination, these parks are perfect for a lovely day trip or whole weekend getaway!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Afton State Park
From the oak-filled woodlands to the grassy bluffs of the prairie, Afton State Park is absolutely beautiful. There are hiking trails that crisscross through the park, but some of the most amazing wind down into the sandstone ravine carved by the scenic St. Croix River.
If you aren’t a hiker, there is still plenty to do here; there is a swimming beach that is perfect for kids to splash around, a visitor center to learn more about the glacial moraine that created this lovely area, and awesome campsites to enjoy a longer stay.
Birdwatchers will love the St. Croix Flyway, which attracts waterfowl, hawks, and migratory birds to the river. Out in the grasslands, happy little bluebirds and meadowlarks take to the skies. As for other fauna, deer, badgers, fox, turkeys, and several types of squirrels call Afton State Park home as well.
For those looking to enjoy the flora, the forested areas provide plenty of opportunities to check out beautiful oaks and pines, and the wildflowers that bloom on the prairies are a stunning blaze of color - especially the unbelievable sunflowers!
Afton State Park is located at 6959 Peller Ave. South Hastings, MN
2. Fort Snelling State Park
You don’t even need to leave the Twin Cities to experience this historic state park! It’s located right on the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and served as an important center for trade in the 1800s, and explorers and settlers moving west often launched their journey from Fort Snelling. You’ll find excellent information about this history of this resource-rich area, as well as a peak into the past at military life at the historic fort.
Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, this area was a sacred place for the Dakota people. In fact, the place where the two rivers met was even considered the center of the world and possible place of origin for the Mde-wa-kan-ton-wan Dakota tribe.
These days, the park offers tons of recreational activities for visitors to enjoy. There are fantastic hiking, biking, and ski trails that connect to Minnehaha Park and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as picnic spots, beaches to relax, and fishing areas along the rivers. The natural area is home to deer, badgers, skunks, turtles, and many other animal species to keep an eye out for while you are exploring Pike Island, Gun Club Lake, and Snelling Lake.
Fort Snelling State Park is located at 101 Snelling Lake Road, Saint Paul, MN
3. Interstate State Park
The St. Croix River is one of the most beautiful waterways in the state, and Interstate State Park offers tons of ways to enjoy this amazing area, which is located right on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin (hence the name).
Spring and Autumn are especially beautiful here. Wildflowers blanked the beautiful landscape and the fall foliage lights up the forested areas in a stunningly colorful way. The cliffs overlooking the St. Croix River offer some great views and hiking trails to explore. Down on the water, you’ll find both calm spots to canoe and rushing rapids to kayak down.
This area has unique geological features rarely seen in other parts of the state. Although much of the area was formed by glacial movement, there are also more than 10 lava flows visible which were created by earthquakes that shook the land more than 1.1 billion years ago!
Wildlife lovers are attracted to the area for the diverse flora and fauna found here. The beautiful forested areas are home to deer, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, and several endangered species. The floodplains attract many different birds and, if you are lucky, you may just hear owls calling to each other!
Interstate State Park is located at 307 Milltown Road, Taylors Falls, MN
4. William O'Brien State Park
This State Park is perfect for a mini-getaway from city life! Whether you are seeking some excellent trails to get out and explore or a cool little fishing spot to pull in walleye, northerns, and bass, William O’Brien State Park has a little something for everyone.
There are tons of recreational activities to enjoy here. The St. Croix River is considered one of the best canoeing spots in the country. The picturesque valley created by glaciers millions of years ago provides an incredible setting for watching for birds and wildlife.
William O'Brien State Park is located at 16821 O’Brien Trail, North Marine-on-St. Croix, MN
5. Wild River State Park
Wild River State Park is nearby William O’Brien and Interstate State Parks, but it’s definitely a quieter setting to enjoy the beautiful natural landscape. Most of the 18-mile-long park is situated along the St. Croix River, but the upper part joins along the mouth of the Sunrise River as well.
The St. Croix River is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and one of the coolest features at this State Park is the Point Douglas to Superior Military Road: Deer Creek Section. It’s one of the few sections of this historic road, which was built in 1853 and sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
The history here runs deep and archeological digs around the Sunrise River have uncovered a village site with artifacts that date back over 5,000 years! In 1849, a fur trading post was built in the area and though it only survived for a few years, it was one of the last trading posts operating in the St. Croix Valley.
Despite being a very narrow park, Wild River is home to a ton of wildlife and waterfowl species. Many parts of the river overflow as the snow melts in Spring, which provides a super-rich landscape for beautiful plant life the thrive, including wild roses, columbine, geranium, asters, and several types of berries.
There are also tons of recreational opportunities to experience in Wild River State Park, especially is you are looking for a weekend getaway. There are 94 drive-in campsites, 9 tent-only group sites, 20 horse campsites, 7 backpacking camps, 6 rental cabins, and 4 canoe campsites! There are over 35 miles of trails to explore, including a 2.6 mile paved trail that is wheelchair accessible and great for bikers looking for a leisurely ride.
Wild River State Park is located at 39797 Park Trail, Center City, MN
6. Lake Maria State Park
This 1,108-acre park is truly something special. It’s great for hikers, skiers, and horseback riders looking to explore the hilly landscape, but there is also a boardwalk along the marshlands that provides a great opportunity for a leisurely stroll.
If you are looking to extend your trip, check out the backpacking sites located on the lake. You’ll only need to hike 2-miles to get to the more remote areas, so it’s only a short hike to find yourself surrounded by nature. For the non-hikers, there are also cool little log cabins that you can rent!
Lake Maria is home to one of the only Big Woods stands in Southern Minnesota. The thick maple, oak, and elm forests once blanketed the land, but there are few remaining locations scattered throughout the area. Other areas of the park feature prairie land that is slowly being restored after major destruction that accompanied the introduction of modern agricultural activity. In the spring, the rolling hills bloom with dozens of wildflower species that are sure to make you smile.
This area is alive with wild species to see. Deer, beavers, mink, muskrats, fox, and coyote can be seen throughout the park, and the marshes and wetlands serve as a common stop for herons, ducks, and pelicans.
Lake Maria State Park is located at 11411 Clementa Avenue Northwest, Monticello, MN
7. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
It’s hard to believe the beauty of this National Wildlife Refuge, especially as part of it is located right in the middle of urban areas of the Twin Cities! The refuge covers more than 34 miles along the Minnesota River, but it’s pretty amazing to see the pristine, protected natural areas surrounded by all of the big city activity.
This portion of the Minnesota River is seeping with history. Much of this area was one filled with Dakota villages that flourished in this rich hunting and fishing environment. The river access was important to traders, which ultimately attracted European settlers and homesteaders to develop camps and forts in the 1600s.
Before you head out to explore this stunning natural wonder, stop by the Visitors Center to learn more about the history and environment found here. There is a large educational area, auditorium, and observation area what provide tons of information and will definitely make you explorations on the hiking, biking, and skiing trails even more exciting.
There are hundreds of species of birds that use this area either as a stop along their migratory path or a permanent nesting home. If you are lucky, you might just see a bald eagle or peregrine falcon!
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located at 3815 East 80th Street, Bloomington, MN
Are you ready for your next adventure? These stunning State Parks will certainly leave you smiling!