Take This Scenic Route And Drive Through 5 Minnesota State Parks In One Day
If you’re looking for a weekend adventure, this
one-day road trip through five Minnesota state parks tracks the scenic St. Croix River, and it requires fewer than two-and-a-half hours of total driving time between stops.
We describe the road trip north to south, from St. Croix State Park to Afton State Park.
Of course, you could make the trip in reverse order.
1. St. Croix State Park
Your trip begins at St. Croix State Park, which is the largest park in the system.
Here, you’ll experience the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway at its wildest -- untamed and undeveloped on both sides.
The Kettle, a state-designated Wild and Scenic River, also runs through and joins the St. Croix within the park.
St. Croix State Park is on the edge of Minnesota’s north woods biome. The park’s forest is comprised mostly of conifers, aspen, and birch trees, with a few hardwoods blended into the mix.
St. Croix State Park, 30065 St Croix Park Rd, Hinckley, MN 55037, USA
Explore the park’s woods on its miles of trails or take in sweeping vistas of the canopy from the fire tower. Look for black bears and white-tailed deer. If you’re lucky, you may even hear wolves howling at night.
2. Wild River State Park
Further downstream, the north woods evergreens start to give way to maple forests and oak savannas in Wild River State Park’s mixed biome.
This makes the park a spectacular place for fall foliage seekers.
With its many trails and river access, the park also offers plenty of recreational opportunities any time of year.
Wild River State Park, b n, 39797 Park Trail, Center City, MN 55012, USA
3. Interstate State Park
Interstate State Park spans the river and includes units in Minnesota and Wisconsin - hence the name.
Interstate’s trails allow visitors to explore the St. Croix’s stone-walled gorge and learn about the area’s geology.
The river carved its so-called “dalles” from rock that’s more than a billion years old.
Interstate State Park, Milltown Road, Taylors Falls, MN, USA
The river bluffs make Interstate popular with rock climbers and paddlers alike.
4. William O'Brien State Park
After the dramatic scenery of the first three parks, William O’Brien may feel a little mellower, but it's still lovely.
Hike the bluff-side prairie trails, through native flora and oak savannas, to enjoy wider vistas of the river valley.
But be sure to explore the river here, as well, where islands separate the main channel from the park, making it more languid than other parks.
William O'Brien State Park, 16821 O Brien Trail N, Marine on St Croix, MN 55047, USA
If you have time, stop at the St. Croix Boom Site. located between William O'Brien State Park and the town of Stillwater.
St. Croix Boom Site, Stillwater, MN 55082, USA
The historic site is co-managed by the Minnesota DNR as a state wayside and the National Park Service as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Several interpretive placards explain the site's significance during the area's logging boom, but its natural beauty speaks for itself.
5. Your final stop is Afton State Park.
The prairies along its bluff tops - higher than those at Interstate - afford spectacular views of the river valley.
The trails along the park’s forested bluffs lead down to the river but don’t forget that if you hike down, you have to hike back up.
Be sure to leave time for lunch in Stillwater. We recommend
Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop for a quick and tasty meal.
Which of these parks have you visited? Have you put together your own Minnesota state parks road trip?
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St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, 401 N Hamilton St, St Croix Falls, WI 54024, USA