Afton State Park Backpacking

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About

Summary

Afton State Park, located less than an hour from the Twin Cities, offers hikers and backpackers a respite from the bustling city. With 20 miles of hiking trails and 1,600-acres of terrain ranging from rolling prairie fields to rugged ravines, it is easy to get lost in the natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley.

Written by

Molly O'Connor

Distance

20.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

24.9 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

2 days

1-2 days

Seasonality

All Seasons

All Seasons

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Yes

Fees Permits

No

Camping Fees and annual ($25) or daily ($5) state parks parking permit

Land Website

Afton State Park

Review

Intro

Situated in the St. Croix River Valley, Afton State Park is an easy 40-minute drive from the Twin Cities metro area. Since the parks establishment in 1969, Afton has given hikers, backpackers, trail runners, and cross-country skiers alike the opportunity to explore in a quiet, natural setting. With 1,600-acres of forested ravines, rolling grasslands, and views of the spectacular St. Croix River Valley, Afton State Park has everything for the outdoor enthusiast.

What Makes It Great

If you want the rustic camping experience, head north from the parking lot. Soon enough, you’ll reach the first of many overlooks of the beautiful St. Croix River Valley. Take a moment to appreciate the exposed sandstone, which jut from the steep bluffs. You’ll notice that the park is cut by steep ravines, which at times drop in 300 feet of elevation. As you descend, be mindful of your step. The wooden stairs are uneven and the trail is steep.

Once you reach the bottom of the valley, there are a plethora of trails shrouded in dense forest. These forests are home to a variety of wildlife and if you walk lightly, you may observe wild turkeys, deer, or the elusive red fox. Within a half a mile, you will reach a crossroads. If you want to cool off, take a right and swim in the only beach on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River Valley. After getting your feet wet, continue along the North River Trail for a relaxing stroll along the riverbank. Make sure to keep a keen eye on the river’s shore; painted turtles often perch on rocks or fallen tree limbs. If you want to enjoy rolling grasslands, go left and follow the Prairie Loop trail. This trail offers over 3 miles of pristine Minnesota prairie. Also, in the northwest corner of the park, the 1.5-mile Trout Brook Loop offers colorful wildflowers that border the path and oak trees that shade the weary hiker.

If all you want to do is pitch up your tent, follow the remote campsite signs up the steep ravines and enjoy a peaceful evening cooking sausages over a fire, stargazing from the open fields, and falling asleep to the sounds of nature. There is firewood available near the campsites. Pay a small fee at the Park Office and pick up your firewood near the solar pump centrally located in the rustic campground sites.

As a solo backpacker planning to stay overnight, you must pay a fee at the Park Office. If you are worried campsites will fill up, you can reserve a spot for a non-refundable fee of $10 over the phone or $8.50 via online. With 28 backpacking campsites (4 offering running water and electricity) and 2 remote hike-in campsites, Afton will satiate any backpacker’s needs.

Who is Going to Love It

Backpackers will love the remote campsites and rugged hiking trails found in Afton State Park.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The park is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and provides parking at the visitor center and at designated campsites.

If you plan on camping in a group campsite or in a yurt, head south following the prairie restoration loop trails. As you walk along, look to your left for brief glimpses of the St. Croix Valley through the aspen, oak, cherry, or birch trees. Don’t forget to look up from time to time to see hunting red-tailed hawks swirl above you or look to your feet for the unmistakable five-fingered badger paw prints. Within the first mile, you can go east to the group campsites, drop off your bags, and set-up camp. Or if you feel like roughing it, you can continue south to the Deer Valley Loop Trail. The forested ridge tops and changes in elevation give your legs a great workout.

Location

Afton State Park

6959 Peller Ave S
Hastings, MN, 55033
44.848116, -92.786055

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