45 miles northeast of downtown Minneapolis, Interstate State Park consists of two adjacent state parks on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. On the Minnesota side, there are 293-acres that features 5 miles of hiking trails, 3 miles of self-guided paths, and 37 camping sites. Small compared to other Minnesota state parks, this park compensates by offering its visitors with unforgettable geological formations and fantastic vistas of the St. Croix River Valley.
What Makes It Great
Interstate State Park is nestled in The Dalles of the St. Croix River. First formed by lava flows that left hardened basalt rock over 1 billion years ago, for the next millions of years, torrential glacial floods would carve out the basalt that is visible in the valley’s towering cliffs today. Not only does the park offer beautiful vistas of the Dalles, but people from all over come to Interstate State Park to play in the gigantic glacial potholes.
Within 20-acres, there are over 100 potholes and with that there are 80 that are large enough to climb into. A little known fact is that this area hosts the largest concentration of glacial potholes in the entire world. Formed when gushing glacial melt water ravaged the St. Croix River Valley, enormous whirlpools developed, blasting a vortex of sand and stone against the bedrock, thus carving deep depressions into the river bottom. Once the water receded, all that was left were the glacial potholes.
Just south of the parking lot, there are a handful of short trails that show you the different potholes. Ranging from sizes of a few inches to a whopping 20ft wide hole called The Cauldron, it is easy to feel humbled by walking through this area. Don’t miss The Bottomless Pit, which is 60 feet deep, making it the deepest explored pothole in the world.
Past the potholes are two self-guided trails: the Sandstone Bluffs Trail and the River Trail. The River Trail connects from the Pothole Trail, but the Sandstone Bluffs Trail is at the other end of the park. During the months of April and May, some of the best spring wildflower hikes can be found along the Sandstone Bluffs trail. On the River Trail, the terrain becomes rockier and there are many rises and falls. Watch your step as you walk down the steep rocky steps.
As you walk along, you will notice that the landscape is very diverse and changes several times. Some of the ecosystems you will see are desert-like terrain, maple-basswood forest, oak savanna, prairie, floodplain forest, and white pine forest. These habitats support a wide variety of wildlife, even an endangered species of cacti.
After two miles of rugged terrain, the trail leads to a boat landing and to the available campsites. At the park office, naturalists offer free GPS units for hikers interested in testing out their geocaching skills. There are geocach sites at the Sandstone Bluffs Trail, which is just across the interstate. This trail also offers more rugged rock scrambling and basalt bald habitats. But, if you are feeling weary, pitch your tent, start your fire, and enjoy the beauty of Interstate State Park at night.
Who is Going to Love It
If you’re looking for a park that has great campsites, difficult rock climbing, and interesting history, then head on over Minnesota’s Interstate State Park. Its scenic views, huge potholes, and pleasant hiking trails will not disappoint.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park office is open daily from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. During the winter, the hours vary depending on available staff.
If you are interested in camping, instead of calling the call center, save a $1.50 by reserving a campsite on the parks website. Ranging from daily rates of $12-$65, there are rustic campsites and even luxurious yurts that will satisfy any backpacker’s needs.