The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages a whopping 75 state parks and recreation areas, 1,136 miles of hiking trails, 368 fishing piers, and 4,792 camping and lodging units. While Fort Snelling, Gooseberry Falls, Itasca, Interstate, and Split Rock Lighthouse are among the most visited, bringing in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, every park has something to offer.
We’ve rounded up the top eight ways to experience Minnesota’s impressive state park system. Whether you’re looking to get some exercise in the woods, explore our state’s best wilderness areas, or simply hang out around a campfire, there are countless opportunities to check out Minnesota's great outdoors.
From southwest Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park , to the bluffs of the St. Croix River Valley at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, to the imposing cliffs of the North Shore at Tettegouche State Park , there’s no shortage of opportunities to climb at the state parks. If you’re new to the sport, sign up for a Vertical Endeavors clinic at any of these parks this summer. Welcoming the entire family, it's a great way for adults and kids to get comfortable on the crag. All levels of climbers should connect with the Minnesota Climbers Association for further information about where to climb and how to get plugged into this community.
No matter what kind of biking you’re into, there’s a place to ride at the Minnesota State Parks. For roadies, there are plenty of paved trail options throughout the state. Check out the Minnesota State Trails [here](//www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/index.html) . If mountain biking is your thing, you’ll be hard pressed to do better than Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area’s 28-miles of trails, St. Croix State Park’s 21 miles, or the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area’s 35 miles.
You’re guaranteed great hiking trails in any state park you visit. Whether you want to stay close to the Twin Cities and explore Fort Snelling State Park or you prefer to head north to Itasca or Tettegouche State Parks , a network of great wilderness trails wind through the entire state. Consider your experience level and check the trail details before you set out as some will be easy dirt trails and others are more rugged and remote.
4. Trail Running
While running up on the North Shore is a favorite endeavor of many trail buffs, it’s not always easy to get up there on a week night. If that’s your predicament, head just 45 minutes from the Twin Cities to Afton State Park where you’ll finding stunning scenery and trails for newbies and experienced runners alike. Thanks to changing and challenging terrain along the St. Croix River bluffs, you’ll be captivated by this park mile after mile.
Among the many perks of fishing at Minnesota State Parks is the fact that it’s free to residents and you don’t need a fishing license at most parks. Many of the state parks even offer free fishing kit rentals that include a rod, reel, and tackle box. Depending on what type of fish you’re hoping to reel in, check out this link to determine where to spend your next fishing trip.
The Minnesota State Parks contain some of the best lakes and waterways in the state for canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. What’s more, many of the parks provide rentals for a nominal fee. If you’re new to any of these forms of water transport, look into signing up for the DNR’s I Can Paddle program at a variety of state parks, including Lake Louise , Rice Lake , Fort Snelling , Lake Maria , William O’Brien , and Jay Cooke State Parks .
An outdoor activity which requires you to use a GPS unit to navigate and locate geocaches in the woods, geocaching is an increasingly popular activity within the Minnesota State Park system. If you need assistance, check out one of the geocaching checkpoints throughout the state. You can also sign up for one of the DNR’s geocaching adventures to brush up on your skills or learn the art of geocaching.