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10 Best State Parks in Minnesota to Visit (+ Map)

10 Best State Parks in Minnesota to Visit (+ Map)

The Minnesota landscape is studded with natural beauty – around 227,000 acres of parks and recreation areas. Minnesota’s state parks include sites on the prairie, vast rolling hills, and towering cliffs of Lake Superior.

These untamed spaces offer glimpses of Minnesotan history and culture while presenting unique recreational opportunities and outdoor adventures. 

State parks are dear to the state of Minnesota. They are the best cheap thing to do in Minnesota, as all you need to do is pay a small state permit. Millions of visitors and residents flock to these areas to rest, recreate, and commune with nature.

Finding the best parks can be a real ordeal for the uninitiated. If you are looking for great summer activities, there will be no shortage of them in Minnesota! Here’s a clip of some summer fun in Minnesota from our YouTube channel.

Just how many parks are in the Minnesota state park system? Minnesota has 66 state parks and nine recreation areas. For traveling completists, that’s a lot of surface area to cover.

Still, for those looking to plant their feet on only the best of the best, we rounded up the ten most popular Minnesota state parks to explore to plan your itinerary better. 

PRO TIP: Most of these state parks are out in the sticks and are much easier to access by car. Check out Kayak for car rentals in Minnesota.

Top State Parks in Minnesota By Category

Minnesota has a TON of great state parks. The state park system is so great that nearly 10 million people visit parks in Minnesota each year.

Narrowing the list down to just a handful of top picks isn’t fair to the Minnesota State Park system. We all know certain parks are better suited for different purposes and times of the year.

Activity Name Why It’s Great
Spring Tettegouche State Park Spring is waterfall season and High Falls is a must-see.
Summer Voyageurs National Park Rent a house boat and canoe this sprawling channel of lakes.
Fall Gooseberry Falls State Park An excellent spot for fall colors paired with scenic waterfalls.
Winter Afton State Park Mecca for cross country skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, and winter camping.

Map of the Best Minnesota State Parks

Here is a hand-created printable Minnesota state park map of the best state parks in Minnesota so you can plan your visit based on location!

Map of Best Minnesota State Parks

Top 10 State Parks in Minnesota to Visit

1. Banning State Park

Banning State Park

Just a couple of minutes off I-35 is Banning State Park. Seventeen miles of wild hiking trails wind along the Kettle River, and majestic sandstone rock formations lead to the ruins of Banning Sandstone Quarry.  

In the spring, the intrepid kayakers and canoeists flock to the area to dare the turbulent rapids of Mother’s Delight, Blueberry Slide, Hell’s Gate, and Dragon’s Tooth. Come summer, the scenery becomes even more stunning.

Take a hike along the Kettle River to witness breathtaking rock formations made vibrant by liverworts, lichens, and mosses.  

To dip your toes in history, visit the Sandstone Quarry near Hell’s Gate. Hikers taking the Quarry Loop Trail will witness remnants of a building where sandstone rock was crushed and sorted before being loaded onto railroad cars for transportation. 

A handicap-accessible trail leads to the Teacher’s Overlook, where a stunning view of Hell’s Gate Rapids and portions of Mother’s Delight, Blueberry Slide, and Teacher’s Pet may be seen. Learn about the park’s unique geology and wildlife through interpretive panels along the trail. 

PRO TIP: This park is among our favorite Minnesota state park camping destinations. All Banning State Park Campground sites are open for reservations from April 1 to mid-November. There are 22 non-electric sites, 11 electric sites, and one camper cabin.

The state park also manages the Willow River Campground within General Andrews State Forest. Most attractions are accessible to the disabled and accommodate groups of 45 or more. 

See Related: Best Parks in Minneapolis

2. Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds is one of the best state parks in southwestern Minnesota for rest. Located on the tallest hill in Luverne, Minnesota, Blue Mounds State Park is filled to the brim with surprises.

This park’s main draws are unique geological features and spectacular views, with 1,532 acres of untamed natural beauty. 

Travelers flock to Blue Mounds to hike, camp, swim, mountain bike, or go cross-country skiing. If you want to spend your downtime in restful inactivity, this park offers enough gorgeous views to pair with your reposeful mood. 

The Blue Mounds campground has 77 wooded sites open year-round with a rustic and accessible disabled-friendly cabin. Each site in the area houses a fire ring and a picnic table. Water founds and toilets are scattered throughout the campgrounds for your convenience.  

PRO TIP: All trails in the area are open for hiking, but only three are designated as hiking only. Among the most notable trails are Flintrock Nature Trail, a beginner-friendly educational trail with interpretive signs that offer insight into the geology in the area, and Single Track Trail, a unique 3-mile mountain bike trail for daring cyclists willing to take on the challenge. 

See Related: Things to do in Wabasha, Minnesota

3. Grand Portage State Park

Grand Portage State Park

Bordering Canada and home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, Grand Portage is one of the most popular Minnesota state parks on this list. It’s also one of the best along the North Shore and one of Minnesota’s most beautiful state parks.

While it’s one of the smallest parks in the state, the 120-foot High Falls, which pours unstoppably into Pigeon River, is this location’s main draw. 

To bypass the falls, American Indians developed an ancient nine-mile trail from Lake Superior named the “The Grand Portage”. Today, travelers can take a half-mile trail and boardwalk to the falls overlook area.

If you’re looking to go nature-hopping, Grand Portage is one of the best Minnesota state parks to visit. A visit will have you venturing amidst hardwood-conifer forests and hiking trails that snake along the banks of the Pigeon River.

The breathtaking scenery and unique terrain attract photographers, hikers, and travelers looking to commune with nature.  

PRO TIP: Grand Portage is available for day use only with no options for overnight camping. There are 12 miles of dirt trails with difficulties ranging from easy to expert.

The trails to Pigeon River High Falls are paved and ADA compliant, but they aren’t accessible by wheelchair during the winter months. Because of the state park’s small size, it does not have a campground. 

See Related: Best Cabins in Minnesota

4. Glacial Lakes State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park

Travelers who have visited Glacial Lakes come home with some of the most memorable experiences. Standing on top of the scenic glacial hills and beholding the expansive open prairie makes it hard not to feel completely taken over by the dramatic scenery. 

This sprawling park is five miles south of Starbuck, at the crossroads between the central hardwood forest to the east and the original prairie land to the west.

The valleys and hills that make up this park are a testament to the impact of glaciers that once studded this area over 10,000 years ago. 

Thousands of wildflowers and prairie grasses blanket the landscape from spring through fall. Countless species of woodland and prairie birds consider Glacial Lakes their home.  If you’re looking to spend the night, 40 campsites in the park sit comfortably under the shade of towering oak trees.

Swim in the crystal clear waters of the beach located nearby, hike in any of its nature trails, explore the area by the boat ramp, rowboat, or canoe, or go horseback riding and cross-country skiing. There’s plenty to do for travelers looking to fill their itinerary. 

PRO TIP: Picnickers will find a deck beautifully overlooking Signaless Lake. The park’s council ring offers plenty of naturalist and interpretive programs suitable for all ages. 

See Related: Best Travel Routers for Remote Exploring

5. Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Minnesota to visit (it’s actually a national park) if you’re looking for the ultimate adventure. This national park features untouched natural landscapes mostly defined by water, thanks to the confluence of four major lakes on the US/Canadian border.  

It’s also part of the VAST Boundary Waters Canoe Area if you’re looking for incredible canoeing or kayaking adventures. Most travelers begin by car at the city of International Falls – the preferred launching point to access the area.

While the visitor’s center may be accessed by car, the state park’s heart – the Kabetogama Peninsula – may only be reached by plane, boat, or over the frozen lake during winter. 

Voyageurs National Park is in the southern boreal forest, featuring a myriad of activities including fishing, canoeing, and hiking the many trails. You can also visit historic sites like Ellsworth Rock Gardens and explore the local flora and fauna.   

Travelers looking to make the most of the parks are advised to stay at any of the state park’s 270 campsites a few nights. Note they are only accessible by boat travel.

You’ll find several public and private campgrounds on the inland shores, but these cater to car camping.   If you are a North Shore fanatic you can easily access this park by venturing to the middle of the state and towards the Canada border.

PRO TIP: Located deep within a forest and away from urban pollution affords travelers extremely clear skies. If you’re lucky, you may just witness one of the most amazing starscapes at night – the brilliant aurora borealis. 

See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in December

6. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Another favorite Minnesota state park hiking destination, the beauty of Minnesota’s Lake Superior and the North Shore is legendary. Beholding the North Shore from the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is the best way to enjoy this gorgeous region.

Named after its most prominent feature – a historic lighthouse that sits atop a rocky bluff – Split Rock offers beautiful trails, cobblestone beaches, cart-in campsites, cross-country skiing, and fishing. 

Walk along the pebble beach shoreline to get the best views of the historic lighthouse, or visit the nearby History Center to explore the structure from within. 

Once you’re done gawking over the lighthouse and learning about its history, try hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail. This magnificent trail offers hikers and backpackers the full North Shore experience by foot.  

Adventurers looking to spend the night may opt for any of the cart-in sights that offer phenomenal views of the lighthouse from a distance. Access to North Shore’s entirety makes Split Rock Lighthouse State Park one of the best state parks on this list. 

PRO TIP: The History Center offers excellent insights into the lighthouse’s history through exhibits, displays, and video presentations. Take a 20-minute tour of the lightkeeper’s home and outbuildings to learn about their remote way of life. 

Do note that Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is a separate entity from the Lighthouse.  Check out these amazing things to do in Two Harbors, Minnesota.

See Related: Frontenac Minnesota State Park Travel Guide

7. Jay Cooke State Park 

Jay Cooke State Park

Splendid views of the St. Louis River make Jay Cooke one of the best state parks in Minnesota on this list, and CERTAINLY one of the best Minnesota state parks in spring. The moment you exit the parking lot, you’re treated to picturesque views of the St. Louis River – a tributary of Lake Superior, which lies 20 miles to the north. 

A short drive from the unique harbor town of Duluth, this rugged park is the perfect playground for bikers, backpackers, horseback riders, skiers, and hikers making a day trip from the city.

Throughout the park, the St. Louis River makes its presence felt through steep valleys, water-eroded gorges, and massive rock formations. The park comes alive in spring and fall when wildflowers bloom and the environs burst with vivid colors. 

Jay Cooke has over 50 miles of some of Minnesota’s best hiking trails. Travelers who brave the steep terrain in Carlton Trail will be rewarded with the best views of the park, but you can also walk across the swinging suspension bridge above the raging St. Louis River. 

PRO TIP: If you’re seeking wildlife, there’s plenty to see in Jay Cooke. With a thriving ecosystem, Jay Cooke is an integral wintering area for white-tailed deer.

Timber wolves, black bears, and coyotes are the most common among the 46 animal species found in the park. Notable birdlife includes the marsh hawk, pileated woodpecker, and the great blue heron. 

See Related: 67+ Most Amazing Places in the World

8. Whitewater State Park 

Whitewater State Park

One of the coolest state parks in Minnesota, this popular 2,700-acre park is 25 miles east of Rochester in Southern Minnesota. It features picture-perfect limestone bluffs and deep ravines, but its flowing waters are its main draw. While you are nearby, check out these best things to do in Rochester to fill your itinerary.

A true angler’s paradise, the spring-fed Trout Run Creek and Whitewater River thrive with brook, rainbow, and brown trout, drawing in travelers looking to cast a line. 

But more than just fishing, Whitewater State Park offers a myriad of outdoor activities, including swimming from the Whitewater River’s beaches and hiking along the picturesque limestone bluff trails.

Visitors can also scale Chimney Rock for spectacular views of the verdant landscape. For interpretive programs about the natural and human history of the areas, travelers can take a trip to the visitor’s center. 

Come winter, there’s even more to do. Visitors can enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or staying at the group center in rustic camper cabins. Unlike other state parks in Minnesota, travelers will be delighted to know that there are zero mosquitoes in Whitewater State Park! 

Check out these amazing activities to do in Minnesota during the winter via our YouTube channel.

PRO TIP:  Whitewater State Park is home to a host of flora and fauna. Over 250 kinds of birds and 50 kinds of mammals use the Whitewater River Valley during different seasons of the year.

Once spring arrives, keep your eyes peeled for the Louisiana waterthrush, an elusive bird that methodically bobs its rear ends while foraging.

Around 43% of Minnesota’s rare plants and animals live in the Blufflands where Whitewater State Park is located in. 

Here are several guides to nearby Rochester, southern Minnesota to help you explore the local area:

See Related: Best Museums in Minnesota

9. Tettegouche State Park 

Tettegouche State Park

While it’s a mouthful to say, Tettegouche State Park has something to offer for every type of visitor. Encompassing over 9,000 acres of untouched wilderness, Tettegouche is one of the best Minnesota state parks and one of the most popular, and with good reason.

This pristine location has several rivers, lakes, and picture-perfect hiking trails. Everywhere you go in Tettegouche, you’ll find sceneries worthy of a postcard. 

A hot spot for anyone longing for the outdoors, Tettegouche is studded with jutting cliff sides, pebble beaches, and over 20 miles of hiking trails. You’ll also find designated areas for rock climbing – a unique attraction amidst Minnesota’s State Park system. 

There are plenty of spaces to camp out at Tettegouche, so travelers can spend as many days exploring the area as they want. Here, outdoor activities are aplenty.

Hike up to High Falls (Minnesota’s highest waterfall, yeah, way better than Minnehaha Falls), head over to any of the area’s six inland lakes, have a picnic at Nipisquit Lake, or go rock climbing at any of the state parks 100 designated wall climbing areas. 

Tettegouche is also home to some winged beauties and many other animals. These include white-tail deer, black bears, and the occasional northern flying squirrel. 

PRO TIP: The Baptism River is a short hike from the Tettegouche visitor’s center. This river flows into Lake Superior, creating a scenic cobblestone sand bar. It’s a great place to dip your toes or sunbathe during summer. 

While visiting, hop in the car, head just a few miles north, and check out Cascade River State Park. Further north still, and you’ll hit up the utterly charming Grand Marais.

See Related: Best Things To Do in Granite Falls, Minnesota

10. Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park

If you’re looking for one of the best Minnesota state parks, be sure to pay a visit to Itasca. As Minnesota’s oldest state park, Itasca offers more than just spectacular sceneries and outdoor activities, but rich history as well.

Established in 1891, Itasca covers 32,000 acres of land with over 100 lakes.   You’ll find old-growth forests, ancient lakes, towering pines, and 49 miles of hiking trails in Itasca. Itasca State Park is also famous for offering access to the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Sit back and relax with a cup of coffee at the historic Douglas Lodge or spy on a host of birdlife, including loons, cormorants, grebes, hummingbirds, finches, and warblers. Travel across Wilderness Drive, admire tall Northwood trees, or hike on the scenic Bohall and Nicollet Trail. 

If you grab a map of Minnesota state parks, you’ll see Itasca’s longstanding relationship with the Gulf of Mexico. This Minnesota state park offers you a chance to stand at the Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi River – an incredible 2,318-mile river that runs to the Gulf of Mexico. 

PRO TIP: One of the best ways to explore Itasca is on a boat tour. Here, local naturalists may guide you through Itasca’s local flora and fauna and walk you through the history of Native Americans and how logging is essential to the area. 

See Related: Things to Do in Minneapolis, MN

List of All State Parks

Not bad, eh? If our top 10 has you hungry for more, here is a list of every state park in Minnesota, along with the corresponding address and further information about visiting.

Name Address
Afton State Park 6959 Peller Avenue South, Hastings, MN 55033
Banning State Park P.O. Box 643 Sandstone, MN 55072
Bear Head Lake State Park 9301 Bear Head State Park Road Ely, MN 55731
Beaver Creek Valley State Park 15954 County 1 Caledonia, MN 55921
Big Bog State Recreation Area P.O. Box 428 Waskish, MN 56685
Big Stone Lake State Park 35889 Meadowbrook State Park Road Ortonville, MN 56278
Blue Mounds State Park 1410 161st Street Luverne, MN 56156
Buffalo River State Park 565 155th Street South Glyndon, MN 56547
Camden State Park 1897 Camden Park Road Lynd, MN 56157
Carley State Park Whitewater State Park 19041 Hwy 74
Cascade River State Park 3481 West Highway 61, Lutsen, MN 55612
Charles A. Lindbergh State Park 1615 Lindbergh Drive South Little Falls, MN 56345
Crow Wing State Park 3124 State Park Road Brainerd, MN 56401
Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area 307 3rd Street Ironton, MN 56455
Father Hennepin State Park P.O. Box 397 Isle, MN 56342
Flandrau State Park 1300 Summit Avenue New Ulm, MN 56073
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park 21071 County 118 Preston, MN 55965
Fort Ridgely State Park 72158 County Road 30 Fairfax, MN 55332
Fort Snelling State Park 101 Snelling Lake Road St. Paul, MN 55111
Franz Jevne State Park State Highway 11 Birchdale, MN 56629
Frontenac State Park 29223 County 28 Blvd, Frontenac, MN 55026
Garden Island State Recreation Area Zippel Bay State Park3684 – 54th Ave. NW Williams, MN 56686
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Tettegouche State Park 5702 Highway 61 Silver Bay, MN 55614
Glacial Lakes State Park 25022 County Road 41 Starbuck, MN 56381
Glendalough State Park 24869 Whitetail Lane Battle Lake, MN 56515
Gooseberry Falls State Park 3206 Highway 61 East, Two Harbors, MN 55616
Grand Portage State Park 9393 East Highway 61 Grand Portage, MN 55605
Great River Bluffs State Park 43605 Kipp Drive Winona, MN 55987
Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area 17980 640th Avenue Litchfield, Mn 55355 Meeker County
Hayes Lake State Park 48990 County Road 4 Roseau, MN 56751
Hill Annex Mine State Park Hill Annex Mine State Park C/O Scenic State Park 56956 Scenic Highway 7
Interstate State Park PO Box 254 307 Milltown Road Taylors Falls, MN 5508
Iron Range OHV State Recreation Area Iron Range OHV SRA 7196 Pettit Road Gilbert, MN 55741
Itasca State Park 36750 Main Park Drive Park Rapids, MN 56470
Jay Cooke State Park 780 Highway 210 Carlton, MN 55718
John A. Latsch State Park Whitewater State Park 19041 Highway 74
Judge C.R. Magney State Park 4051 East Highway 61 Grand Marais, MN 55604
Kilen Woods State Park 50200 860th Street Lakefield, MN 56150
La Salle Lake State Recreation Area Picnic Area and Canoe Launch: 9887 County 9, Solway, MN 56678Boat Launch and Cabins: 10045 County 9, Solway, MN 56678Campground: 10221 County 9, Solway, MN 55678
Lac qui Parle State Park 14047 20th Street Northwest Watson, MN 56295
Lake Bemidji State Park 3401 State Park Road Northeast Bemidji, MN 56601
Lake Bronson State Park 3793 230th St Box 9 Lake Bronson, MN 56734
Lake Carlos State Park 2601 County Road 38 Northeast Carlos, MN 56319
Lake Louise State Park 21071 County 118 Preston, MN 55965
Lake Maria State Park 11411 Clementa Avenue Northwest Monticello, MN 55362
Lake Shetek State Park 163 State Park Road Currie, MN 56123
Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park Summer mine entrance: 1302 McKinley Park RoadGPS coordinates do not take you to the summer entrance! Follow street signs, not your GPS.Winter mine entrance: 1379 Stuntz Bay RoadLake Vermilion Unit Entrance: U.S. Highway 169
Maplewood State Park 39721 Park Entrance Road Pelican Rapids, MN 56572
McCarthy Beach State Park 7622 McCarthy Beach Road Side Lake, MN 55781
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park 15066 Kathio State Park Road Onamia, MN 56359
Minneopa State Park 54497 Gadwall Road Mankato, MN 56001
Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area 19825 Park Boulevard Jordan, MN 55352
Monson Lake State Park 1690 15th Street Northeast Sunburg, MN 56289
Moose Lake State Park 4252 County Road 137 Moose Lake, MN 55767
Myre – Big Island State Park 19499 780th Avenue Albert Lea, MN 56007
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park 9700 170th Street East Nerstrand, MN 55053
Old Mill State Park 33489 240th Avenue Northwest Argyle, MN 56713
Red River State Recreation Area 515 2nd Street Northwest East Grand Forks, MN 56721
Rice Lake State Park 8485 Rose Street Owatonna, MN 55060
St. Croix State Park 30065 St. Croix Park Road Hinckley, MN 55037
Sakatah Lake State Park 50499 Sakatah Lake State Park Road Waterville, MN 56096
Savanna Portage State Park 55626 Lake Place McGregor, MN 55760
Scenic State Park 56956 Scenic Highway 7 Bigfork, MN 56628
Schoolcraft State Park 9042 Schoolcraft Lane NE Deer River, MN 56636
Sibley State Park 800 Sibley Park Road Northeast New London, MN 56273
Split Rock Creek State Park 336 50th Avenue Jasper, MN 56144
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616
Temperance River State Park 5702 Highway 61 Silver Bay, MN 55614
Tettegouche State Park 5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614
Upper Sioux Agency State Park 5908 Highway 67 Granite Falls, MN 56241
Whitewater State Park 19041 Highway 74 Altura, MN 55910
Wild River State Park 39797 Park Trail Center City, MN 55012
William O’Brien State Park 16821 O’Brien Trail North Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047
Zippel Bay State Park 3684 54th Avenue Northwest Williams, MN 56686

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many state parks are in Minnesota?

Minnesota has more than 17,000 miles of recreational trails and 66 state parks, providing visitors with year-round outdoor activities.

What is the largest state park in Minnesota?

Moose Lake State Park is the largest of Minnesota’s 200+ state parks.

Are all Minnesota state parks open?

Minnesota currently has 66 state parks, and Minnesota’s State Parks are open every day of the year.

Related Minnesota Guides

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