Much of the Minnesota landscape is studded with natural beauty – around 227,000 acres of parks and recreation areas to be exact. 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 to explore.
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.
For the uninitiated, finding the best parks to visit can be a real ordeal. If you are looking for great summer activities, you’ll have 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, but for those looking to plant their feet on only the best of the best, we rounded up the ten most popular Minnesota state parks for you to explore so you can better plan your itinerary.
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 simply isn’t fair to the Minnesota State Park system. We all know that certain parks are better suited for different purposes and times of the year.
Our Favorite Minnesota State Parks by Season
|Activity||Name||Why It’s Great|
|Best Minnesota State Park in Spring||Tettegouche State Park||Spring is waterfall season and High Falls is a must-see.|
|Best Minnesota State Park in Summer||Voyageurs National Park||Rent a house boat and canoe this sprawling channel of lakes.|
|Best Minnesota State Park in Fall||Gooseberry Falls State Park||An excellent spot for fall colors paired with scenic waterfalls.|
|Best Minnesota State Park in 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 out your visit based on location!
Top 10 State Parks in Minnesota to Visit
1. Banning State Park
Just a couple of minutes off I-35 is Banning State Park. Seventeen miles of wild hiking trails that 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.
If you’re looking 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 located along the trail.
PRO TIP: This park is among our favorite Minnesota state park camping destinations. All sites in the Banning State Park Campground 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 located within General Andrews State Forest. Most attractions are accessible to the disabled and can accommodate groups of 45 or more.
See Related: Best Parks in Minneapolis
2. Blue Mounds State Park
Blue Mounds is one of the best state parks in southwestern Minnesota for rest and relaxation. Located on the tallest hill in Luverne Minnesota, Blue Mounds State Park is filled to the brim with surprises.
Unique geological features and spectacular views are this park’s main draws, 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’re looking 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
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 the most beautiful state parks in Minnesota.
While it’s one of the smallest parks in the state, the 120-feet 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 reach 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
Travelers who have visited Glacial Lakes come home with some of the most memorable experiences. When standing on top of the scenic glacial hills and beholding the expansive open prairie, it’s 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.
During spring through fall, thousands of wildflowers and prairie grasses blanket the landscape. 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.
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5. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs 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 a few nights at any of the state park’s 270 campsites. 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: 13 Best National Parks to Visit in December
6. 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
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.
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.
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8. 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, which include swimming from the beaches of the Whitewater River 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 spending the night 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:
- Best Breweries in Rochester
- Best Day Trips from Rochester
- Where to Stay in Rochester, Minnesota
- Best Museums in Rochester, Minnesota
See Related: 10 Best Museums in Minnesota
9. 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 also one of the most popular, and with good reason.
This pristine location is home to several rivers, lakes, and miles of 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 as they exploring the area.
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 located 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 go sunbathing during the summer months.
See Related: 21 Best Van Camping Equipment
10. 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.
Take a journey across Wilderness Drive and admire tall north woods trees, or take a 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: Best & Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis, MN
List of State Parks in MN
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.
|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 the state of Minnesota?
Minnesota has a network of 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.
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