So you’re driving 2, 3, or even 4 hours to get to a Minnesota State Park and you’re wondering, “Should I do more than one park in a single day?” The answer is often, YES! Especially if you’re driving long-distance or making a long weekend out of the trip. For some, I have an explanation on how you should combine them and plan your day. For others, it’s simply proximity reasons. Here are my recommended park combinations!
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Minnesota State Park – Multi-Park Combinations
Forestville/Mystery Cave & Lake Louise
First things first! If Mystery Cave is operating their tours and you plan to visit, you’ll need to make online reservations in advance. I would start with Lake Louise State Park which is a short 1.3-mile hike. Then drive to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, enjoy a picnic lunch, visit the Historic town of Forestville, do your 2-mile Hiking Club trail, and then visit Mystery Cave. If the cave is not operating their tours and/or you’d like to do a bit more hiking, I recommend the trail to the Zumbro Hill Cemetery or the Big Spring Trail. This park’s Hiking Club trail sadly does not show the park’s best features so you’ll need to do a bit more hiking to see those.
Sakatah Lake & Rice Lake
These two are an easy drive from the Twin Cities. But they’re so close to each other, that you really should do both in the same day. Be sure to do this combination in the early spring. Sakatah Lake has multiple swampy ponds that breed droves of thirsty mosquitoes in the summertime. But in the spring before the mosquitoes hatch, those same ponds are filled with spring peeper frogs that sing, and sing, and sing! It also has beautiful wildflowers in the spring
Father Hennepin & Mille Lacs Kathio
These neighboring parks absolutely light up with reds, yellows, and oranges in the autumn!
Blue Mounds, Split Rock Creek, Lake Shetek & Camden
Here we have a great weekend of hiking. Lake Shetek is one of my favorite parks. Especially in the fall with its incredible colors. Camden is just a short drive away. Sadly, Camden breeds mutant pterodactyl mosquitoes in the summer, so it’s best to combine it with Lake Shetek on a beautiful autumn day when the mosquitoes have passed on for the season. Blue Mounds is a wide open prairie area with absolutely no shaded relief from the hot sun. So add it and Split Rock Creek to your fall weekend hikes in the southwest corner of the state.
Whitewater & Carley
These parks are wonderful any time of year. But in the spring they are covered with gorgeous wildflowers. Marsh marigold, rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies, and wild sarsaparilla are plentiful.
Fort Ridgely, Minneopa, & Flandrau
Here’s another hiking weekend for you. I would start with Fort Ridgely and then head for Minneopa. Those two parks have enough within them to keep a person entertained all day between visiting the fort ruins, viewing the bison, the waterfalls, and the hikes themselves. The next day, head for Flandrau. The park is located right in New Ulm and can be very popular with the locals on the weekends when the swimming hole is open. New Ulm is also the home of the Schell’s Brewery. So if they are operating their tours and offering tastings of their many brews and my personal favorite, 1919 Root Beer! A nice reward for some decent hiking!
The North Shore: Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, Tettegouche, George H Crosby Manitou, Temperance River, Cascade River, Judge CR Magney, & Grand Portage
This is a big undertaking! You’ll want to spread this grouping over several days. Not only is it a lot of parks to tackle, but the North Shore offers some of the most challenging Hiking Club Trails in the entire state. So plan accordingly! The North Shore is one of my favorite places on earth. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to get these all done in one trip. Visit the Shore again and again. You’ll be glad you did.
- Gooseberry Falls – moderate hike-2.2 miles
- Split Rock Lighthouse – difficult and long hike-5.8 miles
- Tettegouche – moderate hike-2.0 miles
- George H Crosby Manitou – the most difficult hike in the Hiking Club-4.2 miles-totally worth it!
- Temperance River – moderate hike-1.9 miles
- Cascade River – difficult hike-3.5 miles
- Judge CR Magney – second most difficult hike in the Hiking Club due to the sheer number of stairs-2.5 miles
- Grand Portage – the easiest hike in the Hiking Club-paved 1.0 mile
Sibley & Monson Lake
Start with Sibley and enjoy your walk through this gem. My first round of the Hiking Club was my first visit to this park and I enjoyed the 4 miles very much. Monson Lake is one of a handful of smaller parks that I call “unloved”. They don’t get a lot of visitors and don’t seem to be maintained very well. But it has a haunting history so be sure to take the time to pause and reflect. It’s only a short 1 mile trail so it is easily tacked on to a longer hike such as Sibley.
Itasca & La Salle Lake Rec Area
When you’re in this area, it’s all about Itasca! So start with La Salle Lake Rec so you can see the truly humble beginning of the mighty Mississippi. Then drive to Itasca and stay there for as long as you can! The Hiking Club trail does not showcase the park’s highlights. So do the HC trail and then discover this park’s glory in other places.
Scenic & McCarthy Beach
I absolutely adore these two parks. Start with Scenic. Enjoy every moment of the whispering pines on the Chase Point Trail. Then drive over to the McCarthy Beach area. But before you hike, seek out Bimbo’s Octagon restaurant for some pizza. Yummy!! After your pizza has settled, make your way to McCarthy Beach for your hike. A family of loons live on Pickerel Lake. There is nothing more hauntingly beautiful than the call of a loon and I listen intently for their calls whenever I’m there.
Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine & Bear Head Lake
If it’s operating, you’ll want to allow time to take the underground mine tour. If you’re there in the heat of the summer, then take your hike first. When you go to tour the mine afterwards, you’ll appreciate the year-round 51 degree temperature underground! Drive over to Bear Head Lake and enjoy all the trail snacks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many raspberry and blueberry bushes in one place before!
The Corner & The Angle: Big Bog, Franz Jevne, Zippel Bay, Hayes Lake, Lake Bronson, Old Mill, Red River Rec Area & Buffalo River
I did this particular grouping over Labor Day Weekend in 2018. It was ambitious to be sure. By the end of the second day I questioned my own sanity. It wasn’t even all the hiking that was getting to me, but all the driving. But honestly, I was quite proud of myself upon my return home. I asked myself if I would do that again and my heart gave me a resounding YES! The main reason I was able to pull this off is that all but one of the trails were 2.5 miles or less and all quite easy. If you’re also doing the Minnesota State Parks Passport Club, you’ll find the stamp for Garden Island at Zippel Bay.
- Big Bog – easy hike-2.0 miles
- Franz Jevne – easy hike-1.3 miles
- Zippel Bay – easy hike-1.5 miles
- Hayes Lake – easy hike-2.0 miles
- Lake Bronson – moderate hike-3.4 miles
- Old Mill – easy hike-1.4 miles
- Red River Rec Area – easy hike 2.2 miles
- Buffalo River – easy hike-2.5 miles
Are You Planning a Minnesota State Park Visit?
You’ll definitely want to check out these other articles for more information!
- Read the best times to visit Minnesota State Parks to plan your spring, summer or fall visit.
- Learn about the must-see spots on Minnesota’s North Shore in this article.
- The essential Minnesota Hiking Club Guide will tell you all you need to know about the Minnesota Hiking and Passport Clubs.