Whether you live in Minnesota or western Wisconsin — or you’re interested in relocating to the area — you’re bound to be surrounded by nature. Even while living in the Twin Cities metro area, scenic state parks are just a quick drive away.
Here is a list of Minnesota and Wisconsin state parks that should be on your must-visit stops. From rushing waterfalls to steep cliffs, lush forests to clear lakes, there’s plenty of nature to explore and enjoy in the Midwest.
Best state parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin
With 66 state parks in Minnesota and 43 state parks in Wisconsin, a diverse array of recreational activities abound. These natural areas have been established, preserved and enjoyed for years, making the state park system a crown jewel of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In fact, the Minnesota state park system is the second oldest in the country, which demonstrates the dedication and importance these Midwest states place on nature and recreation.
In this article, we’re diving into 10 of the most popular and standout state parks within various regions in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Keep reading for tips on selecting which state parks to visit, along with details on the trails and campsites nearby.
Popular parks and trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin
With nearly 10 million state park visitors in the area each year, it’s clear that Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to intriguing natural escapes. The beauty that surrounds this region is unlike any other. Plus, they can be enjoyed throughout all four seasons. Some of the draws to parks and trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin include:
- Rivers, lakes and streams
- Cliffs and rock formations
- Variety of trees and flowers
- Historic and archeological sites
- Hiking, biking, fishing, bird watching and other recreational activities
State parks near Duluth
Magnificent state parks are nestled in the northern woods of Minnesota. Located near Duluth, state parks in this area feature some of the most pristine water and towering trees. Here we’ll dive into three popular parks in northern Minnesota.
Jay Cooke State Park
The Jay Cooke State Park is fun for the entire family to explore. Whether you want to dedicate a weekend to exploring every nook and cranny of the area or you only have an hour to spare, there are all kinds of options to enjoy this habitat.
Known for its swinging bridge, views of the St. Louis River and the Thompson Pioneer Cemetery (which is over 200 years old), there are plenty of sights to see in Jay Cooke State Park. The area is well-known for bird watching too.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Situated in Two Harbors, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is a historic location to visit in Minnesota. You can camp, tour the lighthouse, picnic by the lake and so much more. The lighthouse overlooks the massive Lake Superior, providing picturesque views in the summer and winter alike.
While making the trek to Split Rock Lighthouse, be sure to venture on to other popular state parks nearby, such as Tettegouche and Gooseberry Falls.
Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the country. This location is home to the mouth of the Mississippi River, which flows from Minnesota south to the Gulf of Mexico.
In this unique location, visitors can camp, fish and explore the historic landmark where the Mississippi River begins. Not to mention, Itasca State Park is near Park Rapids — a town known for its quaint gift shops and small-town restaurants.
State parks near Minneapolis
Fort Snelling State Park
You can find Fort Snelling State Park just east of Richfield and across the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota. This park is open daily for recreational activities throughout the seasons. Trails throughout Fort Snelling State Park allow for biking, cross-country skiing, hiking and more. There are interpretive exhibits and events centered on the nature and history of the area, which was originally inhabited by the Mdewakanton Dakota people. Whether you live in the metro or you’re in the area on vacation, this park is a must-see.
Afton State Park
Hastings, Minnesota is home to Afton State Park. In Afton, visitors enjoy camping and hiking on land and swimming and canoeing in the nearby waters. If you’re ready to spend a night or two in the wilderness, the option to backpack camp is offered here. However, if you’re short on time, it is also a great location to enjoy scenic overlooks or a quick picnic lunch.
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is well known for its year-round fishing. When visiting the area, be sure to pack your fishing poles along with traditional outdoor supplies. Durable shoes will be needed as you hike through the woods or opt to bird watch in the area. After a day of exploring, consider driving northwest to Brainerd, which is home to some of the best restaurants, shopping and lodging you’ll find “Up North.”
State parks in southern Minnesota
The landscape of southern Minnesota differs from the northern part of the state, and you’re much more likely to observe more prairies and bluffs as you enter the area’s state parks. This region of Minnesota also offers a great balance of wildlife and recreation.
Great River Bluffs State Park
Winona, Minnesota boasts lush green banks alongside the Mississippi River and the Great River Bluffs State Park. Views of foliage and valleys are plentiful from the bluffs within the state park. In the summer and early fall, this quiet park is visited by thousands of birdwatchers and hikers. In the winter, it’s great for cross-country skiing.
Frontenac State Park
Located just southeast of Red Wing, Frontenac State Park is another destination that provides beautiful views all year long. After the trees change colors in fall, summer hiking trails transform into winter sledding hills. Bring the entire family to enjoy Frontenac State Park and the surrounding area for a daytime adventure or a weekend camping experience.
Top state parks in Wisconsin
Western Wisconsin is also home to scenic yet accessible state parks. Whether you live in Wisconsin or are a Minnesota resident looking for a nearby adventure, these state parks should be added to your list of natural locations to visit.
Willow River State Park
Willow River State Park features access to the Willow River Gorge and the breathtaking Willow River Falls. The falls cascade into a body of water, making the scene a picturesque location for a photo op or a backdrop to a picnic lunch.
Located right outside Hudson, this Wisconsin state park is also popular for overnight camping; the park offers a variety of accommodations, including tent spots and RV hookups.
Interstate State Park
As Wisconsin’s oldest state park, Interstate State Park is a proud showcase for the town of St. Croix Falls. In the park, visitors become acquainted with the history of the area and learn about local nature and wildlife through films, photographs and more.
When in Interstate State Park, rock climbing, swimming, fishing and hiking are all options.
Finding a home and state parks near me
Now that you have a taste of the incredible state parks throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, what’s stopping you from living near a nature preserve? If you’re interested in moving into a new home or purchasing a cabin close to the beauties of the region, now is the time to reach out to Edina Realty or your agent.
We’re committed to helping you find the property of your dreams — and we have local experts throughout the state to help ensure you find your next home in the area you desire.