Mille Lacs Kathio State Park: A Park Above the Treetops

For a park that isn’t as well known as others, it sure is a beauty! It’s a great spot for a day trip or a breath of fresh air if your staying in the Mille Lacs area.

Quick Review: 7/10 This park has one amazing highlight, easy trails that are maintained well, a rich history, and bugs. Swampy areas on some of the trails brought on bugs, bring the spray.

Observation Tower

The observation tower is really the main draw to this park. I had originally planned on going to Mille Lacs Kathio last fall thinking that we would be able to see the leaf changes from the tower. Unfortunately, the tower was closed at the time of my planning, we opted to go to Crow Wing State Park instead and save Kathio for when the tower was open. The tower is open during the summer but closes for fall/winter due to icy, unsafe conditions.

Get there early! We made the decision to hit this highlight right away after entering the park. We had a little one along and when that is the case, hitting the highlights first is important. It was a good thing too, we had the Tower to ourselves for a very short time. It became crowded rather quickly. There are rules posted at the base of the tower. It clearly states that you should not climb if there are six people up there. People do not heed the warning. Please follow the posted rules, safety first!

The view from the top of the tower is fantastic. Another perk of experiencing this attraction first, is getting a panoramic view of the area yet to be explored. It’s a unique experience only available at 5 state parks in Minnesota.

History

If you are a history buff or have an interest in Native American history or archeology, this is a park for you. With numerous places to stop along the Landmark trail there is plenty of opportunity to catch a bit of information. The most interesting thing that I learned was that the name “Kathio” basically came from poor handwriting. Haha!

There are at least 30 archeological sites in the park alone. This area was the homeland of historic Dakota tribe and Ojibwe tribe. Pretty cool! Stop and read about the history of these peoples at different locations along the trail. This would be an ideal spot to explore for scouting groups learning about Native American history.

Landmark Trail

This trail is relatively short, just 1.5 miles. Once you’ve reached the last informative sign, it’s been 3/4 of a mile, turning back would make it 1.5 miles. The Landmark Trail is well cared for with a mowed picnic area near the Rum river and Ogechie lake.

Hiking Club Trail

Once passed the Landmark Trail and onto the hiking club trail it becomes more wild and secluded. Along the way, you’ll experience steep hills and marsh/swamp areas. This landscape has created the perfect environment for moss and fungi to grow. We encountered some rather unique mushrooms and plant life. Ferns galore!! I couldn’t believe the amount and variety of ferns growing along the hiking club trail. By completing the landmark trail and the hiking trail together, you’ll have covered about three and a quarter miles.

Other Park Activities & Amenities

While we chose to do a day trip at Mille Lacs Kathio, there are other options for enjoying the park. Whether you are staying at the park or just near by, it’s open year round with a multitude of activities.

Winter

  • Sliding hill near the Trial Center
  • Warming House- also the Trail Center
  • Snowshoeing and snowshoe rentals ($6/day)- just under 8 miles of trails
  • Skiing and Cross Country Ski rentals ($10/day) -about 20 miles groomed trails
  • Snowmobile Trails- Connects to Grant in Aid Snowmobile Trail
  • Lantern Ski- Check the events calender for event date & time (A magical experience, check out #5 on 6 Minnesota State Parks Not to Miss This Winter. Same thing, different park. )

Summer

  • Swimming Beach
  • Picnic Area
  • Hiking
  • Horse Trails
  • Canoe Access -no rentals (BYOC)
  • Educational programs (events calender)

Camping

  • Drive-in
  • RV
  • Backpack
  • Walk-in
  • Horse Camp
  • Group Camp
  • Camper Cabins- Open year round, no pets
A Bite to Eat Post Hike

While we always bring snacks and water along for the kids and ourselves. It’s always a special treat to get a good meal after a day in the woods. This little spot on Mille Lacs Lake is just outside of the State Park. Actually as you are leaving the state park, go straight across Hwy 169 and you’ll find yourself at The Launch. It’s an okay place to eat. We sat indoors but the patio area looked really nice. We visited during Covid times and had some interesting service. It was difficult time, so we weren’t too concerned.

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