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5 St. Croix State Park Hikes

With 127 miles of hiking trails, where does a hiker even start?! St. Croix State Park offers a variety of different landscapes to view on it’s numerous hiking trails. Hikers have waterfront river views, burned regrowth, thick pine forest to roam, and deciduous trees galore for autumn color viewing.

Fees: All trails at this park are included in the state park entrance fee of $7 or the yearly state park pass of $35 per vehicle. The vehicle pass is totally worth the investment and can be purchased on the MN DNR website.

1. Two Rivers Loop

Distance: 5 Miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time to go: Spring to Autumn

Dog Friendly: Yes

To gain views from both the Kettle River and the larger St. Croix River, take this 5 mile loop and see where the two mighty forces converge. This loop is relatively easy along well maintained trails. The trails along the river are scenic especially in autumn, the only downfall to this trail is that the last 3/4 mile of the loop follows a dirt road. Worth it for the views of the two rivers meeting.

2. Kettle River High Banks

Distance: 3 miles one way, out and back (6 total)

Difficulty: Easy

Time to go: Spring to Autumn

Dog Friendly: Yes

Personal opinion: the BEST views on all of the park trails are on this trail. It also has a potent pine scent lingering in the air in the thicker pine forested areas. The Kettle River Overlook is the first impression upon approaching the river. A breathtaking view and a perfect location for a picnic either on the way out or back. The trail is well maintained and meets up with the Matthew Lourey State Trail that cuts through the park. This is the turn around point.

3. Rivers Edge Trail to River Bluffs Trail Loop

Distance: 1 mile loop, but can be made longer.

Difficulty: Easy

Time to go: Year round, becomes a ski trail in the winter (require state ski pass for 16+ if skiing in winter).

Dog Friendly: Yes, during the snowless months.

The Rivers Edge Trail runs along the St. Croix and loops back using the River Bluffs Trail near the campground. Due to it’s close proximity to the campground, there is more traffic on these trails. The views are still beautiful even if it’s less secluded. We found sign of otters along the river banks, very cool.

4. Sundance Self Guided Trail

Distance: 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time to go: Year round, becomes a ski trail in the winter (require state ski pass for 16+ if skiing in winter).

Dog Friendly: Yes

The Sundance Self Guided Trail is the parks interpretive trail. These are great for kids. My little guy loves checking out the signs at state park interpretive trails and reading about the habitat that we’re hiking. The trail begins at the Interpretive Center where visitors can grab a brochure on park info.

5. Matthew Lourey State Trail

The Matthew Lourey State Trail is a trail that stretches 80 miles from the Chengwatana State Forest and ends in the Nemadji State Forest. The trail runs along the outskirts of St. Croix State Park. There are spurs that lead to the more scenic areas of the park for thru-hikers to take in the view.

A Note on Wildlife

While hiking in St. Croix State Park, hikers are entering the home of the animals that live there. Remember that we are just guests visiting, try not to disturb them in their habitat. Follow leave no trace principles and keep your distance. St. Croix is home to an abundance of wildlife including:

  • Black Bear
  • Bobcats
  • White Tail Deer
  • Fox
    • Otter
  • Beaver
  • Racoon
  • Wolves
  • A great number of birds (owls, osprey, eagles, etc…)

We encountered a bear crossing the road on the scenic drive. We slowed to quietly observe her and watched her mosey on about her day.

Bear Spray: If you are nervous about bears in the park, carry a canister of bear spray. We’ve carried bear spray in some areas of northern Minnesota and have yet to need it.

Bonus Restaurant: Tobies! When in Hinkley one cannot miss a stop at Tobies for one of their melt in your mouth caramel rolls. Yum!

Mammoth Cave’s Family Friendly Cave Tour

One cannot visit Mammoth Cave National Park without visiting a cave in Mammoth Cave National Park. If you can only tour one cave on your visit, this is the one to tour.

Historic Tour

The Historic Tour was my favorite tour that we took in Mammoth Cave National Park. It covered so much of the history of the park, the different formations, and covered 2 miles underground.

Distance: 2 miles

Duration: 2 hours

Level: Moderate, 540 steps total, tight squeezes, and areas to duck down

Dog Friendly: No, there is limited boarding available (see below).

Fees: $20 Adults, $15 Youth (6-12), Children 5 and under free

Need to Know

Book Ahead– I strongly recommend booking ahead of time on the website, especially if visiting over a weekend. We didn’t book ahead until the day we took the tour and were almost unable to take the tour. We had booked a shorter tour, the Wandering Woods Tour, beforehand and didn’t realize that we’d be up for another one. We were visiting on a Friday, all tours were booked solid for Saturday and Sunday.

Pickup Tickets: Tickets purchased ahead of time or at the visitors center must be picked up 30 minutes prior to the tour.

What to Bring– Not much. There are a few things allowed and recommended, there are more things restricted.

  • Water- allowed
  • Camera-no flash or tripod
  • Front baby carriers
  • Canes permitted if required for stability
  • Sweatshirt or light jacket (cave is 54 degrees year-round)

What NOT to Bring– There are more restricted items than there are permitted items. Here are some things to leave behind.

  • Anything other than water.
  • Food (If you have dietary complications and require food before two hours passes, see your tour guide.)
  • Child Backpack Carriers, kids will likely hit their head.
  • Backpacks with metal frames, are higher than shoulders or lower than waist level.
  • Walking stick/trekking pole
  • Firearms, knives, weapons of any kind
  • Flashlights

Don’t Touch! This was something that the Park Rangers really stressed before and during tours. The oils from our hand have damaging effects on the cave walls and structured within the cave. It is quite obvious to see this damage in some sections of cave where visitors have touched. Do your best to avoid making contact with the cave walls and surfaces.

Watch Your Step– Something our guide said at the very beginning was, “If it looks wet, it probably is.” There are some spots in this cave that are wet and slippery, wear shoes with solid grip and no exposed toes. Leave your crocs at home.


After meeting at the shelter and hearing the guide rattle off the rules and regulations about the tour, you’ll head down to the cave entrance. Yes, down. The cave entrance is at the base of a downhill path, then it descends a flight of steps to the entrance of Mammoth Cave. When water levels are higher in the park there is a trickle of a waterfall flowing, we saw just a few drops.

Mammoth Dome

Upon entering the cave, it’s not tight or cramped. It’s actually quite spacious, and then it really opens up. Mammoth Dome is 57 stories high. That’s insane. The reason they call it “Mammoth Cave” is actually because of it’s size, not because of mammoths. That was a question Sandy had been wondering, we were happy our guide was able to answer.


For hundreds of years before Mammoth Cave’s rediscovery, Native Americans harvested minerals from this cave. It is unknown what they used the minerals for, but it sure is fascinating.

It was also used for harvesting gunpowder during the revolutionary war. Obviously, Great Britain wasn’t going to continue supplying the rebels with gun powder, so they had to find another source. Thankfully, Mammoth Cave had the resources they needed.

Gothic Ave

We meandered briefly into the Gothic Avenue tunnel, there were a couple of spots with writing on the wall. Some historic, some idiotic. We noticed a lot of Peters, interesting. Some this this writing was so neat with dates going back a couple hundred years. New graffiti is gross, old graffiti is fascinating. Bizzare.

Bottomless Pit

Don’t look down. Just kidding, totally look down. The depth of the this hole is mesmerizing and amazingly, it’s even farther down than it looks. While walking across on the bridge, look between the slats for a knee weakening experience.

Fat Mans Misery

There is a very tight squeeze for a portion of the tour, we needed to turn sideways and duck at the same time. It was fun to not just walk through a hole in the ground but to really experience maneuvering about the cave. Sandy showed off her petiteness and simply walked along. At the end of this narrow hall is a the Great Relief Hall, makes sense after the tight squeeze. It’s 280 feet below the surface. Here the tour guide spoke about sink holes and sea level while the group rested on benches, a good opportunity for a selfie.

The Tower

The tower of stairs brings guests back up on the way back to the cave entrance level and offers a view of an unground flow of water. This was such a neat thing to see, it distracts one from the their burning thighs. The majority of the 540 steps in this tour are right here in the tower. Be prepared to huff and puff like the big bad wolf after this thigh master.

Warning: Surfaces may be slippery.

Dog Boarding

The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers day us kennels for park visitors. There is limited space and is on a first come, first served basis. We did not make use of these kennels, our adventure dog was too old to make this journey comfortably so she stayed home. For more info on the day use kennels, see The Lodge at Mammoth Cave.

  • Rates: $3.50+ $1 per hour after first hour
  • Locks available for rent.
  • Day hours only, self service.
  • Bring water dish, spigot available.
  • Vaccination records required: Rabies, DHLP, Bordetella, Parvo
  • Do not leave pets in the car while attending a cave tour, Kentucky is hot!

Minnesota October Bucket List

October is an amazing time to be in Minnesota. The fall colors, crisp mornings, crisp apples, apple crisp…. I’m getting off track. Anyway, October is full autumn bliss and nature’s kiss, get outside and enjoy this season while it’s still beautiful! Here is a compellation of Bucket List ideas to get you started.

North Shore Hikes

Yes, it is worth the drive. No, it’s not overrated. The North Shore really is one of the best places in Minnesota to see the fall colors. The trick is getting the timing right. Check the DNR website to help plan your trip to get the timing right. The last couple of weeks in September and the first couple of weeks in October are the best, but that peak can come and go quick. Here are some of the most scenic spots along the North Shore:

  • Tettegouche
  • Gooseberry Falls
  • Split Rock Light House
  • Temperance River
  • Cascade River
  • Grand Portage (you’ll basically be in Canada)

Northern State Parks

One doesn’t necessarily have to get all the way up to Two Harbors or Silver Bay to enjoy the fall colors. A shorter jaunt to some closer, yet still “north” State Parks can satisfy that autumn color craving. Here are few colorful suggestions:

Campfire S’mores

Stay warm and cozy by the fire, have a gooey snack and maybe some hot chocolate, too. This is the perfect time of year for a bonfire and spooky stories with friends and family around the campfire. Break out the flannels, thermos, and your favorite campfire stories book.

Moonlit Hike

Watch the moon phase calendar for the next full moon and go for a moonlit hike or visit a state park with a night time program. October is prime time for evening events at Minnesota State Parks. The Minnesota State Parks Events calendar is full of adventure.

  • Geocaching The Spooky Edition- Jay Cooke (Oct. 13)
  • Park After Dark- Jay Cooke (Oct 14)
  • A Night Under the Stars-Lake Bemidji State Park (Oct 13)
  • Astronomy & Star Gazing- Glacial Lakes (Oct. 20)
  • “Who Cooks for Who?” Owl Chef- William O’Brien (Oct 20)
  • Spooky Candlelight Hike- Lake Bemidji State Park (Oct. 28)

Colorful River Paddle

An all time favorite, enjoy the leaves from the seat of a canoe or kayak. The reflection the leaves give off from the water is mesmerizing. There is just something about the calm stroke a paddle causing gentle swirls in the water as the watercraft quietly passes. This is one of the most serene autumn experiences.

Tip: Always wear your life vest. Cooler water temperatures increase risk of hypothermia if you flip.

Waterfall Hike

Visit a waterfall for a unique view of autumn leaves and cascading rivers. The North Shore is great for waterfall hikes but you don’t have to go that far north. Parks like Minneopa & Nerstrand Big Woods have waterfalls, the falls may be down to a trickle by fall, but they are still beautiful.

Southern MN Hike

When the leaves of the North Shore have already peaked, it’s time to head south. There are some beautiful parks in southern Minnesota with spectacular hikes! Here are a few suggestions:

Pumpkin Patch

Visit a pumpkin patch, Minnesota is loaded with them. Some have an excessive amount of kid friendly activities, others have a subtle autumn vibe about them. The later is my favorite. Find a sugar pumpkin to turn into a pie or bring home a premade pie. We enjoy the smaller pumpkin patches and avoid the crowds of the big attractions. For wholesome family fun and less chaos look for a simple patch that offers these few things.

  • Hayride
  • Pick Pumpkins
  • Pick Apples
  • Corn Maze

Bake Apple Crisp

Apple crips season, woohoo! Bake a warm apple crisp on a cool, crisp October evening. Go one step further and collect those apples from an orchard. Best fall scent is fresh apple cinnamon.

State Park Program

The Minnesota State Parks put on some pretty amazing programs throughout the year. Autumn is the perfect time to jump into one of these many programs. Many of them involve the night sky and the autumn change. Check out the Events Calendar for up to date events this fall.

Hike with Your Adventure Dog

Adventure dogs love fall colors too. Dogs love the new fall scents, cooler temperatures, and watching the squirrels scurry about preparing for winter. Get your dog out for some autumn hikes, Minnesota State Park trails are dog friendly. Check out Autumn Hiking Tips for Adventure Dogs.

Cabin Stay

Minnesota State Parks offer some pretty cozy accommodation. Many state parks have camper cabins. Some are all season, equipped with heat and perfect for an autumn getaway. Book ahead of time as these fill up fast. Reservations can be make at Minnesota State Parks and Trails website.

We stayed in at a Jay Cooke Camper Cabin last winter, it was so cozy and perfect for a cold weather get away! (Not dog friendly, bummer.)

River Hike

Minnesota has 6564 rivers within it’s borders. If you don’t have a chance to paddle a river, hiking alongside one works too. The colors in this habitat cannot be beaten. The river gives trees clearance to show off their autumn schemes and the tranquility of flowing water adds magic to an ordinary hike.

Scenic Bike Ride

Cover more ground on a bike rather than on foot. There are several scenic bike paths that are former railroads. This makes the paths flat, paved and easy. The colors along these trails will be gorgeous in early October.

  • Root River State Trail
  • Cannon Valley Trail
  • Willard Munger State Trail
  • Heartland State Trail
  • Paul Bunyan State Trail

However you enjoy the autumn season, make the most of October. Before you know it, November will be at out feet and our feet risk stepping in snow.

Autumn Hiking Tips for Adventure Dogs

Autumn hikes are the best! Your adventure dog thinks so, too. The cooler temperatures are more comfortable for thick coats, the changing season brings forth new scents, and the bustle of critters before winters adds new entertainment. Changes in the season mean slight changes in the hike as well. Check out these tips to keep your adventure dog hikes going into autumn.

Autumn hikes are the best! Your adventure dog thinks so, too. The cooler temperatures are more comfortable for thick coats, the changing season brings forth new scents, and the bustle of critters before winters adds new entertainment. Changes in the season mean slight changes in the hike as well. Check out these tips to keep your adventure dog hikes going into autumn.


It’s hunting season! Ducks, bow hunting for deer, and other little critters. Whether you hunt or not, your dog’s safety comes into play this time of year. Be sure to put an orange or pink vest on your dog to distinguish them from other animals. Our Great Dane looks like a deer, it’s very important that we place a vest on her while out hiking in the fall. Even if you think you’ll be staying on the trail, accidents happen, he might get loose.

Xena-doo in her pretty pink coat! Great Danes have a thinner coat and a thin skin layer. When the temperature drops, her jacket comes out. Perfect timing for hunting season.

Stay Warm

Most dogs are fine in the fall with their built in fur coat. Those with shorter coats or naked dogs, may need an extra layer. Senior dogs also have a harder time regulating their body temperature. A light jacket or sweater is helpful for dogs having a hard time keeping warm. This can also double as their visibility vest.


Keep your pup hydrated, even in the fall. The blistering heat has gone away, yay! Hiking the trail can still make a pup thirsty. Bring plenty of water and dish for your adventure dog to drink out of. Our favorite dish is the silicone collapsible style. Sturdy enough to hold water, yet compactable.

Respect Autumn Critters

If you’ve ever sat in the woods in autumn, you’ll have noticed a frantic amount of activity from the critters. Squirrels are preparing, winter is coming. The increased activity from these prey animals will have your pup intrigued and that prey drive peaked. Take care to keep your adventure dog on leash, don’t allow them to chase the wildlife. Remember that this is their home, we are visitors. They have enough to worry about.

Xena loved the squirrels at Interstate State Park, MN. You can look, but you can’t chase!


Paws? What? In late autumn, we may have snow on the ground in northern parts of Minnesota. The fresh snow may cause snowballs to form between your dog’s toes, especially fluffy dogs. Some preventatives include; salve or balm specially made for dog feet, boots for tolerant dogs, and checking your dog’s feet frequently.

Be Aware of State Park Hunting Schedule

If you’re planning a State Park hike in Minnesota between mid-October to mid-December, be sure to check the hunting schedule. There are limited hunting opportunities in the state parks, but it’s good to know beforehand. The dates can be found on the DNR website, some area of the parks may be closed during these dates.

Basic Trail Etiquette

No matter what time of year you’re hiking with your adventure dog, follow Basic Trail Etiquette for Adventure Dogs.

Backcountry Pancake Lesson

Who doesn’t love a good pancake on a cool camp morning. It’s the perfect meal to begin teaching young campers how to be a camp chef. Check out these tips on camp pancake making.

One of the best parts of camping is teaching my kids about camping and camp skills. On this years birthday trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, my daughter, Sandy, learned how to make Backcountry Pancakes.

It was brought to my attention while we were driving out to the NP that she was missing apple cinnamon pancake day in Home Ec. class. No worries! I assured her that she most certainly would not miss pancake day. No losing participation points here! The perfect opportunity to teach an important camping skill.

On our first camp breakfast of the trip, we had a pancake lesson. Sandy learned how to mix pancakes in a bag, start the camp stove, grease the pan, and fry up some flapjacks.

1. Prep

I like to keep things as simple as I can with as few dishes as possible while camp cooking. The easiest way to prep pancakes before camping is to measure out as much pancake mix as your party will eat in a meal into a ziplock bag. Write on the bag with permanent marker how much water is needed per your pancake serving amount. Example: Kodiak Pancake Mix (our favorite) takes 3/4 cup water per 1 cup of mix. This feeds our family of 4.

2. Gather Cooking Items

You’ll need a few items to successfully make pancakes at camp. Your kids can help gather materials, a good job for younger campers.

  • Camp Stove
  • Fuel
  • Lighter (if stove is not equipped with an igniter)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Pancake Mix
  • Rubber scraper or spatula
  • Plate & Spork
  • Soap & Sponge
  • Clean Water

3. Mix Pancakes

Pour clean water into the bag of mix a small amount at a time. Adding all of the water at once may result in runny batter. This will turn your pancakes into crepes. It’s not as appealing as it sounds, it’s a mess, trust me. Mixing the batter in the bag eliminates a dish and offers an easy squeeze method in placing the batter in the pan.

When the batter is mixed to your preferred consistency, cut a small slit in the bottom corner of the bag. Set aside with the slit corner up to prevent leakage.

4. Light’m Up

This was Sandy’s first time starting the camp stove. She wasn’t completely new as she knows how to ignite the gas stove at home. We talked about safety and order of operations per our stove mechanics before lighting it. If you’re teaching a new camp chef, be sure to give safe, clear instructions on how to operate your stove. (Her angle is goofy in the photo, but she did well.)

Once the stove is lit, place the pan over the burner with a slice of coconut oil.

5. Frying Flapjacks

As soon as the oil is melted in the pan, add the pancake batter. Use the easy squeeze bag and make a circle of batter in the pan. Watch the cake carefully and adjust fuel flowage as needed. When the bubbles begin to rise to the top of the pancake, it’s time to flip. Use the rubber scraper to loosen the cake from the pan and flip the cake. It won’t take long for the other side to cook, so keep an eye on it.

Apply some sweet syrup and dig in!

Slick Tip: It’s a really good idea to reapply coconut oil between each pancake. When I don’t reapply, my cakes stick to the pan.

6. Clean Up

After enjoying some delicious flapjacks, use warm water, soap and a sponge to wash dishes. If the kids are old enough to learn how to make camp pancakes, they’re old enough to clean up camp breakfast. Put those hands to work!

Tip: We cut a standard sponge into thirds to make them camp sized.

Overall, Sandy’s pancake lesson went well. A couple “hey, don’t touch the pan, it’s hot” moments, but otherwise she did great! Looks like some of the camp work load is off of my shoulders.

Riverside Trail at William O’Brien State Park

Simple trail, spectacular views, and a short drive from the metro area. Riverside Trail at WOB state park is just the ticket to satisfy your craving for outdoor adventure while keeping the effort on the easier side. In our case, keeping the adventure low key for an injured 3 year old.

Our adventuring this summer hit a bit of a snag. Killian, our 3 year old, broke his foot in a freak swing accident (the rope broke). We needed to cancel one BWCA trip and reevaluated our adventuring strategy for the remainder of the summer. Killian would be in a boot for the next 4 weeks and needed to take it easy….

We don’t “take it easy” well. So, after receiving some trail intel from a friend, we decided to explore William O’Brien State Park. The trails are very well maintained and are relatively flat, meaning it’s stroller friendly (air tires only folks, leave the tiny plastic wheels at home).

Distance: 2.7 miles, loop

Level: Easy

Time to go: Open year-round, both summer and winter hiking

Dog Friendly: Yes, very dog friendly.

Fees: Daily ($7)/Seasonal MN State Park Pass ($35)


The park entrance is on the west side of the road, park passes can be purchased at the office on the right. Take a left at the T and continue straight, passing the visitors center. The road winds under the overpass, through the woods, and alongside Alice Lake. This short drive is gorgeous and would be breathtaking in autumn… I’m sensing a revisit coming on.

The parking area has ample space. This popular park is close to the cities, so the parking area does tend to fill up on the weekends. Going during the week is your best chance at avoiding the crowds.

Trail Head

The trail begins at the pavilion near the boat access. This is near the far end of the parking area. Also, check out the fishing pier for a fantastic view of Lake Alice. We spotted turtles and swans soaking in the sun on the calm waters of Alice.

Sandy Beach

Lake Alice has a sandy beach near the parking area with restroom and wash facilities. We opted to explore farther down the trail for a sandy beach area. About 200 yards down the trail, there is a soft sand shoreline to the right of the trail. A short climb down will reveal a hidden oasis of sand and solitude.

Caution: Though the waters look calm, there is still strong current in this area. The water depth drops off drastically and can be dangerous at times. We didn’t go in past out knees, but still enjoyed this beautiful spot.

There is also a petite cliff that as great for climbing and sunning on.


Though these cliffs are not as rugged as the North Shore cliff lines, they are still stunning. The trail leads along this spectacular and dramatic shoreline. The river just below flows by, many kayakers can be seen enjoying the view from a different vantage point.

There are so many look out areas. We spent a great deal of time exploring the St. Croix rocks along the shore. Sandy had a blast climbing down to the water to get a closer look.

Flood Plain

This is a must, on the northernmost section of trail there is a short spur before the trail curves around to lead back to Alice Lake. This little spur leads to a flood plain draining into the St. Croix. There is so much adventure to be had for kids in this spot. Check out the flowing creek, observe it’s entrance into the river, and look for frogs, clams and river otter sign.

Lake Alice overlook

The trail crosses the road and follows along the Lake Alice shoreline. A bench is placed in a very serene location which is perfect for a break and a snack. Watch for swans in this spot during the summer. We spotted a family paddling along in the lake and enjoyed watching them while we munched on some trail mix.

Ice Cream

Adventuring at William O’Brien State Park will surely leave visitors with a hankering for ice cream. The perfect remedy for this is to swing over to Nita Mae’s Scoop. The shop is just south of the park along the St. Croix Scenic Byway in the little town of Marine on St. Croix. There is also an old settlers cabin that is a great historic stop.

Bonus Trail: There is a trail leading down to the river from the parking are by the ice cream shop. This short trail hooks around and brings hikers to a waterfall coming from a culvert under the passing road. This was a neat and unexpected find. Worth the stop for sure!

Eating ice cream and hiking to a surprise waterfall, can’t think of a better way to end a day of adventuring.

Finding Johnson Falls: A BWCA Adventure

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers.

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers. I love chasing waterfalls, but the added thrill to this falls is that there are no guard rails, no boardwalks, no crowds. A good state park waterfall is wonderful, but Johnson Falls is still wild. That’s hard to find these days.

Quick Details

Location: BWCA, west side of Pine Lake

Distance: Variable depending on entry point

Level: Strenuous

Time to go: Late May- September

Dog-friendly: Yes, adventure dogs in good condition.

Fees: BWCA Overnight Paddle Permit

Getting there

Transportation: A combination of vehicle, canoe, and on foot is necessary for this trek.

From East Bearskin: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Alder (52 rods), then paddle to Canoe Lake portage (25 rods), paddle to Pine Lake portage, Portage to Pine (380 rods). The trail to the falls is at the end of portage to Pine Lake, it leads west along the shore and creek feeding into Pine.

From Clearwater: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Caribou Lake (140 rods), paddle east to Pine Lake, portage to Pine (76 rods). Paddle across the short distance to the south side of the lake. Canoes may be stowed at the Portage to canoe lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

From Pine: Paddle to the western shore of McFarlane Lake, portage 8 rods to Pine Lake, paddle the long distance to the western edge of Pine Lake. Canoes may be stowed at the portage to Canoe Lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

Hiking to Johnson Falls

A canoe will only bring explorers so far in their quest to find Johnson Falls. On foot is the only way to finish the journey. The trail to Johnson Falls begins at the Pine Lake to Canoe Lake portage, on the Pine Lake side. The trail goes west along the creek. The terrain is rough, and filled with rocks, roots, fallen tree and debris. Be ready to climb over logs and watch your ankles over those gnarly root systems.

Wildlife on Trail: Watch for wildlife sign. Moose, bobcat, beaver, bear, etc.. leave tracks along the way. There are some areas with thicker mud, these are prime locations to see who has been trapsing about on the Johnson Falls trail. We found the most adorable bobcat track and a whopper of a moose track.

What to bring

It’s always a good idea to have a daypack when going off on an excursion in the wilderness. Here are some suggested items to be sure to have along for a trip to Johnson Falls.

  • Good quality hiking shoes.
  • Map
  • Bug spray- seriously, they’re relentless.
  • Water & filter or water purifying tablets.
  • Rain Gear- watch the weather and be prepared.
  • First Aid Kit
  • Swim suit, towel, lifejacket.
  • Fishing gear.
  • Camera!


Yes, you can swim in the waterfall! Being that the falls lies in the midst of the BWCA wilderness, there is significantly more freedom to explore than in state parks or more heavily trafficked/managed areas. On the flip side of the coin, swim at your own risk. There are no lifeguards, no cell service, no help for miles and hours. Be smart, make well thought out choices. Bring a life vest for kids or those who aren’t’ strong swimmers.


My husband, Scott, thought he’d give fishing a try at the falls. We’re so glad he did. He caught a few bass in the pool at the falls, making the journey quite memorable for him. The pool beneath the falls was both wide enough and deep enough to accommodate swimming and fishing at the same time. Our daughter spotted a large unknown fish while exploring the pools edge. Scott wasn’t lucky enough to catch the monster, but we know he’s in there.

Bonus Fishing Spot: Cast your line out from the Pine Lake Portage, multiple fish were caught here while waiting for shorter legs to catch up.

S’mores Mash Up Ideas

Happy National Smores Day! Set that campfire ablaze and get toasting! Check out these ideas to mix up your S’more recipe and find your new favorite s’more.

The s’mores is an iconic summer campfire treat! Dress it up, deconstruct it, make a mess! Change the mallow, change the chocolate, change the graham! Mix it up, try new things. Eventually you’ll find the perfect way to smash your s’more.

S’more Facts

Did you know that National S’mores Day is on August 10th every year? What a great holiday! We celebrate with a campfire and s’mores, of course. Here are some fun S’more facts to get you fired up for s’more day.

Dressed-Up the Middle

Classic: Hershey’s has been the classic S’mores chocolate since the beginning of s’mores. With all of the different brands of chocolate out there, it’s time to dress her up! Try Cadbury, Ghirardelli, Lindt, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, whatever your chocolate loving heart desires!

Caramel: This is a real game changer. That fire melted s’more will turn a Ghirardelli salted caramel square into a dripping, mouthwatering morsel. Cadbury Caramello’s are just as delicious and work well for adjusting the amount of caramel in your s’more, Ghirardelli makes a square that is conveniently the same size as a graham cracker square.

Mint: Cool down the summer with a cool Andies Mint s’more. Line up three or more mints on a graham cracker for a bite of fire and ice.

Reece’s: For the PB lovers out there, here is the perfect mix of chocolate and peanut butter on a summer’s evening. The classic peanut butter cups fit perfectly on a s’more.

Fruit Filling: Add in sliced strawberries or raspberries for a fruitful twist. If fresh fruit isn’t available, bring out the fruit infused chocolates.

Mallow Mash-Up

Mallow Toasters don’t have to stick with the same plane mallow summer after summer. The number of gourmet marshmallow companies that have popped up in recent years is insane. You can find them all over, we even purchased some new ones at our local ice cream shoppe. They can be found in the baking isle at Walmart, too. Try out different flavors, we’ve found a few that are great and pair well with different chocolates.

Salted Caramel: Pair with milk chocolate, caramel, or fruit.

Mint: Pair with Andie’s mints, dark or milk chocolate. Make the ultimate with chocolate grahams.

Vanilla Bean: Pair with fruit, caramel, or both.

Birthday Cake: Pair with white chocolate or fruit.

Chocolate: Triple chocolate s’more with milk or dark chocolate, and a chocolate graham cracker.

Unicorn Poop: Mix with anything, the kids will love the rainbow mallows!

Exterior Make-Over

Don’t just change up the filling, get really creative and ditch the classic graham cracker for something new.

Chocolate Graham: The extreme chocolate lover can appreciate this bite of this double chocolate creation.

Cinnamon Graham: A cinnamon graham cracker is the perfect addition to a fall bon fire s’more. Bring some apple cider to wash it down, yum!

S’moreo: A what? Yep! A S’moreo, forgo the graham altogether and replace it with an entire Oreo. Cookie madness!

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Now we’re getting ridiculous. Or are we? This gooey mess is even better if you place the cookies near the fire to warm up while toasting the mallow.

Stroopwafels: Chocolate or honey, these are a unique way to squish your mallow.

Highlights of Interstate State Park

Minnesota’s Interstate State Park sites on the St. Croix, bordering Wisconsin. This dainty park holds great adventure from waterfall hikes to mysterious natural potholes.

Interstate State Park should be on every Minnesota hiker’s springtime bucket list. This petite park packs much adventure into it’s 295 acres, one of the states smallest state parks. The rugged terrain and plentiful views of rivers, rapids, a waterfall, cliffs and unusual landscape make this park seem more vast than a scant 295 acres.

Quick Review: 7/10 Interstate has much to offer. We were surprised by the amount of activity in this park. Great for a day trip of adventures, the trails are rough, needing some trail maintenance. Overall a very entertaining little park.

Howdy Neighbors

Interstate State Park was the first state park to coincide with another park across state lines. Interstate State Park is also Wisconsin’s first state park established. The Minnesota portion is just under 300 acres, but the Wisconsin side contains 1330 acres. The WI park also has an informative video, nature center and more than 9 miles of hiking trails. The Minnesota side only has 4 miles of trails.


Not the kind that wreck your tires. These are actually quite neat. The holes formed when glacial rivers tore through the area of rough basalt rock. The rugged terrain combined with rushing water created whirlpools and eddies that wore away the rock, creating the holes we see now.

The holes and other unique rock formations are strewn about the ridges and cliffs along the St. Croix River. Interstate State Park actually has the deepest explored pot hole in the world, at 60 feet deep. There are railings and pathways, but still, keep children in hand.

Hiking Trails & Curtain Falls

The mileage at this park tops out at 4. That’s a pretty scant amount of miles for a Minnesota state park, but this park makes those miles count.

Sandstone Bluffs Trail: The most unique hiking trail in the park, aside from the pot holes area, is the Sandstone Bluffs Trail. This hiking trail leads hikers to a spouting waterfall called Curtain Falls. The best time to see this falls is in the spring when water levels are higher and the snowmelt is feeding the creek. During drier months, the falls may only be a trickle and the creek is all but dry. For an in depth guide on the hike to Curtain falls check out Spring Hike to Curtain Falls.

Spring & Fall

The best time of year to visit this park is in the spring, in my opinion. The amount of visitors is still low and the waterfall will be flowing at Curtain Falls. Be warned; there may be ice yet on the trail and the cliffs and bluffs are steep. Check the DNR webpage for trail conditions before venturing out in the spring to avoid icy conditions.

Return in the fall for amazing colors and dramatic cliff views over the St. Croix. I love autumn hikes and this park was beautiful in late September. The conifers contrasting with the autumn leaf changes is stunning.

Camping & Lodging

Camping is available between April and October. Which makes sense, the parks icy surface and close proximity to a surging St. Croix make Interstate more dangerous in the colder months of the year, but a gorgeous oasis in the summer.

Dog Friendly

The great thing about this park is that it’s dog friendly! The dogs are allowed on all trails and shorelines, but not in buildings. Our Xena loved exploring the park with us, both in the spring and fall.

St. Croix River

The St. Croix River separates our Interstate State Park from Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park. The river can be explored along the park shores, personal watercraft with an access at the southern parking area, or via a third party tour or rental service.

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours offer a variety of tours along the St. Croix river and departs near the visitors center at the northern parking area. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent along with a shuttle service. (Also dog friendly on some tours, check site FAQs for more details.)

Rock Climbing

Climbing the cliffs is an option for the experienced rock climbers out there. This is a climb at your own risk situation, and the park does not offer a guide service or equipment. Permits are required at no cost and can be obtained at the park office.

Highlights at Blue Mounds State Park

Get out to Blue Mounds this summer for an amazing variety of landscapes, bison, wildflowers, hiking, and even climbing! This park is a highlight in itself in South Western Minnesota.

A south western Minnesota gem! Blue Mounds holds adventure around every prairie covered corner. From cacti to bison, this park has everything one would expect in South Dakota, except the prairie dogs (we have pocket gophers instead).

Quick Review: 8/10 This park is great for a weekend of camping and hiking. Offering a variety of landscapes, wildlife and activities; this park has much to entertain.

Bison Range

The bison range begins immediately after entering the park. The viewing deck is on the right after the park office. The tipi and cart-in camping area is on the left. Check out the heard grazing and enjoying the sweet prairie grasses. The herd was sprinkled with babies.

The observation deck is complete with a set of high powered binoculars. We were able to see them even when they were far off and light was growing dim. Don’t mind the smokey photos, the Canadian fires didn’t help with visibility over the weekend.

Blue Mounds offers a 90 minutes bus tour through the bison range. This is available for ages 4 and up. The truck is open to the elements, so dress for the weather. No dogs allowed, we were unable to take the tour as we had a dog and 3 year old along.

Prices: Adult (13+): $10, Child (4-12): $6

Tickets: Can be purchased 15 minutes prior at the Park Office, Reservations are highly recommended but must still be picked up at the Park Office prior to the tour. Reservations can be made here.

For more bison exploration in Minnesota, check out Minneopa State Park.

Other wildlife: Bison aren’t the only animal to call this park home. Other critters are busy scurrying about as well. Pocket gophers and their holes are scattered throughout the park along with a number of birds, snakes and butterflies. Deer and coyotes reside in the park, but we were not privy to their whereabouts. We did find remains of something near the rock climbing areas.

Cacti & Wildflowers

Did you ever think you’d find a cactus in Minnesota? Well, they’re plentiful in Blue Mounds! Be careful, they are pokey! The wildflowers are breathtaking, especially blowing in a gentle summer breeze.

Eagle Rock

On the southern edge of the park, Eagle Rock overlooks the south end of the bison range. We enjoyed climbing up Eagle Rock and getting a grand view of this side of the park.

Eagle Rock Vista, near the southern parking area, is the highest point in the park. Watch for turkey vultures, we witnessed one resting on a rock on our way into the parking area. The old visitor’s center here is closed down and anticipating a renovation, but the trails surrounding it are still open.

Camp in a Tipi

Three tipis are available for campers to rent. Yes, you can actually sleep in a tipi!! How neat! They are not dog friendly, so we opted to reserve a tent campsite in the cart-in section of the camping area.

The floors are wooden and the walls, canvas. There are information sheets inside to educate campers on the traditions of tipis, how they are built, etc.. Some tipis were vacant, so we had a look around and were able to explore and experience the tipi set up without staying in one.

Camp Options

  • RV Campground
  • Cart-in Tent Sites
  • Tipi

Nature Play Area

I suppose a “Nature Play Area” is the best name for this area. A large rectangle filled with woodchips, big rocks and logs. At first glance, I thought it was quite lame. But the kids had a blast hopping around on the rocks and logs, playing hot lava. They spent a good 30 minutes playing on our first visit and another hour playing later in the day.

It’s something different, not the typical playground you’d see everywhere else. I think that’s what made this area so fun. A new way to play.

July fireflies

The summer months bring out the best on the prairie, including the fireflies! As the sun begins to set, watch the top of the prairie grasses. The fireflies begin to light up and dance around at dusk. The kids were mesmerized by these whimsical bugs, Sandy even caught a couple. She held them for a moment and let them go.


A feature that wasn’t on the map and was a delightful surprise. The dam is just across the road to the park office. There is a parking area near the campground with a trail that lead to the dam for a closer look. Some of the dam is fenced off, but there are some good vantage points around it.


Blue Mounds offers 13 miles of hiking trails, these 13 miles range in difficultly from easy to strenuous. Be sure to check the maps before taking off into the prairie. Check out 6 Hikes at Blue Mounds to pick a hike that fits your adventure.

Cliff Line Area/ Rock Climbing

Blue Mounds offers a designated rock climbing area on the eastern edge of the park. It’s a climb at your own risk situation and bring your own equipment. Climbers must obtain a permit prior to climbing in any Minnesota State Park. Climbing is dangerous, respect closure signs and hone in skills prior to climbing on your own.

Whether climbing or not the cliff line area is a site see! Check out this area to see dramatic landscapes and uniquely colored rocks.

Historic Quarry

This quarry of Sioux Quartzite is unique to this area and hosts an amazing overlook. Whether viewing from above or below, it’s sure to make your jaw drop. The pink and purple rock formations pop in this lush green landscape. Be cautious of the edge, the drop is immense.

The Historic Quarry can be viewed from above via the Upper Cliffline Trail and from below via a spur off of the Bur Oak Trail.