Southern Minnesota prairie lands are gorgeous! It’s a different kind of landscape than most Minnesotans are used to. Peal away from the usual thick forests and pine groves for something different.
Distance:3.6 miles Level: Easy Dog Friendly: Yes Time to go: Spring- Autumn is best, open year-round (ungroomed ski) Fees: $7 Entrance Fee or $35 Yearly MN State Park Vehicle Pass (totally worth it, get it here.)
Location: Glacial Lakes is located just 5 miles south of the town of Starbuck, MN. Address: 25022 County Road 41, Starbuck, MN 56381
Trail Head & Parking
Parking is available near the Signalness Lake. The trail head is on the lake side of the parking area, you’ll need to head east (right if you’re facing the lake). This first section of trail leads along the lake to a second parking area that is available for group campers.
Signalness Lake Shore
Hiking along the edge of the lake is beautiful, especially when crossing the bridge over the reeds. Watch for butterflies, frogs, and turtles in this area. Life is abundant!
Passing the Campground
The trail will lead passed a small amphitheater and to the tent camping area. The trail continues south after the campground. It is well marked and very obvious.
Note on Water: This is the last chance for water before heading into the prairie. We filled up our water bottles at the camp area water spigots. Stay hydrated, folks!
It is at this point, beyond the campground, that the trail truly becomes prairie. The tall grasses and wildflowers sway in the wind and welcome bees and butterflies to their nectar. Take your time through this stretch of the trail. We truly enjoyed the long views reaching over the land. The sway of the prairie is tranquil and brings peace to those who take the time to appreciate it.
Entering The Forest
The forest at the edge of the prairie provides much needed shade on a hot July day. Take refuge here before the climb to the highest point in the park. The towering old growth trees are a safe haven from the heat for animals as well. Keep a watchful eye for deer, racoons, and woodpeckers.
The parks highest point overlooks ponds, prairie, and farms. To get there, hikers must overcome the incline that crests at this view. This is the only truly steep portion of the trail, and it’s not too bad. It seemed a bit more difficult as I was carrying my 3 year old on my back. The climb is actually very neat, and well maintained. At the top, a bench waits for hikers to take a rest. It’s the perfect spot to unpack a picnic and rehydrate.
The trail loops back through the forest and out to the prairie. It loops once more, giving the option for a hike to a small lake or to continue back on the original trail. We opted to stay on the original trail. It cut off a third of a mile, it was a very hot day and we had paddle boarding to get to!
Other Park Must-Do’s
There is more to do at this park than hike. We spent the whole day here and had a blast.
Canoe, Kayak, Paddle Board (rentals available or bring you own)
Hurray for cold weather seasons! Instead of sulking indoors waiting for summer, get your snow gear on and see the great outdoors in a new light. Literally, that snow makes it so bright! Kids love snow, it’s the perfect time of year to get them out exploring the world around them.
Winter is beautiful, but does pose a couple of considerations; snow and cold. To ensure your little explorers have a grand experience out on the trail, dress them for the weather with the appropriate gear.
Really, the best thing to do is to dress in layers. I like to have one layer more on my child than I have on myself. This way if I start to get chilled, I know they are close and I can act before they get too cold. There are different levels of layers and every one of them is important. The best part about layers, you can shed them if you’re too warm, and put them back on as you cool off. Bring a backpack to carry unused items.
Tip: Remember that no clothing should be too snug. Restricting blood flow will only cause areas to become colder faster. A main area of concern is the feet. Wearing too many socks or having a boot that is too constricting can be counterproductive in keeping warm.
Long Johns VS Thermals: These are the same thing. There are different styles though. They are snug and hug the body for warmth. I’ve tried the old fashioned waffle fabric style and the thin silky lining style with my kids. So far the favorite is the tighter, thinner style. They fit nicely under other clothes, are usually moisture wicking, and move smoothly with other fabrics.
What we’ve found with the waffle style is that, while they are comfortable on their own, once they are under the second layer they become bunchy, uncomfortable, and don’t move well with other fabrics.
Moisture Wicking is important because moisture freezes in the cold air. While moving around on the hiking or skiing trail, it’s important to stay dry. Once the body becomes damp, the chill sets in, hence the need for a moisture wicking layer.
This layer will be the first layer to trap heat. After staying dry with moisture wicking gear, next we start trapping heat. This layer shouldn’t be too constrictive or too loose, make it just right, like Goldilocks.
The mid-layer is where you can really customize your clothing to fit your cold weather needs. My son stays warmer than my daughter, so their layering is slightly different. Play around with this layer and see what works for your little ones.
Upper: Thin long sleeve t-shirt (this could be that long john style layer) & Sweatshirt Lower: Thick sweat pants or Fleece lined leggings (or both if you have a chilly baby) Hands: Thin, fitted gloves. Feet: Thick wool socks.
Insulation & Shell
This next layer traps warm air which is the key to insulation. Trapping warm air around the body is how the wild critters stay warm. Have you ever watched a mammal or bird in winter? They’re all puffed up, they are using their hair/feathers to trap warm air around their body. We should follow suit if we want to stay warm, too.
The final insulation layer often doubles at the shell, keeping out the elements like snow and wind. Most winter coats in the colder parts of the world are made with puffy, soft insides and a water and wind resistant outer layer.
Upper: Puffy, waterproof jacket (with zipper, not just buttons) Lower: Snow pants (these vary in degree rating and thickness, check labels before purchasing) Hands: Thick waterproof mittens (gloves work too, but hands stay warmer in mittens) Feet: Waterproof winter boots with low temp cold weather rating (should be loose enough to wiggle toes in them, yet snug enough that they don’t fly off)
Tip for Boot Buying: Bring your favorite pair of warm socks along shopping so you’ll know if the boots will fit well with thick socks. Sometimes it’s necessary to purchase a size up to accommodate bulky socks and still be able to wiggle toes.
Kids who are bundled up properly are going to have a great memorable experience in a winter wonderland. When there is a lack of insulating warmth, the only thing they’ll remember is the cold. It will be hard to get them out again after a solid freeze. I’ve learned from experiencing both with my kids.
Hat: Yes, they need a hat. My daughter insists that her hood is enough, but she’s always the first one to be cold. They need a hat. Thick and warm that covers the ears.
Headbands & Earmuffs: These are cute and work great for warmer winter days and short outings. I wouldn’t recommend them for cold days. A lot of heat is lost through the head. We only use headbands for days we will be aggressively skiing, and even then, we bring a backup hat in our packs just in case.
Neck Gaiter: These are a great accessory that helps to block out the wind. They can be warn in a variety of ways for both cold and warm winter days.
Up over the head and stretched down the neck to the chin, held in place by a warm hat.
Over the face to keep cheeks warm.
Just around the neck to keep the wind out without being too constrictive.
As a sweatband when the temps rise.
Scarf: For a thicker material to keep the wind off of the neck, use a scarf. Rather than wrapping it around the neck and risking strangulation or constrictive feelings, place it behind the neck and cross it over the chest before putting a coat on. Tuck the ends under arms to keep it in place.
Hot Hands: We love brining Hot Hands packs out on the trail with us. These come in single packs and are activated when the package is opened and the pouch is shaken. These come in a variety of sizes. Large to stick on the back, toe sizes to place in boots, and small ones to place inside mittens.
Note: If we are heading out on a windy or cooler day, I’ll open the pack before we even get out of the Pathfinder to get the warmers started. They can take a few minutes to really heat up, but then they are ready when we need them.
Reusable Warming Packs: These are a great way to have warming packs that are less wasteful and save money. The drawbacks are that they can sometimes activate accidentally in a pocket or pack, and that they don’t last as long as the single use ones (15-20 minutes). We use them on shorter hikes.
Electronic Hand Warmer: This is a great alternative to both of the above warming solutions. It’s rechargeable and not too bulky. It is initially more spendy than the other options, but lasts longer. Don’t forget to charge it before you head out, though.
**Warning** These warming devices should not be used for children who put things in their mouths, cannot communicate clearly if something is too hot, or are at risk for breaking a pack open.
SNACKS!! Yes, bring snacks and not just for the kids. The body keeps itself warmer when it has something to digest. Higher carb and protein foods will keep the body warm and fueled for the trail.
Snacks: Taking snack breaks while hiking or skiing is a great way to slow down and enjoy the winter wonderland around you. There are some great snack suggestions on Trail Snacks for Kids & Toddlers.
Hot cocoa: Is there a better treat than hot chocolate on a wintery trail? Pack some homemade chocolate chip cookies for dipping, too! The perfect way to spend a break is to watch the wintery woods with a mug of hot cocoa.
Stop freezing in the stand! It’s a real bummer to have to call a hunt early because there is no more feeling left in your hands or toes. It can also deter folks from wanting to hunt again. Prevent digit damage and stay warm in the stand.
I’ve watched a nice buck walk by without putting the gun on him because my hands were too frozen to feel the trigger. It wasn’t fair to the deer to take a poor shot with frozen hands. I won’t underestimate Minnesota hunting conditions again.
Enjoying time out in the deer stand or blind becomes impossible when the stand begins shaking from all of the shivering. I love being out in the stand come November, but I have frozen my fair share of toes. It’s one thing to stay warm out hiking in the woods, it’s an entirely different game when you plant your tush and wait for the deer to come in. The lack of movement takes it’s toll without proper preparation.
Hands are the first to freeze in the stand. Being sedentary in the stand means that the heart isn’t pumping that precious warm blood out to the extremities as hard as when a person is on the move. Hands are often the first to feel the effects of being sedentary in the stand.
Mittens/Gloves: Layer up those gloves. A thin mitten should be warn under thicker, warmer gloves.
Mitts with Magnets: Mittens with a flap that folds back are great so full removal of the glove isn’t necessary when more dexterity is required. Say “No” to Velcro. It’s loud and sticks to everything. Find mitts with a magnet in place of the Velcro, they are amazing.
Toe Warmer: Yes. Toe warmers, not hand warmers. Hand warmers are too large to fit in gloves and they slide around making it difficult to complete other tasks, like getting the gun ready. Toe warmers on the other hand, have a sticky backing and are smaller. They can slide right in the flap of a mitten flap or in the palm area of other gloves. They are perfect.
Muff: An alternative or addition to the mitts is having a muff to sling over your neck. Keeping a hand warmer in the muff will allow for warm relief when hands are not in use. It also doubles as a giant pocket for snacks.
Feet are the second body part to freeze in the stand. It goes back to the sedentary body problem again. The body is trying to hold it’s blood in the core to keep the vital organs toasty.
Boots: First things first, wear a good quality boot rated for winter temperatures. You do not want this boot to be snug. It should fit, but not be snug. There should be room for warm socks and wiggling toes. When are boots are too tight they restrict circulation. Many of us ladies already struggle with poor circulation. Boots should be dark in color. Black, dark grey, camouflage. Not blue, deer can see blue.
Socks: This is so important. Do not wear six pairs of socks. Same idea behind the not-too-snug boots; don’t cut off circulation. The most I would ever wear is two pairs of socks. A short, thin set of socks underneath a thick, tall, warm pair of socks. Invest in a good warm pair of socks, wool would be best but synthetics work too. Due to sensitive skin, I use synthetics but have been keeping my eye out for a wool sock with a synthetic lining.
Hand Warmers: Yep, here we go again. Hand warmers in the boots rather than toe warmers. The reason behind this is that they are moveable. Maybe you don’t like to have something loose in your boot, but I like being able to move the warmer from one end of my foot to the other. All I need to do is tip my foot to go from warming my heel to my toes.
I’ve had warm toes and toasty fingers while still freezing my core. Don’t forget to layer up that core. It takes longer to get cold but once it settles in, it chills you to the bone.
Base Layer: A solid set of thermals will serve you well in the stand. Check the temperature rating before purchasing. Search for a temperature rating lower than the temp you are anticipating.
In-Between Layers: Add some fleece layers and warm clothing between your base and shell. I always have at least one dark colored sweatshirt in between, sometimes more if I’m anticipating a colder day.
Shell: Your shell is likely to be orange or camo with an orange vest over it. Whatever your shell style preference is, ensure that your shell is thick and warm. I have my mom’s old hunting outfit, orange jacket, orange pants. It’s basically a giant orange marshmallow outfit. But it’s within regulations and it keeps me warm.
Wind Block: On a warm, calm autumn day the wind is no problem Without the proper layers that wind will cut right through you in no time. Be sure to have a wind resistant layer.
Deer have an amazing sense of smell. Significantly better than ours. Shampoo, body wash, deodorant, body spray…. all things to keep us smelling fresh and clean are going to alert the deer that we are in the woods. There are multiple ways to combat our peoplish stench and keep the deer unaware of our presence.
Clothes: There are brands such as “Scent Killer” and “Dead Downwind” that make laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Running the clothes that you plan to wear through the wash with either detergent or nothing but water and the dryer with one of the dryer sheets will keep your clothes from smelling like your home, dog, and regular detergents.
Many hunters also hang their apparel outside to pick up the scents of the great outdoors.
Body Wash & Shampoo: Of course there are body washes and shampoos made specifically to mask the smell of hunters. If you’re wanting to go that extra mile, give them a try. Otherwise, wash with warm (not hot) water using no soap or shampoo. Wash off the the smell without adding more perfumes on.
Long Hair: Keep long hair tied back in a low pony tail or braid. This way, your hair can be tucked inside a neck gator or inside a sweatshirt. In the stand is not the time to have hair blowing in the wind and getting in the way.
Feminine Products: It’s a real bummer when the “red tide” comes along during hunting season. Keep your feminine products unscented. Simple as that.
Scent Spray: Once you’re ready to head out to the stand, use a scent killer spray to get any stink that you may have left on you. This can be sprayed on boots and clothing.
Of the 18 miles of hiking trails in the park, the hiking club trail covers the most interesting and most picturesque views in the park. From river views to pine forests, this hike has all the features.
Distance: 2.2 miles
Time to go: Spring-Autumn
Dog Friendly: Yes, on Leash
Fees: Yearly State Park Pass $35, Daily $7
Parking and Trail Head
Follow the main entrance road all the way to the farthest parking lot. There is a small building available for gatherings and restrooms available.
State Park Pass: Parking passes may be obtained at the park office (if the office is open) upon entering the park or online at the MN DNR website.
The trail begins at the informational stand, there is a map available. The hiking club trail is well marked with small “Hiking Club” signs and there are maps posted throughout the trail.
Two Rivers Meet
Possibly the second most beautiful spot in the park (the first is Chippewa Overlook). See where the two rivers, the Crow Wing and Mississippi, converge. These calm waters come together as one and make their way along the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Visit in early morning to watch the mist rise off the water. Wait quietly and long enough, you may just see a beaver or muskrat working along the rivers edge.
Old Crow Wing Village
The old town once catered to travelers and fur traders on the river. When the railroad passed through Brainerd, the town fizzled out and was abandoned. A little spooky, but so neat! Check out the old building and boardwalk. It’s a neat splash of history in the forest. There are signs posted in the area describing what kind of building and business stood in different locations in the area.
Ox Cart Trail
The Ox Cart Trail is part of the hiking club trail and travels the path that was used for ox carts, imagine that! The trail leads along the riverbank of the Mississippi and is part of the hiking club trail. You won’t need to watch for ox droppings these days though, but do check out the spot where they crossed the river.
The most beautiful and picturesque location in the park. If you don’t have the the time to hike the entire hiking club trail on your visit, you can access this overlook by parking at the boat ramp access on the Mississippi. It’s so worth the hike though. There is a set of steps leading up to the overlook from the access. If hiking, there is a slight incline giving views of the Mississippi along the way.
Church and Grave Markers
An old, restored church stands in a small clearing in the pine forest. There is a memorial and burial sites. This eerie resting place is actually a quite peaceful place along the hike.
Also Check Out:
Paul Bunyan State Trail: The Paul Bunyan State Trail encompasses 115 miles of paved bike trail. This trail runs from Bemidji State Park to Crow Wing State Park. The trail begins or ends at Crow Wing, depending on which direction one is heading. It’s neat to see a section of this long trail.
Say “Hi” to Paul: Zip across MN-371 after visiting the park to say “Hello” to Paul Bunyan. Paul is waiting outside of the area visitor’s center to greet visitors. A great spot for a photo in Minnesota.
Wildlife: Slow down and observe the wildlife in the park. Search for tracks along the riverbank, watch the chipmunks and squirrels, there are a number of animals who call this park home.
St. Croix State Parks holds miles and miles of adventure on the trail, on the water, and even in the air. Get you hiking shoes on, your paddles ready, and be prepared for an amazing state park experience at St. Croix.
The Fire Tower climb is a must! If it’s open that is, Minnesota fire/observation towers are usually open from April to October depending on the park. Taking in the park from above is breathtaking. Not to mention making multiple visits in different seasons to observe the change over the landscape. Our first visit was in summer, the next was autumn. Beautiful change in scenery.
St. Croix has a whopping 127 miles of hiking trails. That’s a lot of trails to choose from. Some of these trails are horse friendly, all are dog friendly and many have river front views. There are a few trails that I highly recommend for river views. Check out 5 Hikes at St. Croix State Park.
Canoe St. Croix
Paddle down the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic River. Canoe is one of my all time favorite ways to explore the outdoors. There are so many things to be discovered along the calm banks of a river. In our case, it was otter and beaver sign. A cluster of shells left from a meal and tracks in the mud.
St. Croix State Park offers rentals of both canoe and kayaks seasonally. As a bonus, a shuttle service is also provided. If you bring your own canoe, there are 5 locations to launch a canoe on the St. Croix and one on the Kettle River.
Little Yellow Banks: We chose the Little Yellow Banks, the northern most canoe launch, as our entry. This was mostly due to the lack on crowds in the northern part of the park. Here we were the only explorers. It’s a near perfect launch for a canoe. Paddlers can drive the canoe right down to the waters edge to load gear and park a short distance away near the vault toilet (bonus).
Kettle River High Banks
This is one of the most beautiful and picturesque locations in the park. The Kettle River offers views of the gentle rapids coursing along a swift current. The pines shrouding the rivers banks are gorgeous accents to the high cliffs. Bring your camera and hold onto your kids.
There is a picnic table at this overlook, a perfect spot in the park for a picnic. Bring along a cooler or classic picnic basket for a lunch at the most beautiful spot in the park.
Cabins, guesthouses, RV campgrounds, backpack sites, canoe sites, group camps, equestrian camps… No matter how you camp, this park can accomidate it. Tent it is the summer, come back to a cabin for the winter. This park is so diverse to experience. We happened upon a river front cabin while canoeing, it looked so cozy!
This is the park to be in if you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of wildlife. This park is home to so many critters, from black bears and wolves to muskrats and beavers. Remember to follow the leave no trace policy and keep your distance from these animals. This is their home, we are just visiting. Keep your eyes peeled for:
Eagle, Osprey, other birds
It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter a wolf, they are quite stealthy and avoid people. Bears on the other hand… They do meander about the park. This is the first state park that I encountered a bear. No worries, only excitement. We watched her mosey on about her day, crossing the road that goes to the observation tower.
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
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)
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.
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
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:
White Tail Deer
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: BWCA, west side of Pine Lake
Distance: Variable depending on entry point
Time to go: Late May- September
Dog-friendly: Yes, adventure dogs in good condition.
Fees: BWCA Overnight Paddle Permit
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.