High Peak Trail at Glacial Lakes State Park, MN

Hike this southern Minnesota trail for vast prairie views, lake life, and see what little is left of the old Minnesota prairie lands and oak forest.

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!

Prairie Vistas

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.

Looping Back

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)
  • Biking Trails
  • Horse Trails & Camp
  • Camp or Cabin Stay
  • Fishing
  • Endless Photography Opportunities
    • Star Gazing Over the Prairie

Best Hike at Crow Wing State Park, MN

Check out the best hike in Crow Wing State Park for history, river views and gorgeous pine forests.

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

Level: Easy

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.

Chippewa Lookout

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.

  • Beavers & Muskrats
  • White Tail Deer
  • Chipmunks & Squirrels
  • Coyotes & Fox
  • Waterfowl, Eagles, Hawks

Saint Croix State Park Must Do’s

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.

Fire Tower

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.

Check out Overlooks and Observations Towers for more Minnesota height.


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!

Wildlife Viewing

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:

  • Black Bears
  • Wolves
  • Beavers
  • Otters
  • Racoons
  • Squirrels
  • Eagle, Osprey, other birds
  • Fox
  • Deer
  • Muskrats

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

6 Hikes in Blue Mounds State Park

Hikes ranging from easy to strenuous, something for every hiking level, both short hikes and long hikes. Rocky outcroppings, vast prairie vistas, cacti and so much more at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota.

Blue Mounds State Park sits at the south western tip of Minnesota. Offering vast prairies, rocky vistas, dramatic cliffs and unique wildlife viewing, this park is a can’t miss on any south western Minnesota trip. Strap on those hiking shoes and get exploring.

Hiking Club Loop

Distance: Approximately 6.5 miles

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

The Hiking Club trail covers a vast majority of the park and includes the Mound Trail, Eagle Rock, Upper Cliffline, and Mound Creek trails. This trail features views of the bison herd, a stop at the Eagle Rock and Eagle Rock Vista, cliff views from above on the Upper Cliffline and a trek around the viewing pond and Mound Creek. The only downside of this trail is that hikers won’t see the views of the cliffs from below.

Bur Oak Trail

Distance: 3/4 mile (one way)

Level: Strenuous

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash. I would recommend taking only dogs accustomed to rough terrain and are in great hiking condition. Our senior Great Dane is not new to difficult terrain, but she was very tired after a steep section on this hike. You know your hiking companion, use your best judgement.

Bur Oak Trail can be accessed from either the Eagle Rock Vista parking area or the rock climbing parking area. Hikers will traverse the bur oak forest into the steep descent below the cliff line for startling sights of the rocky cliffs. Definitely one of the coolest parts of the hikes available at Blue Mounds.

Upper Cliff Line

Distance: 1.5 miles (One way, can be combined with other trails to form a loop.)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

Great for jaw dropping and knee weakening views atop Blue Mounds’ cliffs and historic quarry site. Venture (carefully) to edge of the cliff to see the drop to the historic quarry below. This hike is amazing, hikers are sandwiched between two different landscapes. On one side, vast prairie with a cool breeze. On the other side, a rocky outcropping with a sheer drop. The great thing about this trail is that it offers these amazing views and features while remaining an easily traversed trail with a flat, well maintained trail.

Mound Trail

Distance: 1.5 Miles (One way, can be combined with other trail to form a loop.)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

A long trail bordering the edge of the bison range, the turf is grass that is well maintained. This trail can be combined with the Upper Cliffline trail to make a loop. It leads from the parking area passed the park office to the Eagle Rock Vista, passing Eagle Rock and another viewing area for the bison.

Lower Cliff Line

Distance: 1 mile (One way)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

This shorter trail features distant views of the cliff line. It is a simple mowed grass trail that can be combined with the Upper Cliffline trail for a longer hike with a larger variety of scenery. This trail can also meet up with the paved bike path which offers spurs to the rock climbing areas and historic quarry.

Nature Trail

Distance: 1/4 mile, out and back

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

Located near the nature play area this short hike is a great spot for a moment of peace, bird watching, and catching a glimpse of the creek traveling through the park. The bench at the end of this trail looks like the perfect place to settle down with a good book, if one is not hiking with kids of course.

Our Trail Adventure

We started our day off at the bison viewing deck. Early in the morning the bison were immediately in front of the gate and deck. The mothers and their babies were so sweet together.

Next, we started our attempt at the hiking trail beginning at the Mound Trail next to the Bison Range. After a quarter of a mile, Killian needed to poop. Such is the way when hiking with a 3 year old. We turned around to used the vaulted toilet at the trail head.

Instead of continuing on the Mound Trail, we explored the Nature Trail instead, a good call. Killian was able to toss some pebbles into the river, his favorite! We also sauntered over to the bridge that crosses Mound Creek.

After some free time at the Nature Play Area, we loaded into the car to drive to Eagle Rock Vista. From there we explored and climbed Eagle Rock and admired the cacti, prairie grasses, and butterflies.

Next, it was onto the Cliffline parking area where we tackled a portion of the Bur Oak Trail, a short section of the Upper Cliffline and returned to the vehicle via a steep descent passed the rock climbing area to the paved bike path.

Our goofy array of hiking exploration actually gave us some of the best views in the park without pushing our junior hikers and senior dog too hard in the July heat and Canadian fire smoke. We had a great view of the historic quarry, witnessed rock climbers at their work, experienced some of the parks most rugged trails and peaceful prairie. In total ,we hiked about 3 miles and were able to experience the most inspiring views in the park.

Make the most of your hike in Blue Mounds. Keep in mind that not every hike needs to an A to B kind of hike. Sometimes a little jaunt here and short excursion there is the best way to keep junior hikers interested, stay flexible.

Tips for Hiking Blue Mounds

  • Bring plenty of water (for your hiking dog too).
  • Wear proper footwear and dress for the weather.
  • Use sunscreen, much of the trails do not offer shade.
  • Stay on trails, cacti are present and can poke through clothing and thin footwear.
  • Carry a map, little cell service is available
  • The Tasty Drive-In located in Luverne, just 6 miles south of the park, has a number of delicious treats. They even have a butterscotch milkshake, yum!
  • Bonus Park: Split Rock Creek State Park