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

6 Day Trip Things to do at Split Rock Creek State Park, MN

A quiet, simple park with peace and nature at it’s heart. Add Split Rock Creek to your Southern Minnesota Bucket List. Split Rock Creek State Park offers a tranquil hike to a historic bridge and dam, picturesque lake views, a fishing nook and more.

A simple park with little treasures strewn about, a great place to spend a few hours or a relaxing afternoon. Knowing that this was not a large park, we planned just a few hours here during our excursion to Blue Mounds and Pipestone National Monument.

Quick Review: 5/10 While this park is pretty and quiet, it does lack in number of drawing features. A great place for simplicity and peace, though. This park does redeem a point in my book for the lack of bugs! No bug spray was used, yay!

1. Beach

We found this beach to be on the shallow side, a great place for little adventurers to cool off and play in the sand. The buoys were set fairly close to shore, the deepest point inside the buoy line being at my 11 year-olds knee. Despite it’s shallow depth, the kids were excited to get their suits on and play in the sand.

Bonus: There is a wash station for those sandy feet.

2. Fish

Bring your fishing gear, there are perch, crappies, sunfish, bullheads, and catfish in these waters. We were able to land several crappies, a perch, and a pumpkinseed off of the fishing pier and on the small peninsula near the swimming beach.

Seasonally, this park offers a fish cleaning station for campers to use.

3. Paddle

Canoe and kayak rentals are available on a first come, first serve basis at the park office. Or bring your own and put in at the boat launch.

4. Hike

While this park doesn’t have a long hiking system (only 4.5 miles), the hikes here are simple and pleasant. The trails are well maintained and easy for all levels of hikers. In those short miles, there is plenty to see and aquatic wildlife to spot.

Distance: 4.5 mile loop covers entire park, can be shortened with other turn offs and parking areas.

Level: Easy

Time to Go: Summer, spring or fall. No groomed ski trails in the winter, snowshoers welcome.

Dog Friendly: Yes, leashed pets welcome.

Fees: $7 day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass.

5. Historic Bridge & Dam

On the southern edge of the park, a historic bridge and dam wait for hikers to explore. The dam was dry at the time of our visit. Still a very cool place to check out. Hikers are able to walk across the dam over a concrete bridge and walk along Split Rock Creek to the historic bridge.

6. Wildlife Spotting

The parks quiet qualities are likely an attributing factor in the wildlife viewing. We were able to spot several birds out on the water, butterflies, rabbits and a number of turtles. The turtles didn’t seem to be too disturbed by our presence, even while fishing.

7 Fun Hiking Games to Keep Kids Engaged on the Trail

Keeping kids engaged on the hiking trail can be a challenging task. Check out these games for trail entertainment with junior hikers.

The idea of hiking with junior hikers is sometimes more fun than actually hiking with junior hikers. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy watching my kids take in the outside world and explore. Hiking is awesome and a great activity for them, but those longer hikes can become difficult when the moods swing.

With the help of my junior hikers, Sandy (11) and Killian (3), we’ve come up with some activities and games to play while hiking. Sandy is so creative, it’s great!

1. Pooh Sticks

This game came from a childhood show ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Pooh Sticks is played on a bridge over flowing water. Each player finds a short stick and stands on the bridge facing the upriver side. On the count of three, each player drops their stick into the water. Then rushes over to the other side of the bridge to watch them pass under. The stick to reach the other side of the bridge first wins.

This is great fun and is a great way to encourage kids to keep going until the next bridge. That is, if your hike passes a bridge. Killian gets very excited when we find a bridge now, the best hikes are hikes over rivers.

Red Light/Green Light

This was Sandy’s doing, she actually thought of it to keep Killian from running ahead. She noticed me becoming frustrated when he was running too far ahead in an area known for bears. After getting his attention, she explained the game and they had a great time. Great big sister!

One person is the traffic light. They call out ‘green light’ for the hikers to go and ‘red light’ for hikers to stop. It’s a great game to keep junior hikers from going too far ahead in an area with large predators, snakes, rivers, or winding trail where they could wander out of sight.

Freeze Hike

Much like ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ this game is also a stop and go game. But when the caller yells, “Freeze,” the other hikers must hold perfectly still. It’s great fun to see the goofy positions the kids wind up in and see if they can hold it until the caller lets them go again. Take it a step further and move their limbs around while they are frozen!

Freeze hiking is a fun time but it’s also helpful in keeping kids close and teaching them to stop when you need them to.

Scavenger Hunt or Hiking Bingo

Scavenger hunts are awesome! It really gets the kids engaged in their environment and really looking at the habitat around them. They wind up finding things that they wouldn’t normally have noticed. It works for the adults too. When I’m helping my little hiker find things on his list, I find myself noticing more on his level rather than just seeing the big woods.

A great thing about a scavenger hunt is that it can be customized for seasons, events, and environments. So, if you’re going out on a scavenger hunt in the summer, add flowers and frogs. For fall, add different colored leaves and acorns.

I Spy

A classic game that can be played anywhere. Teaching kids how to articulate what they are seeing and an interesting way to see how they view the world. We have a running joke when we play this game, we come up with many different ways to describe a tree. It derived from the Disney movie Brother Bear. Two moose are playing I Spy while riding a mammoth and all they are seeing is trees. It’s pretty funny when they say, “I spy…. a vertical log?” That one always gets a chuckle, even they know it’s coming.


On trails that are relatively smooth, a good race can keep your little hiker on the move. Especially those compitetive kids, it can also teach good sportsmanship. We are working on that with our 3 year old right now. We follow each race, win or lose, with a “Good Game!” or “Good Race!” It’s a work in progress. Killian does like a good race and it will motivate him to get to the finish line, which might be the next bench or better yet, the next bridge for a game of Pooh Sticks.

We like to use incentives with our races too, sometimes a bridge but mostly food. We keep those snack at the ready and a race to the next bench is a good time to break out the trail snack for kids.

Color Hunt

Great for spring and fall, when the colors are blooming and changing. Just like the scavenger hunt, but with color in mind. So the object isn’t too specific, just the color of it. Perfect for those junior hikers learning their colors. This activity can help them discover all of the colors in their environment. This versatile activity can be played just about anywhere, not just on a hike.

Big Bog Walk at Lake Bemidji State Park

Adventure through a unique ecosystem along a boardwalk wonderland hidden in a northern Minnesota state park. A hike on this trail gives visitors a view of a seldom seen environment.

In the northern reaches of Minnesota, on the historic Lake Bemidji, sits Lake Bemidji State Park. Inside this park, there is a trail that leads through a mystical swamp that is home to so many plants found in Northern Minnesota.

Distance: 2.5 miles, out and back

Level: Easy

Time to go: Open year-round, spring and summer are best for flowers

Dog Friendly: Yes, tight passing areas on the boardwalk

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


Lake Bemidji SP is on the northern side of Lake Bemidji. There are clear signs to the park and a great big sign on the right side of the State Park Road NE that greets visitors. After getting to the State Park, grab a map and head to the left of the visitors center. There is clear signage throughout the park. The Parking area is immediately after the campground.

Trailhead & Road Crossing

The trail head is shared with two other trails. There will also be signs for the old logging road. These trail will all split off later. There are also spurs that lead off of this trail. To get to the Bog Trail, hikers must keep to the main trail until after the road crossing. The trail travels across the Birchmont Beach Road. At the time of our visit, this road was torn up and under construction.

Stay Right

Immediately after crossing the road, the trail splits in 3. Keep right. There is a large sign with a map to indicate which trail to take. After about half a mile, there will be another right. Again, there is clear signage for these trails. At the beginning of this spur there is a vaulted toilet, a great opportunity to relieve oneself before venturing into the bog. There is no other chance to use a restroom until returning to this spot.

For a longer hike, hikers can take the Old Logging Road Trail or the Pinewood Trail. Then loop back to the spur that contains the boardwalk through the bog. We did the short version with our junior hiker in tow.

Bikes: This is also a bike friendly trail up until the boardwalk. There is a parking area for bikes so cyclist may also enjoy a stroll down the whimsical boardwalk.


Natural paths make perfect hiking terrain, but I do love a good boardwalk. Kids love them, too. The boardwalk is quite impressive with it’s length and durability. We had a great time exploring on the boardwalk.

A few places are available to pass with a dog. The boardwalk juts out making it easy to pass by with dogs and still be courteous to other hikers using the boardwalk. Aside from these few spots to step aside, the passing is quite tight.

Flora & Fauna

Photographers and botanists get your cameras out! The floral life that thrives in this bog is astounding! Not only that, but the park service has labeled it for we non-plant-knowing folks. There are interpretive signs sharing knowledge of the plant life as well as labels on the ground next to the living specimens.

Stay on the Trail: It’s important to note that stepping off of the trail is damaging to the bog and takes a very long time for this ecosystem to recover from the smallest of indents.

Plant life isn’t the only thing to observe on this bog walk. We were surprised to spot several fish swimming about in the waters below the boardwalk. There are turtles, frogs, dragonflies and a number of other critters to observe. Pay attention!

Big Bog Lake

At the boardwalks inevitable end, Big Bog Lake greets hikers with it’s wild serenity. I was amazed at the sight of it. It looked so much like the Boundary Waters Wilderness that I love so dearly. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Perhaps I was imagining a buggy ugly swamp because of the unappealing name of the lake, but I was pleasantly surprised for sure.

Tettegouche State Park: A North Shore Must

Tettegouche is the park to visit along the North Shore. If you have to choose just one park to visit in northern Minnesota, this would be it. It has it all! Overlooks, waterfalls, rugged trails, shorelines and rivers. This park is hard to beat.

Tettegouche is the park to visit along the North Shore. If you have to choose just one park to visit in northern Minnesota, this would be it. It has it all! Overlooks, waterfalls, rugged trails, shorelines and rivers. This park is hard to beat.

Quick Review: 11/10 Tettegouche receives a perfect score plus one for it’s amazing views, splendid waterfalls, well maintained trails, and great shoreline adventure. The bonus point is awarded for saving our skins on an accidental trip to the park on a failed BWCA trip.

Hiking Trails

The hiking trails in total at Tettegouche spans 23 miles. The trails in Tettegouche are all rated as moderate to difficult, and with the inclines and rocky terrain, I can’t disagree. Be sure to bring plenty of water along and a map. The trails are well marked, but it is nice to have map along that indicates any turnoffs for a shorter route back if any in your party tire quickly.

We had a great time watching our 6 year old daughter tackle these trails. She did great and lead the way on many of them. There was a point when she needed to go potty and we were about a half mile out from the trailhead. We ran the remainder of the trail, I was amazed at her speed and agility on this rugged northern trail. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t just take the opportunity to teach her how to pee in the woods. A lesson for another time I guess.


Tettegouche is home to 4 waterfalls and each one is a beauty! The falls are all along the Baptism River. Two can be hiked together, the remaining two require a drive to a separate parking area.

Illgen Falls: Illgen Falls is located near the Illgen Falls Cabin. This cabin is available for rent year-round and can hold up to 6 people. Visitors are responsible for cleaning up after their stay. The falls is just a short hike away from the cabin and is the farthest from Lake Superior in Tettegouche.

High & Two Step Falls: High Falls is a staggering 60 foot waterfall that earns it’s name with that big drop. These falls can be accessed by following the hiking trail along the Baptism River from the Baptism River campground. The trail will merge with the Superior Hiking Trail, take a right, then there is a swinging bridge to cross the river at the falls. Enjoy this view before continuing on the trail, keeping right at the fork will bring you to a staircase that descends to the Two Step Falls. Simply retrace your steps back the parking area when done admiring the falls.

The hiking distance in total is just under two miles. The terrain would be considered difficult with steep steps.

Cascade Falls: Cascade Falls is the closest falls to Lake Superior in Tettegouche. This falls in not on the same trail as the High and Two-Step Falls. Cascade has it’s own Cascade Falls Trail to follow. The parking area for this falls is passed the visitors center on the south side of the river.

This moderate trail is about a mile and a half long. It is an out and back, no loop here.

Twisty Trees

A truly unique find in the Northern Minnesota state parks, is the twisted trees. They are a whimsical anomaly caused by the hammering winds, gradually twisting the tree as it grows. These trees are a wonder to behold and add a great sense of mystery to the hikes on the edge of Lake Superior. And check out those wicked root systems! These trees have to be so resilient to grow on the rocky terrain.


There are numerous camping opportunities at Tettegouche. While the backpack sites are on a first come, first served basis, the other camping options are reservable. These other options include drive-in sites for RV’s and tent sites that are walk-in or cart-in. Two cabin’s are also available for lodging. This is quite a popular park, so booking your reservation early is a really the only way to secure your stay. We got extremely lucky when we camped here on a failed BWCA trip. For the full catastrophe follow here.

Superior Shores- Rock Skipping

Steep cliffs, river tributaries and a rocky beach are all along the shores of Lake Superior at this park. We enjoyed the hikes, falls, and views, but the most fun we had was on the rocky beach at the inlet of the Baptism River. The rocks were perfect for skipping, we skipped so many rocks on this beach, it was a blast.

Overlooks Galore

Overlook, after overlook, after overlook. The surplus of overlooks at this park is astounding. Even on a foggy day, the overlooks are gorgeous. The fog adds a bit of eerie mystery to this park. Watch your step and be aware of the ledge. There are many areas that have have a significant drop with no guard rails. It’s fantastic to have unobstructed, rugged beauty, but keep the kids in-hand.

Shovel Point: Be sure to check out shovel point, just a half mile or so of a hike from the visitor’s center. This is such an amazing view and getting there is unique too. This is an area where you’ll see a lot of those twisting trees and unique root systems mentioned earlier.

Hazard Warning: The boardwalk areas can be slippery when wet, be sure to wear appropriate footwear with a lot of grip. Not kidding about those drops. Keep those kiddos in hand or very close.

Tettegouche will be getting a repeat visit from us, but the next visit won’t be an accident! Add this park to your to-do list this summer. You won’t regret it!

Overlooks & Observation Towers to Explore in Minnesota this Summer

Elevate your summer bucket list with these amazing overlooks and fire towers to see in Minnesota.

Check out Minnesota’s high points this summer with these fire towers and overlooks. It’s one thing to see images from a drone, it’s a whole different animal to experience the heights and views for yourself.

Fire/observation Towers

Get staggering views from atop these tall towers. The climb up steep steps will be well worth it. These towers are only open during the summer months as they are too dangerous to climb in the icy Minnesota winters.

Itasca State Park

Park Location: 36750 Main Park Drive
Park Rapids, MN 56470

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Tower Location: The tower is located off a trail near the end of the one-way scenic drive. There is a parking area on the south side of the road, the trail that leads to the fire tower is called Aiton Heights Trail. You can also access this trail from the Hiking Club (Ozawindib) Trail.

The tower at Itasca is the most sturdy tower we have climbed in MN, with the least steep steps. If you have a fear of heights, this is a safe tower to climb. While it is quite high, there is less sway with the wind.

At the top of the tower, photos are present to show it’s conquerors the areas around the park. Be sure to take a moment at the top to look through the canopy for wildlife.

St. Croix State Park

Park Location: 30065 St. Croix Park Road
Hinckley, MN 55037

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Tower Location: The tower is accessed by following the right most road after entering the park, keep right after picking up a map from the park office. Watch for signs for the Observation Tower, there are numerous parking areas along the way. The parking area for the observation tower is very close to the base of the tower.

Tip: Watch for wildlife along the way, we saw a medium sized black bear strolling down the road!

The distance that is visible from this tower is astounding. This tower takes you high above the tree tops, you feel as though you can see Tobies cinnamon rolls in the oven back in Hinckley. You will work up an appetite with this climb!

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Park Location: 15066 Kathio State Park Road
Onamia, MN 56359

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Tower Location: After entering the park, take the first left. This leads to a trail center and parking area. The tower can be accessed from the hiking trail loop that begins at the southeast side of the parking area. Keep left at splits in the trail. After the tower, complete the loop by taking the trail back to the road that leads to the parking area.

Lake Mille Lacs can be viewed from the top of this observation tower. It’s a great way to get a different perspective on a park that you’ll be hiking. We hit this feature first at the park, to gain an idea of the area we’d be exploring. Mille Lacs Kathio is a fantastic park in the Mille Lacs area.

Fire Tower Safety

I’ll be quick here. Please follow the rules posted at the base of each tower. They are pretty simple rules and are in place to keep visitors safe. Take these safety rules and guidelines into consideration before climbing.

  • Towers must not exceed 6 people at a time.
  • Do not climb in poor weather conditions (wind, rain, storms, etc.)
  • Supervise children (we had our little guy snuggly strapped into his hiking carrier and secured to me)
  • Hold the railing, do not climb if you get dizzy or light headed.
  • Do not drop stuff from the top of the tower (duh).


Sibley State Park- Mount Tom

Park Location: 800 Sibley Park Road Northeast
New London, MN 56273

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Overlook Location: From the Visitor’s Center head right and then take a left at the split. There will be signs for Mount Tom. The overlook can also be accessed by way of the Hiking Club trail, this trail has numerous starting points and is the 3.3 mile Mount Tom Loop.

Hike Mount Tom to see the far and wide expanse of farm land, lakes, nearby towns and wooded areas. Sibley State Park‘s Mount Tom is not as intimidating as the Observation/Fire towers of the other parks, but it still offers an amazing experience. For a serious fear of heights, this is a great baby step.

Bonus: There is another amazing overlook on the trail leading north of the Mount Tom parking area and a “Little Mount Tom” to the south.

Interstate State Park- St. Croix River Views

Park Location: 307 Milltown Road
Taylors Falls, MN 55084

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Overlook Location: This park has two main parking areas. The North Unit holds the main attraction and is a short jaunt from your vehicle. The South Unit has access to the Curtain Falls Hike.

The views over the St. Croix River are astounding and you can wave to our state neighbors from Wisconsin across the river. Take time to check out the potholes and explore this one of a kind terrain.

Warning: Watch the edge of the cliffs and keep small children in hand. There have been several park visitors that have fallen into the river from the overlooks.

Tettegouche- Shovel Point

Park Location: 5702 Highway 61
Silver Bay, MN 55614

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Overlook Location: You can’t hike in this park without running into an overlook. It’s cliff and waterfall galore! For overlooks of Lake Superior, check out Shovel Point just north of the visitor’s center. It’s also great for a quick stop on your way to more northern destinations.

Check out our mishap excursion to Tettegouche and how this park saved a weekend adventure.

Warning: Keep young children in hand and watch your footing, especially on damp/wet days. Much of the overlook areas do not have guard rails, which is great because it doesn’t impede on the splendor of the view.

Cascade State Park- Lookout Mountain

Park Location: 3481 West Highway 61
Lutsen, MN 55612

Fees: $7 Day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass (totally worth it)

Overlook Location: From the Visitor’s Center, head out on the Hiking Club Trail. There are several trails leaving the Visitor’s Center, so follow signage closely. Cross the bridge at The Cascades and follow the Superior Hiking Trail. You’ll come to a T in the trail after about half a mile, take a left and follow the Superior Hiking Trail until you see signs for Lookout Mountain, it will be to the right of the trail.

We had a great experience at Cascade River State Park and we learned a thing or two. Check out Mistakes and Lessons at Cascade River State Park.

BWCA- Eagle Mountain

Parking Location: Follow MN-61 to Lutsen, MN. Turn left onto Caribou Trail, after 17 miles you’ll go right onto The Grade for 4 miles. On the left you’ll find a decent gravel parking area with an obvious trial head.

Fees: Free Self-Issue Permit, all hikers in the BWCA require a permit. You can acquire one at the Gunflint Ranger Station (2020 W. Hwy 61, Grand Marais, MN) or the trail head.

Overlook Location: Eagle Mountain is a very straight forward hike with well packed trail. The trail will split near the peak, take a left at the Y to climb Eagle Mountain. The total distance out and back is 7 miles.

Of course Minnesota’s highest natural point must be on this list! Standing at a whopping 2301 feet above sea level, she’s a beauty to behold. Hiking this “mountain” should be on every Minnesotan’s bucket list. We had an amazing adventure in the BWCA, for more details check out Hiking Eagle Mountain.

Hiking Tip: We encountered many folks without any gear, not even water. This is a day hike for most hikers entering the area, but this is still the BWCA wilderness and basic supplies should be present. Be sure to bring plenty of water (do NOT drink from the lakes), small first aid, and perhaps some snacks.