The Great Plains seem to stretch forever at this underappreciated park, located in the far southwestern corner of the state. Think untouched prairies (where bison freely roam) and dramatic quartzite rock formations, especially the enormous “Blue Mound,” so named by early frontiersmen (who were presumably sight-impaired, because the quartzite is certainly pink). Thirteen miles of hiking trails serve up sights straight from a Willa Cather novel: wildflowers, tall-grass prairie, and the occasional prickly pear cactus bloom.
Rod Johnson owns outdoor store Midwest Mountaineering. He suggests a five-mile loop in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, on the extensive Superior Hiking Trail.
Why it’s special: “It has five sets of waterfalls, lots of elevation change, and scenic views.”
Where to stop: “The footbridge at the halfway point—perfect for a picnic.”
After-hike bite: “Two excellent restaurants on Highway 61: The Rustic Inn and the Splashing Rock Restaurant at Grand Superior Lodge.”
At 2,301 feet, our state’s highest peak can’t brag about size. But make the 3.5-mile ascent up the granite formations to the flat summit of Eagle Mountain, and you’ll be rewarded with glorious views of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (permit required), northwest of Grand Marais.
The hills are alive—or the bluffs, that is—along this stunning trail in Great River Bluffs Park about 20 miles south of Winona. The unpaved path rims a few of our southeastern bluffs, serving up views of wildflowers, prairie grasses, eagles, and the Mississippi River Valley.
Take the 2.5-mile trail to see the geological puzzler known as Devil’s Kettle. At this park near Grand Marais, the river divides around a giant volcanic rock. Half the water flows into a waterfall. The other half disappears into an ominous cavern (which scientists can’t trace).
Come to Banning State Park for an eyeful of woodlands, river rapids, and the loveliest sight of all: the ruins of the Banning Sandstone Quarry, where stones for the construction of the Minneapolis Courthouse were harvested in the 1800s. Abandoned in 1905, the quarry is now overgrown with ferns and moss
This one’s known for its pebble beaches, craggy cliffs, protected inland lakes (accessible only by foot), and waterfalls galore—especially the famous “High Falls,” the tallest in Minnesota at 60 feet. With 23 miles of trails overlooking Lake Superior, the Great North Woods, and the gently sloping Sawtooth Mountains, Tettegouche is the state’s most visually spectacular place for a hike. To fully savor the experience, plan an overnight stay in one of the park’s charming log cabins (reservations are essential). Want to take in the glorious views from great heights? Try the DNR’s new “I Can Climb” classes for beginners.
Head to the so-called St. Paul Brickyards to dig for fossilized corals, shells, and other species that once graced the ancient ocean of this area. Also, check out the ruins of the old brick kiln from the long-gone Twin Cities Brick Company (permit required).
Urban life seems oceans away while wandering the restored prairies and oak savannahs of this nearby park. But Afton’s prettiest, most transcendent sight is, by far, the deep glacial ravines of the St. Croix River Valley.
This uplifting trail is worth the haul—it’s located way up north near Bigfork. Built along an esker, or an elevated gravel ridge, this high and narrow path traces the contours of a mile-long peninsula. So hikers can enjoy true-blue lake views on both sides while moving under cover of tall, old red pine trees.