From new trails to classic treks, our guide highlights paths across the North Star state.
Deep woods and clear lakes are hallmarks of Minnesota’s natural beauty. But hike at destinations across the state, and you’ll experience a kaleidoscope of nature, from Great Plains prairies to orchid-choked bogs.
In full, the state is home to 75 state parks and recreation areas, wildlife refuges, nature centers, and more. All host their own collections of scenic trail systems, perfect for day hikes and longer jaunts.
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Here, we highlight a set of new and interesting #OnlyInMN hikes that give a taste of Minnesota’s wild beauty, plus a little flavor of local attractions you’ll find along the way.
10 #OnlyInMN Hikes
North Country National Scenic Trail: Fergus Falls
Unless you’re a hardcore hiker, you’re probably not going to tackle any significant portion of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT). But for a peek at one part of the iconic NCT, head to the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center.
In total, Minnesota plays host to about 800 miles of the impressive NCT. The section near Fergus Falls offers 3.5 miles through native and restored prairie and wetlands. There’s access for all, including a paved trail with a floating bridge for anyone who wants to get a glimpse of the NCT before its meandering path continues hundreds of miles ahead into the West.
Soak in the beautiful views, historic sites, and spectacular roadside sculptures while driving along the Otter Trail Scenic Byway. Add Road Trip’n Bingo to your plans to add even more fun to the scenic drive.
And if you’re thinking of spending a few days to take everything in, camp or RV at Delagoon Park camp area. No reservations needed here — it’s first come, first served for the 22 tent and 14 hookup sites.
Redhead Hiking (& Mountain Bike) Trails: Chisholm
Red dirt and rocky cliffs pitched above mine pits make this spot unique. A new hiking and mountain biking destination near Chisholm, Redhead is gaining buzz with miles of trails winding through Mesabi Range terrain.
If your hiking adventure needs to include a little fun on two wheels, there may be no better spot than Redhead hiking and mountain bike trails. Construction in 2019 and this year have created more than 15 miles of trails, with the full park network of 25-plus miles slated for completion this fall.
Most trails are mixed-use, though some are bike-specific. All are clearly marked. Suggested hiking routes include the Spell Bound Loop, North Star Loop, Fracture Falls Loop, and Red Hop Loop.
Chisholm’s 81-foot metal statue of a miner is a gargantuan homage to the area’s history. Officially titled “The Emergence of Man Through Steel,” the statue dates back to the 19th century and is claimed to be the third-largest freestanding memorial in the United States.
And be sure to swing through the Minnesota Discovery Center to learn everything about the Iron Range’s history, people, and current attractions.
Wood Lake Nature Center: Richfield
Hike in the city! Wood Lake Nature Center is a forested oasis just a few miles from Minneapolis’ urban core. Trees tower and the city noises fade as you trek away from the visitor center and into the woods.
The 150-acre preserve centers around a marsh, and boardwalks stream across the water for nature views. In all, 3 miles of trail gives enough distance for a quick escape.
Kid-friendly bonus: Your kids will love the outdoor hands-on play area, where they can build with sticks and logs, get dirty, and explore nature in a safe environment.
Local attraction: Pizzeria Lola
A local staple, Pizzeria Lola prides itself as a picture of the American Dream. Founded by James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim, Pizzeria Lola draws inspiration from Kim’s roots in Korean cuisine to craft some of the most unique and highly acclaimed pies in the state.
Lake Bemidji State Park: Bemidji
One of Minnesota’s largest lakes, Lake Bemidji offers up sunsets and sandy beaches to park visitors. On land, 11 miles of trail includes a long boardwalk. Look close to see the rare carnivorous plants and orchids of the region. You’ll also find Minnesota’s state flower, the lady slipper, on display.
If the natural beauty of Lake Bemidji State Park didn’t quench your soul, manmade art abounds just outside the park. Gallery North is a nonprofit cooperative of artists whose sculptures, painting, jewelry, and much more are on display (and for sale!).
For something more immersive, head to the Bemidji Sculpture Walk and be treated to 25 sculptures and murals — updated each year.
Rydell National Wildlife Refuge: Erskine
Five trails spread throughout the Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. As the name suggests, you’ll want to keep your head on a swivel to take in all manner of animals that call this protected area home.
From trumpeter swans to black bears, ospreys, bald eagles, river otters, and red foxes (and plenty more), you’re almost sure to check something off the list you’ve never seen before.
Local attractions: Oak Lake Golf Course,
Want to hit a couple off the tee without the hassle of a high-end private course (Slice? What slice?), check out Oak Lake Golf Course’s nine holes, open to the public.
Franz Jevne State Park: Birchdale
If you want to get out there, like really out there, head to Franz Jevne State Park, 320 miles north of the Twin Cities, where you can literally see Canada. Needless to say, this is the place to go for peace and quiet — and, because it’s along the banks of the Rainy River, some top-notch fishing.
The park has 2.5 miles of hiking trails that hug the river. You can stay near the shore or find some lookout bluffs near the south end of the campground. And this far north, you know there’s wildlife to be seen. Franz Jevne is no stranger to moose, wolves, and a plethora of songbirds.
Local attraction: Basshenge
You’ve heard of Stonehenge, now lay eyes on the real must-see wonder: Basshenge! Was it put there by man or some alien civilization? No, it was definitely people; but this full-metal monument to music, built in 2001, is an attraction you can’t miss if you’re in the area.
Camden State Park: Lynd
Whether you’re hiking, pedaling, or riding horseback, Camden State Park‘s trail systems have something to explore. Bisected by the meandering path of the Redwood River, Camden is renowned for its trout fishing along the banks.
Not an angler? Take a dip in the spring-fed swimming pond, originally built by the Veterans Conservation Corps in 1935. Within the park, the Dakota Valley Trail provides 15 miles of hiking, 4 miles of singletrack biking, and 10 miles of horse trails.
And if you visit in winter, the park welcomes skiers to make their own trails — there are no groomed ski trails — as long as they don’t tread on trails groomed for other purposes.
Local attraction: Lyon County Historical Society Museum
Get to know some of southwest Minnesota’s history at the Lyon CountyHistorial Society Museum. Track your Minnesota roots at the Prairieland Genealogical Society within the museum, view artifacts dating back to the 19th century, and learn about the people and events that helped shape Lyon County.
Nordic Ridge Recreation Area: Crosslake
The epitome of Minnesota’s many “multiuse” trails, the Nordic Ridge Trail through the recreation area of the same name is perhaps better known for its groomed skiing.
But in the summer and fall, the Nordic Ridge Trail leads hikers through 2.2 miles of woodlands surrounding Cranberry Lake. Stick with the short hike for an all-ages adventure, or tackle more of the Nordic Ridge Recreation Area’s 14 miles of trail.
Because the town of Crosslake is surrounded by chains of connected lakes, both big and small, head to Wind, Water & Wheels to rent a kayak, standup paddleboard, float pad — or a bicycle (not for water use).
And if you’re looking for a spot to grab a bite or frosty pint, check out The Bourbon Room, “a modern bar infused with old west charm.”
Jay C. Hormel Nature Center: Austin
Sprawling over 500 acres of butterfly-friendly prairie, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center welcomes visitors with 10 miles of trails. Best of all, they’re color-coded! Newly marked, the color systems aim to make finding your way through the nature center a breeze.
Gaze out over vast fields of wildflowers — a key attraction for the area’s annual monarch butterfly visits — put your birding skills to the test, and even try your hand at pressing cider or collecting maple syrup!
Unlock the secrets of SPAM at the eponymous museum. Learn how the wartime staple came to be and get yourself a recipe book while you’re there.
After that, head over to Gravity Storm Brewery to get refreshed and grab a Root Beer Growler to go!
And if you have kids in tow — or you just want to be a kid again yourself — don’t miss The Berenstain Bears Exhibit, the world’s largest collection of Berenstain Bears books and memorabilia.
Bunker Hills Recreation Center: Ham Lake
Just a half-hour trek up the interstate from downtown Minneapolis sits a wild landscape of wetlands, hardwood forests, and native prairie lands. And not only does Bunker Hills Regional Park offer 10 miles of both paved and natural surface trails, but it is also home to a variety of fun activities like disc golf, archery, an 18-hole golf course, camping, and more.
Visit in the fall and enjoy a picturesque stroll along the park’s iconic boardwalk as the autumn colors pop throughout one of the state’s last oak savannas.
Bunker Hills Golf Course is recognized as one of the top courses in America. But kitty-corner from the park, you’ll find Majestic Oaks, with two 18-hole courses, an executive 9 course to test all your clubs, and even a footgolf course (think soccer plus golf).
Bunker Hills Campground offers shady and secluded campsites ranging from rustic to modern, with water and electricity available. And if that’s not enough, you can wet your whistle at Willy McCoy’s, a Prohibition-themed tavern for the average Jane and Joe.
This article is sponsored by Explore Minnesota. Plan your next hiking adventure at ExploreMinnesota.com/HikeMN.