Interstate State Park family hiking

Finding Family Fun in Taylors Falls

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Family hiking at Interstate State Park

Finding Family Fun in Taylors Falls

By Kelly Jo McDonnell

Looking for a fun place to travel with the entire family? It can be a tricky task. On the top of the list for my son: find rocks. Mom’s mission: get outside and away from the iPad.

Enter Taylors Falls, a little town of less than 1,000 residents northeast of the Twin Cities. (Don’t let the population fool you; it swells in the summer months to thousands more.) Surrounded by bluffs and high cliffs, the area is a geologist’s dream. There’s evidence of ancient lava flows and traces of old river beds. This bodes well for exploring rocks, especially at the state park at the edge of town. Interstate State Park along the scenic St. Croix River was jointly founded in 1895 by Minnesota and Wisconsin, which both border the river.

Taylors Falls Interstate State Park fall couple hiking

A couple overlooks the St. Croix River from a rock cliff in Interstate State Park / Paul Vincent

Hiking the State Park

For families, a recommended hike is the 1.25-mile River Trail, well maintained and easy to follow. What makes this trail fun for both kids and adults is that it circles around glacial potholes, holes carved out of this ancient rock. Some of the holes in the bedrock are massive, and the park contains more glacial potholes in a smaller area than any other location in the world. Families can take a walking tour around the entire pothole area on safe paths with railings.

On the return journey, come back around on the Railroad Trail, a 1.5-mile hike. The path follows where the old railroad used to run; you can still see the remnants of the old train bridges along the trail. The trail intersects near the Sandstone Bluffs Trail, and if your kids love stairs, have at it. There are a few hundred of them to get to the scenic overlook, but it’s worth it.

For an overnight stay, pitch a tent at the park’s campground.

Explore the St. Croix River

For fun on the water, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the St. Croix. Taylors Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental is located right in Interstate State Park. No paddling experience required, and they supply the life jackets in all sizes. It’s an easy stretch of the river, and there are plenty of sandy beaches where you can pull over and look for rocks or eat a picnic snack. A bonus: The rental company shuttles you back to your starting point.

There are also scenic boat tours from the park that offer great views of the rocky cliffs along the river. The narrated tour points out rock formations all along the river banks, and adults and kids alike strain to see the “Old Man of the Dalles” in the rock walls. Sometimes you can spot rock climbers scaling the cliffs.

Family on chairlift at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls

Fun on the slopes at Wild Mountain

More Taylors Falls Fun

Want more fun on land? Nearby Wild Mountain, a popular ski area in the winter, features Alpine slides, go-karts and a water park with several waterslides, a lazy river and a wading pool for the smaller kids. All ages, including the parents, love the tipping bucket and the cargo climbing nets. Older kids are drawn to the “Free Fall,” which isn’t a big surprise: jumpers leap from two platforms, landing on a huge air bag.

To find a few local treasures from the area, hit the charming little shops right in downtown Taylors Falls. Parents may enjoy the Newbery House, a gift shop that doubles as an art gallery. Kids will love the GLG Rock Shop, which is chock full of rocks from the area.

All in all, Taylors Falls supplied much more than rocks and time away from technology. Family fun accomplished.

Kelly Jo McDonnell

Kelly Jo McDonnell is a freelance writer from Lino Lakes, as well as a writer & producer for the Minnesota Bound television show (KARE-11). She enjoys canoeing, hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing. Getting kids involved in nature is a mission, and one that she works on constantly with her own son.