Hikers on an elevated, wood platform on the North Country National Scenic Trail

10 of Minnesota's Best Hiking Trails

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Hiking an elevated portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail / Marcus Schaffer

10 of Minnesota's Best Hiking Trails

By GearJunkie

Minnesota isn’t just the land of lakes. Traversing the state’s top hiking trails can lead you atop scenic bluffs, beside flowing streams, and through hardwood forests. Whether it's a recreation area, wildlife refuge or regional park, a kaleidoscope of nature is your reward.

Here are some of the best hiking trails in each region, along with nearby attractions to build out your visit.

  1. Sakatah Lake State Park, Waterville
    Sakatah Lake State Park dock

    Sakatah Lake State Park, Fairbault / @hikatiemt

    Sakatah Lake State Park, Waterville

    The Hiking Club Trail at Sakatah Lake State Park is a 2.2-mile loop using portions of Hidden Pond, Oak Tree and Sumac trails. A natural surface path takes you through seasonal fauna, from spring wildflowers to the bright fall leaves of the surrounding old-growth oaks. The park has drive-in and bike-in camping. There’s also a boat launch that provides access to the Cannon River State Water Trail which runs through Sakatah Lake.

    Local Attractions

    Parents looking for an action-packed day for the kids may venture to Waseca Water Park (open from May to September). The Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail provides almost 40 miles of blacktop for hiking and biking. In the winter it’s also groomed for snowmobiling.

    The trail connects Mankato and Faribault with small towns and a forest along the way. In summer there are a few beach spots where you can stop and cool off.

  2. Whitewater State Park, Altura
    Couple Hiking Whitewater State Park

    Whitewater State Park, Altura / Kurt Barclay, GearJunkie

    Whitewater State Park, Altura

    Short and sweet, Chimney Rock Trail is a favorite choice for visitors at Whitewater State Park. It’s only a 1.1-mile loop, but it ascends steeply up Chimney Rock to a scenic bluff overlook with views of the Whitewater River and beyond. The trail itself is bare rock and packed dirt.

    The area also stands out for being nearly mosquito-free due to the lack of standing water the pests need to breed in. The unique landscape of the driftless area tends to have cold, swift streams instead.

    Local Attractions

    Climb roughly 500 steps to the top of the Elba Fire tower to get a bird’s-eye view. Located in the town of Elba, just two miles from the park, the tower is open during daylight hours from April through October. Think of it as a Stairmaster with a view.

    The Whitewater Wildlife Management Area is home to a mix of oak, hickory and maple trees atop steep hills and bluffs that frame trout-filled streams. With more than a dozen wetlands in the valley, nature lovers can spot dozens of waterfowl species and even otters.

  3. Purgatory Creek Park, Eden Prairie
    Purgatory Creek Park

    Purgatory Creek Park, Eden Prairie / David Gregoire

    Purgatory Creek Park, Eden Prairie

    2.4-mile paved loop trail meanders through gardens and wetlands at this hidden metro gem. While visiting the creekside park, seek out the beautiful Veterans Memorial and enjoy the large fountain.

    Local Attractions

    Nearby you’ll find the Wings of the North Air Museum that currently houses five beautifully restored World War II aircraft — three of which are award-winning — along with other aircraft engines, WWII Jeeps and other displays.

    In addition, the 1.1-million square foot Eden Prairie Center is located close by with over 90 stores, an 18-screen AMC Theatre, several restaurants and more. Finish your day with a unique taste of spirits obtained from far corners of the globe at Flying Dutchman Spirits.

  4. Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, Brooklyn Park
    Hiking with dog Mississippi Gateway Regional Park

    Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, Brooklyn Park / Kurt Barclay, GearJunkie

    Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, Brooklyn Park

    More than two miles of turf trails along the banks of the Mississippi River await hikers looking for quiet walks and scenic river views. The 160-acre park is home to mink, beaver, hawks, osprey, turtles, river otters and other wildlife.

    Get bigger views from the 12-foot-wide observation walkway on top of the dam. There are sure to be rainbows below created in the mists of the waterfalls.

    Local Attractions

    Explore 127 acres of forest, wetland, and prairie from three miles of trails at the Springbrook Nature Center. A 900-foot floating boardwalk provides a unique opportunity to see beavers, foxes, turtles and a variety of birds. The center also has interactive exhibits and an open-air picnic pavilion to make it a great option for a stopover.

    Historic Eidem Farm, formerly Eidem Homestead, presents a view of rural Minnesota at the turn of the century. There are guided tours of the restored farm with activities and living history events such as the popular “Eidem Christmas” where you can learn how the Eidem family and other local families celebrated the holiday. Enjoy making tree decorations, singing carols and take home your own Christmas card.

  5. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, Onamia
    Family hiking Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

    Mille Lacs Kathio State Park / Kurt Barclay, GearJunkie

    Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, Onamia

    Glacial Ridge Trail is a 1.2 mile loop on uneven terrain over packed dirt at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Follow the route around beaver ponds and through a hardwood forest. Depending on the season, you’ll enjoy spring wildflowers or bright fall leaves.

    The Interpretive Center teaches about 9,000 years of human activity in this National Historic Landmark District. Take a short hike over to the observation tower and soak in the scenery of the park.

    Local attractions

    Learn about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, for whom the park is named, at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, complete with American Indian gifts from Mille Lacs artisans.

    For equine adventure, Rolling Hills Arabians offers trail rides, riding lessons, and a chance to pet plenty of farm animals. Young children too small for the trail rides can saddle up for pony rides.

  6. Kensington Runestone Park, Kensington
    Hiker Kensington Runestone Park

    Kensington Runestone Park, Kensington  / James Feist courtesy Explore Alexandria Tourism

    Kensington Runestone Park, Kensington

    Kensington Runestone Park recently developed dedicated mountain bike trails and has nearly eight miles of multi-use trails for riding, running and hiking – including the beautiful Nokke Veien trail. Shaped by glaciers, the trail systems loop around two lakes as they take you over slight hills filled with oak, ash, maple and basswood trees. The visitor’s center, once a dairy barn, has heated bathrooms which can double as changing rooms.

    The park gets its name from the discovery of the Runestone at the historic Ohman farmyard. We’ll let you decide how real it is.

    Local Attractions

    Consider a family getaway to the Mill Lake Resort, where you can use the private peninsula for fishing or scrunching your toes in the sand.

    Anglers and hunters may want to lodge at the Elk Lake Heritage Preserve overlooking Torstenson Lake. There, they can practice their aim at the sporting clay range or, in season, actually take part in upland bird hunting on the preserve. For fishing, two private lakes are stocked with walleye.

  7. Shingobee Recreation Area, Walker
    Hiker Shingobee Recreation Area

    Shingobee Recreation Area, Walker

    Shingobee Recreation Area, Walker

    Shingobee Trail runs along the hills of the Shingobee River Valley. For six miles, hikers and hunters can explore the aspen, birch and pines prevalent in the Chippewa National Forest. Long-haul hikers and primitive campers can extend a hike by connecting to the North Country National Scenic Trail.

    Local Attractions

    A trip to the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame is a fun way to see some of the largest fish caught in the state and motivate the next generation of anglers. If you find yourself hooked too, consider a guided fishing trip from Leisure Outdoor Adventures.

  8. Hayes Lake State Park, Roseau
    Hayes Lake State Park

    Hayes Lake State Park, Roseau / SandPieper Design

    Hayes Lake State Park, Roseau

    Pine Ridge Trail is two and a half miles long and runs along Hayes Lake with several gullies adding elevation to your hike. You’ll see jack pines and red pines, and the cedar bog walk is a chance to see all kinds of wildlife. In fact, lynx, black bears and wolves live in the area.

    Local Attractions

    You can hike more of the park’s trails and spend the night at one of the two primitive campsites at Bemis Hill Campground in Beltrami Island State Forest.

  9. Scenic State Park, Bigfork
    Woods Scenic State Park

    Scenic State Park, Bigfork

    Scenic State Park, Bigfork

    Known for its tall pines and pristine beach, Scenic State Park lives up to its name as a pristine destination for outdoor activities. The Chase Point Trail rewards hikers with overlooks of the Coon and Sandwick lakes, as interpretive signs provide information about the park and its natural history along the way.

    The unusual ridge, deposited by glaciers and known as an esker, extends for almost a mile between the two lakes, providing a spectacular vantage point from which to appreciate a peaceful view very similar to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

    Local Attractions

    Soak in the lake views or try your hand at catching walleye, muskie, bass and more at Marcell Lodge, located in the Edge of the Wilderness Resort Area. The lodge is situated on Ranier Lake in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest.

    While there, be sure to hop over to the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center for its nature activities and interpretive displays about the Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway and surrounding area. It includes area information, a gift shop, an environmental education room, an outdoor amphitheater, an interpretive trail, a fishing/wildlife-watching pier and free naturalist programs throughout the summer.

  10. Voyageurs National Park, International Falls
    Voyageurs National Park starry night

    Voyageurs National Park, International Falls / Erik Fremstad

    Voyageurs National Park, International Falls

    Voyageurs National Park, a water-based park on the Canadian border best known for its houseboat vacation opportunities, is also a hiking destination worth the drive with nearly 30 miles of trails to suit anyone’s desired distance and difficulty level.

    Options range from the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a moderate 2.5-mile loop, to the Kab-Ash Trail, a strenuous 27-mile hike through backcountry forests and wetlands.

    After hiking, be sure to stick around for the night show. Far from cities and the light pollution they generate, the park is an exceptional location for stargazing and seeing the Northern Lights — so much so that it was certified in December 2020 as an International Dark Sky Park.

    Find more hiking inspiration.

Man and dog at Superior Hiking Trail overlook

Sunset on the Superior Hiking Trail / Alyssa Hei

Know Before You Go

  • A vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks. Save time by ordering one online before you arrive at the park.
  • For comfort and safety on the trail, be sure everyone has appropriate footwear (tennis shoes, not flip-flops).
  • Bring a water bottle for each hiker as well as plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and snacks.
  • Pick up a paper map at the park office or load a GeoPDF map before you leave (don’t rely on your phone to navigate because cell and Internet service may not be available in the woods).
  • The accessible trails at Minnesota state parks are stroller friendly as well as wheelchair friendly.
  • Some Minnesota state parks have all-terrain electric wheelchairs for use on unpaved trails.
  • If your dog will be hiking with you, keep it on a leash and clean up after it.
  • Don't pick wildflowers or otherwise disturb the landscape. "Take only photos, leave only footprints."

GearJunkie is the top source for news, adventure stories and product reviews in the outdoors world. They are based in Minneapolis, MN and Denver, CO. Read more at gearjunkie.com.