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5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

There are so many great state parks in Minnesota to discover. With over 60 to choose from, there’s probably one very close and convenient to where you live. If you’re an avid hiker or like to get out in nature a lot, then you probably know that some parks are even better in the winter than the summer. Here are my top picks for state parks in Minnesota to visit this winter, located across the state! 

1. Afton State Park

Until recently I had only visited Afton State Park in the summer, because it has one of my favorite beaches. You have to hike downhill about a mile to reach it, so it’s not very crowded, and it’s located on the beautiful St. Croix River. It almost feels like you’re at the ocean, with the way the waves crash on the shore. Kind of a rare feeling for state parks in Minnesota!

I finally decided to visit this park in the winter, and I absolutely fell in love with it all over again! My friend and I hiked in the morning, when the ground and trees were covered in a white frost. The whole setting was magical! There are paths through the woods and through prairie fields, so you can choose your adventure. We did both, making one big loop, and it was the perfect nature hike. I also love that you can see across to the ski hill, which is where I’ll be spending a lot of time this winter too!

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5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

2. Tettegouche State Park

When listing state parks in Minnesota, I’d be remiss not to mention the famous and quite popular Tettegouche State Park. It’s probably one of my favorite places in Minnesota! Located along the North Shore, you can reach Tettegouche by driving just north of Duluth to Lake County on scenic Minnesota Highway 61. The park has a beautiful visitors center where you can stop for a coffee and a souvenir, or to sit by the fire and warm-up a bit!

There are camping facilities open year-round at Tettegouche, but I love to just visit for a hike. Last winter my cousin and I visited in February, and I was amazed by the views from our hike. We took a path that runs along Lake Superior, through the woods, with various lookout points. During our hike the sky turned the most stunning colors (aren’t winter sunsets the best?) and I will never forget how the sky looked over the beautiful lake. Lake Superior has a special place in my heart because of memories I have growing up, and so to experience it like this at Tettegouche State Park was unforgettable. 

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5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

3. Fort Snelling State Park

Fort Snelling State Park is probably one of the most underrated state parks in Minnesota. I’ve lived only 15 minutes away from it, and only recently discovered it. Though the history of Fort Snelling makes my skin crawl (over 1600 Dakota men, women, and children were forcibly confined in a camp in this area through the winter of 1862 to 1863, before being expelled to Nebraska), its land is beautiful. It consists of the restored fort, visitor center, 18 miles of cross-country skiing trails, 18 miles of hiking trails, and five miles of biking trails.

In the winter, you can either hike through Fort Snelling State Park or opt for some cross country skies. The park is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, and preserves the bottomland forest, rivers, and backwater lakes below the river bluffs. You would imagine that it would be a noisy state park, because of its proximity to the freeway and bridges that run over the river, but it is surprisingly quiet! The trails connect the park to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Minnehaha Park, and regional trails like the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway and the Big Rivers Regional Trail. 

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5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

4. Whitewater State Park

I haven’t visited Whitewater State Park yet but it’s on the top of my list after viewing some photos. It looks like such a beautiful park! As a side note, if you’re planning to visit at least three state parks, it’s worth it to buy the year-long permit that you can just stick on your windshield. Then you don’t have to think about paying for a permit every time you want to get out and go somewhere. 

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Whitewater State Park is located in Winona County, in the southeastern bluff lands area of the state. It preserves a stretch of the Whitewater River, surrounded by rocky bluffs which look beautiful. There are rugged hiking trails along the Chimney Rock Trail to the scenic bluff land, or you can opt for a more accessible hike on the Meadow Trail, surrounded by dramatic bluffs. Either option sounds beautiful, and I can’t wait to plan my trip here! 

5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

5. Itasca State Park 

Go to the place where the mighty Mississippi begins! I first visited Itasca State Park a few years ago, on a daytrip from our cabin. The park is located 21 miles north of Park Rapids, and spans 32,690 acres of northern Minnesota. Most notably, Itasca State Park is where the headwaters of the Mississippi River are located, which is pretty spectacular. If you’d like to say you’ve walked across the Mississippi, then this is the place for you. 

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Itasca State Park is actually Minnesota’s oldest state park, and boasts a charming historic Lodge with local specialties on the menu at its restaurant. While there are a lot of activities that can be done here in the summer, winter can be just as fun. Cross country ski on one of the trails, or opt for a hike among the wilderness. Located within the park is the Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary, which became Minnesota’s first National Natural Landmark. It really does feel like stepping back in time when you visit this park, and I’m glad that there has been such an effort to preserve this land. If you love to be among the pines and lakes, this is the state park for you.

5 State Parks To Visit In Minnesota This Winter

What are your favorite state parks in Minnesota to visit in the winter? Share them with us in the comments below, and send this article to your favorite hiking buddies!

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