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Three Top Minnesota State Parks

The landscapes of Minnesota are varied like the many trees that dot its surface. We have Lake Superior and it’s hardwoods to the north, rolling hills and caves to the south east and prairies and farm land scattered everywhere in between. We are fortunate to live in a state with such diversity and I’ve found the best way to experience it is through our state parks. In the past couple years, I’ve visited a number of our state parks and I wanted to share my top 3 favorites.


Afton Alps


I put Afton on this list for one reason: proximity. From my house in Minneapolis, I can leave the city behind and get to Afton in under an hour. Part of Afton’s charm is that even with the short drive time, you still feel like you’re 200 miles from the nearest city thanks to the wonderful views of the St. Croix.


Another major plus for Afton are it’s backpacking campsites. These site require a mile hike from the parking lot with no ability to access them by car. This means that everything you want to take with you, you have to strap it to your back. If you’re new to backpacking, this is a great place to try it out and if you’re a veteran backpacker, well this is a great place for a quick jaunt or to try out some new gear.


With spectacular views of the St. Croix, low drive-time and awesome backpacking sites, make sure you put Afton on your destination list this summer.


Nerstrand Big Woods


Nerstrand Big Woods is a sleeper. It’s a hidden gem that’s only an hour and a quarter from the twin cities and it has two main draws: It’s lightly used and it has a beautiful waterfall.


I’m not sure why this park isn’t visited as much. My guess is, when most people think of camping, they think ‘north shore’ and since this park is in the middle of farm country, maybe it just doesn’t peak people’s interest. Either way, the light traffic isn’t an indicator of the park’s ability to satisfy and is totally a plus if you’re looking for a little more seclusion.


The landscape of Nerstrand Big Woods is dominated by…you guessed it, woods. It’s a remnant of what the the region was like before the Europeans settled it, chopped down the trees and turned the area to farmland. The woods are beautiful and offer lots of great chances to see wildlife but the main attraction is the waterfall tucked away in the middle of the park. The hike to see ‘hidden fall’s’ isn’t hard and the payoff is worth it. If you’d like to see images of the falls before you commit to this park, google is just a click away!


The fact that this park is uncrowded can save your butt if you’re a procrastinator and all of the other state parks in the area are full, but with gorgeous woods and a waterfall, this park should be a #1 choice in it’s own right.


Forestville/Mystery Cave


The last park on this list is my personal favorite. Forestville is tucked away in the hills of southern Minnesota which personally, is a part of Minnesota that I don’t feel gets enough credit. The parks big draws are its historical roots and the fact that  IT HAS A CAVE!


Mystery cave is not a small cave. In fact, it’s the state’s longest cave, spanning 13 miles underground with spots that are still being explored. The DNR offers a couple of different tours including one done only with a flashlight. If you’re looking for a little adventure, look no further than mystery cave.


The park has other non-subterranean attractions including Historic Forestville, a town captured in time, which allows you to see what life was like in 1800’s. Take a tour through the town and partake in activities such as mowing the lawn with equipment circa ‘motors weren’t invented yet’ or enjoy a lesson in gardening and see just how blessed we are to live in this day and age. History buffs and little kids will love the interactivity and everyone else will enjoy seeing visitors trying to catch one of the many chickens roaming the grounds.


Forestville has 2 unique attractions you won’t find anywhere else plus the beauty of the rolling hills of southern Minnesota. That’s why I keep going back again and again.


Well, there you have it. My top 3 favorite state parks in the state of Minnesota. What are yours?  Make sure you leave some more suggestions in the comments!



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