Map of Minnesota State Parks
Twin Cities Metro Area State Parks
The park is set in a rolling glacial moraine and bluffland. It contains a combination of oak openings and woodlands. The forests combine upland hardwoods with some pine plantations. Remnant prairies are being expanded and oak savannas are being restored through an aggressive resource management program that makes extensive use of volunteers. Park wildflowers include prairie pasque flowers and woodland ephemerals in the spring; butterfly weed and puccoons on the summer prairie; and sunflowers and blazing star in the fall.
Afton - 1,695 acres:
Grand oaks and delicate prairie flowers grace the rugged, rolling landscape of this park. Trails traverse remnant and restored prairies, wind down deep ravines and rise up to the grassy ridgetops and bluffs overlooking the scenic St. Croix River. The trails are perfect for hikers, horseback riders and cross-country skiers. The park offers visitors a swimming beach, backpack campsites and a visitor center with interpretive displays.
Birdwatchers can observe hawks and waterfowl on the St. Croix flyway, bluebirds and meadowlarks in the grasslands, and waves of migratory birds in the floodplain. Deer, fox, and badgers live here along with the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, turkeys, gray and fox squirrels.
The park was established in 1969 to preserve unique natural features and to provide opportunities for nature-oriented recreation.
The park is located in the Mississippi River Sandplains Landscape Region at the confluence of two great rivers, the Minnesota and the Mississippi. Most of the park is on the Minnesota River floodplain. The riverine environment hosts large cottonwood, silver maple, ash, and willow trees along the braided channels of the Minnesota River. Numerous picnic sites, a beach, and river and lake fishing invite visitors to enjoy the recreational opportunities offered by this historic and beautiful park nestled in the shadow of city freeways and airport flyways.
Fort Snelling - 2,931 acres:
Located in the heart of the Twin Cities, this park offers extensive hiking, bike and ski trails that link to Minnehaha Park and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Canoe on Gun Club Lake, play golf, swim in Snelling Lake, or hike on Pike Island where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers converge. Interpretive exhibits and films on display in the Thomas C. Savage Visitor Center give visitors a good background on the history and resources of the park and area. Trails also allow visitors to hike up to the historic Fort Snelling for a view of military life in the 1820s. This is a day-use only park; no camping is available.
The forest bottoms and marshes have an abundance of wild life consisting of white-tailed deer, fox, woodchucks, badgers, and skunks. Visitors might also come across a fox snake which is almost identical in appearance to a rattle snake, but is not poisonous. Snapping, soft-shelled and painted turtles can be seen basking in the sun along the river or in one of the lakes.
For hundreds of years before Europeans arrived, generations of Dakota people lived in villages along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers that meet in Fort Snelling State Park. The river confluence was believed to be the place of origin and center of the earth by the bands of Mde-wa-kan-ton-wan Dakota, the "Dwellers by Mystic Lake." By the late 1600s, Europeans had visited the area. In the 1820s, historic Fort Snelling was built on the bluff above the two historic rivers to control the exploration, trade, and settlement on these waterways. The area was established as a state park in 1962. The swimming beach, added in 1970, remains a popular recreation attraction in the park. In 1997, a new visitor center opened to the public.
The park's landscape is diverse and includes floodplains and forests of hard maple, oak, and pine. Many rare and endangered species are found in the park. For a small, highly visited area, Interstate is a haven to these unique species. Historically, small gardens were planted in the pothole area in the early 1900s. The park is restoring these gardens for visitors to enjoy.
Interstate - 298 acres:
There is so much to do at Interstate State Park, located on the beautiful St. Croix River. Visitors can climb the cliffs of the St. Croix River Dalles, canoe the flat-water, watch kayakers rush through the rapids, or relax on a excursion boat. Spring brings a great diversity of wildflowers and in fall, the St. Croix River Valley forest is ablaze in the autumn colors of red, gold, and orange. The geology that formed this park intrigues visitors, and brings geologists from all over the world. At least 10 different lava flows are exposed in the park, along with two distinct glacial deposits, and traces of old streams valleys and faults. During the summer, hike the trails and explore the glacial potholes that make this park unique.
Creeks and springs that flow into the St. Croix River support white-tailed deer, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and many different birds. There are many places in the park to listen for bird songs and owl calls.
In the 1800s, the threat of mining the St. Croix Dalles prompted leaders from Minnesota and Wisconsin to preserve the Dalles of the St. Croix River. Working together, the first interstate (Minnesota and Wisconsin) park in the nation was established. The Minnesota Legislature established the park in 1895; the Wisconsin Legislature followed in 1900. Today, visitors can hike both sides of the St. Croix River at Interstate Park in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Lake Maria State Park is located at the northern edge of the Big Woods. This region is characterized by rough, wooded terrain and terminal moraine. The moraine consists of an accumulation of boulders, stone, and other debris left by a glacier that melted 10,000 years ago.
Lake Maria - 1,590 acres:
Visitors who come to Lake Maria State Park will enjoy one of the few remaining stands of the "Big Woods," a maple, oak and basswood forest that once covered part of southern Minnesota. The park is perfect for hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers who enjoy the challenge of the rolling terrain. Take a stroll on the boardwalk which winds through a marsh. Backpack sites, located on remote lakes and ponds throughout the park, are just two miles from the trailhead parking lot. New log camper cabins, located near lakes and ponds, provide bunk beds for six people and a table and benches for campers who want more of the creature comforts. Lake Maria State Park is home to the Blandings turtle, easily identified by bright yellow spots on its shell. It is one of Minnesota's threatened species.
The marshes, potholes, and lakes provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Approximately 205 different species of birds have been reported living in, or passing through on seasonal migrations. Visitors have seen bald eagles, Cooper's hawk, Franklin's gull, osprey, common egret, common loon, trumpeter swans, great blue heron, marsh hawk, and goldfinch. Owl species include the screech, great-horned, snowy, and short-eared. Mammals include shrews, bats, moles, rabbits, woodchucks, red and grey squirrels, pocket gophers, beaver, mice, fisher, muskrats, mink, striped skunk, red fox, and white-tailed deer.
The Big Woods was a forest that once occupied 3,030 square miles in south-central Minnesota. The forest was comprised of maple, basswood, white and red elm, red oak, tamarack, and red cedar on the banks of numerous lakes. The trees were so thick that sunlight couldn't penetrate to the forest floor in some spots. French explorers called the forest "Bois Grand" or "Bois Fort." Later, settlers altered the name to the "Big Woods." Today, farms, towns, suburbs, and industry have replaced much of the Big Woods. Fortunately, Lake Maria State Park retains a remnant of the grandness of the original Big Woods.
The Minnesota River Valley is a rich mosaic of plant and animal communities. The valley holds floodplain marshes, wet meadows, fens, and lakes. These wetlands are maintained by the river and by the spring-fed streams draining from the base of the bluffs. The hillsides and bluffs support oak forest and oak savanna remnants. They offer outstanding scenic overlooks. As the seasons unfold, you will find spring wildflowers, fall colors, abundant wildlife, and the every-changing river landscape.
Minnesota Valley - 5,490 acres:
Just minutes from the Twin Cities, this state recreation area preserves part of the Minnesota River Valley. The Minnesota Valley Trail links Fort Snelling State Park and units of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to waysides and other public lands. The area is ideal for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and snowmobiling. The landscapes are just as diverse as the trail system, and include wetlands, floodplain forest, and blufftop oak savanna. Wildlife observation and birdwatching are popular activities year-round.
Raccoons, mink, muskrat, wood duck, and beaver are some of the animals that benefit from the protection of the river valley habitats. Hundreds of thousands of song birds and waterfowl are attracted to the extensive wetlands in the valley as they make their annual migrations through the valley flyway. Along the trails in upland areas you may see white-tail deer, rabbits, squirrels, or red and grey fox.
You are surrounded by history as you travel through the Minnesota River Valley. The Dakota people gave the river its name: Mini Sota and fished, hunted, and harvested wild rice from floodplain lakes. Many names that we see today are reminders of Dakota leaders whose villages were located along the lower Minnesota River: Black Dog, Shakopee, and Mazomani. In the early 1600s, European explorers, fur traders, and missionaries traveled the Minnesota River and by the 1860s settlers built homesteads and farmed along the river's fertile banks. As railroads replaced steamboats, many river towns became ghost towns. In the Minnesota Valley Recreation Area you can see the only remaining building from the town of St. Lawrence or visit the Jabs Farm Homestead. You can also enjoy the landscape and wildlife that has attracted people here for centuries.
Wild River State Park lies within the Anoka Sand Plain and Mille Lacs Uplands subsections. This region is on the southern edge of the transition zone of pine forest, hardwood forest, and oak savanna. Once covered by Glacial Lake Grantsburg, this area today is a smooth and sandy plain. The few ridges may represent islands that stood above the lake level. Prescribed burns are conducted annually to better manage and restore oak savanna and prairie areas.
Wild River - 6,803 acres:
Wild River is located along 18 miles of the beautiful St. Croix River. The park attracts people who enjoy camping, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, interpretive programs, self-guided trails, and cross-country skiing. Day visitors can enjoy a leisurely paddle down the St. Croix River from the Sunrise river access to the southern park river access. The park provides opportunities for semi-modern camping, group camping, backpack camping, canoe camping, and walk-in camping. Visitors who want modern amenities can reserve the guest house which provides a living room, dining room, kitchen, and fireplace. The park also has two camping cabins which include bunkbeds, a table, and benches. An all-season trail center is a great spot to relax after hiking or cross-country skiing on the 35-mile trail system. A visitor center with exhibits and environmental education programs is open year-round.
Wild River provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. Hawks, owls, eagles, and a diversity of songbirds are common. The tracks of beaver, raccoon, fox, coyote, otter, mink, and deer are often seen in the soft earth or snow. Northern pike, walleye, and smallmouth bass are found in the St. Croix River. Squirrels and other small mammals thrive in oak forests and savannas. Prairie restoration sites are increasingly used by meadowlarks and grassland sparrows.
The St. Croix River Valley was first occupied by nomadic people 6,000 years ago. For thousands of years, the valley was home for the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians. Samuel's Fur Post and Connor's Goose Creek Post were active in 1847. After Minnesota became a territory in 1849, a military road was constructed through the park. It was part of the route from Hastings to Lake Superior and a portion of it is still evident today. The towns of Sunrise and Amador were founded in the 1850s. The great white pine logging era resulted in the building of Nevers Dam in 1890. The dam operated until 1912. Read a Web version of the book: Nevers Dam...The Lumberman's Dam.
The park was established to protect the natural and cultural resources and to provide recreational opportunities along the St. Croix River. The park's name "Wild River" is derived from the fact that the St. Croix River was one of the original eight rivers protected by the U.S. Congress through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Nearly 5,000 of the park's total 6,803 acres were donated by Northern States Power Company.
The variety of vegetation types, the St. Croix River floodplain, oak-hickory forests, scattered white pine areas, marshes, oak savanna, upland prairie and rolling meadows, provides habitat for diverse wildlife populations. Wildflowers give color to the spring woods and the summer fields. One of the best canoeing rivers in the nation, the St.Croix offers pristine scenery just minutes from a major metropolitan area.
William O'Brien - 1,520 acres:
A great "get away" park only one hour from the Twin Cities, William O'Brien provides a beautiful setting for quality recreation along the banks of the St. Croix River. Hiking trails offer quiet exploration of the park's rolling, wooded hills. For anglers, the channels of the St. Croix have northerns, walleye, bass and trout. Ideal for canoeing, the river is also a migratory pathway that offers visitors an exciting diversity of sights and sounds. In the winter, snowshoeing, skiing and camping attract enthusiasts.
Racoon, mink, beaver and woodchucks are prevalent. Upland meadows and woods provide a great environment for white-tail deer and fox. Birdwatchers frequently spot woodpeckers, bluebirds, orioles, herons, raptors and a variety of warblers.
The Dakota and Ojibwe Indians utilized the resources of the valley rich in fur-bearing animals, wild game, and useful plants. In the 1600s, European trappers arrived to engage in the lucrative fur-trade industry. Later, lumberjacks began to harvest the stands of white pine. Sawmills began to dot the St. Croix riverway and the industry flourished in the mid-1800s until the valley was cleared of white pine. William O'Brien, a lumber baron, bought much of the land once owned by the lumber companies. In 1947, his daughter donated 180 acres to be developed as a state park in memory of her father. Over the years, other privately owned pieces of land were added to the park which now totals 1,520 acres.
State Parks Mission: We will work with the people of Minnesota to provide a state park system, which preserves and manages Minnesota's natural, scenic and cultural resources for present and future generations while providing appropriate recreational and educational opportunities.