Minnesota is home to more than 10,000 lakes, and it is also home to thousands of miles of hiking trails throughout the state. Rivers, bluffs, forests, prairies, and wide-open spaces surround many miles of these trails. Hiking in this Canadian border state offers experiences that are true to the state itself. I challenge you to put on your hiking boots, pack your fishing pole, and head to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Having lived in Iowa my whole life, Minnesota has always been an easy escape to the northland. These eight hikes will be sure to provide an epic Minnesota hiking adventure.
1. Minnesota River Trail
Sibley Park and Waterfront Park are two ideal places to hop on this 10.7-mile hiking trail. The Minnesota River Trail is quite popular, as it connects parks and several trails that run near the Minnesota River. Most of this trail is paved, but the trail itself is not in great shape, which is why you need to be wearing a good pair of hiking boots. The scenery and bird-watching make this a top hiking trail in the state of Minnesota. There are restrooms along the trail and places to rest. Parking is usually not a problem if you start your hike early in the day. Fall is spectacular, as the leaf viewing is outstanding.
2. Silver Creek Trail, Jay Cooke State Park
With more than 50 miles of hiking trails in the Jay Cooke State Park, the Silver Creek Trail is popular. It offers stunning views of the rocky landscape near the St. Louis River. You can hop on the trail by trekking across the Civilian Conservation Corps Swinging Bridge that spans the river. This moderate 3.5-mile loop trail features a lake and its great for hikers of all abilities. The best tip I can give you is to begin your day early, as this trail can become quite crowded later on. Pack your bug spray and hike clockwise from the bridge. You will save yourself some steep uphill climbing by hiking clockwise. Any time you have a swinging bridge and a river, you truly have a beautiful Minnesota experience.
3. Waabizheshikana (Marten) Waterfront Trail
Recently renamed in honor of the Marten Clan that settled along this area of the St. Louis River, the Waabizheshikana Trail (formerly called the Marten Trail) will welcome you. This three-mile hike is great for someone looking for an easy hike, as it has an elevation gain of just 55 feet. River views and bird-watching are popular highlights of this hiking trail. If you are looking for a quiet, less-traveled trail, this hike is for you. Springtime is beautiful as the wildflowers come to life, and the fall colors can be stunning with the colorful reflections on the water.
4. Eagle Mountain Trail, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The highest point in Minnesota is Eagle Point near Grand Marais. You can only reach this summit by hiking in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It’s a little more than 2,300 feet and a little challenge to make it to the summit. This 3.5-mile hike is a workout — and worth every single step. Once at the summit, you can view Superior National Forest with a bird’s-eye view. On a bright, clear day, you will be able to see Lake Superior in the distance. Pack your lunch and enjoy it from the summit; it will be a meal you remember for quite some time. Book your epic canoe and camping experience and include this hike in your outdoor adventure. After you are done hiking, explore Grand Marais, which is a fun town with an “up north” feel. April through October are the ideal months to hike this trail.
5. Angleworm Lake Trail, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
This is my pick for the best hike in Minnesota. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Hop on the Angleworm Lake Trail near Ely. It is a trail for the experienced hiker, as it’s almost 13 miles round trip and it is rated as difficult. With a nice distance and an elevation gain of 1,545 feet, you will want to pack for the ultimate hiking experience. Have a compass and a map, as there are not many trail markers along this route. Plan to do this hike over two to three days, as there are campsites along the trail. Pack your fishing pole, water, bug spray, and a mosquito net. The mosquitoes can be overwhelming in this densely wooded area of Minnesota. The trail is rugged with rocks and tree roots, so you will want to pay attention to where you are stepping. The Land of 10,000 Lakes shines on this hike, as there are several lakes along the way.
Editor’s Note: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is situated within Superior National Forest, meaning both Eagle Mountain Trail and Angleworm Lake Trail are within Superior National Forest. According to Ann Schwaller, Forest Program Manager for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the area has suffered a lot of resource damage this year. Here and everywhere you hike, tread lightly and aim to leave no trace.
6. Fifth Falls And Superior Hiking Trail Loop, Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park, located near Two Harbors, is home to hiking that offers phenomenal views of waterfalls. Fifth Falls and Superior Trail is a popular three-mile hiking loop that offers a view of a lake, waterfalls, and wildlife. Bald eagles frequent the area, so be sure to look toward the sky. The trail is well maintained and fairly level, with an elevation gain of 298 feet. March through October are ideal months to hike this trail, with October being stunningly beautiful with fall colors. This area is known for birding, which means that you will want to be sure that you carry your binoculars with you on this hike. You will want to allow yourself a good portion of a day to explore and take this trail area in. Each time I have set foot on this hiking trail, I see something new. Look up, forward, behind you, and all the way around for a memorable hike.
Pro Tip: For a quiet night’s stay, book a charming lakeside cottage at Gooseberry Park Cottages and Motel in Two Harbors.
7. Sugar Loaf Bluff
Winona is a river town located in Southeastern Minnesota and often overlooked, as it’s not “up north.” Sugar Loaf Bluff Trail overlooks the town of Winona and the Mississippi River. The trail is an out-and-back trail, with a distance of 1.21 miles and an elevation gain of 377 feet. It’s a short hiking trail that’s rated moderately difficult, so plan accordingly. Your climb will be rewarded with a view at the top that you will carry with you for quite some time. If you have more time and want to continue hiking, there are several trails that you can continue on at the top of the bluff. Depending on how long you want to hike, this hiking experience can be a two-hour affair or an all-day affair; it’s up to you to decide.
May through October are ideal months for hiking this trail. If you are a winter sports enthusiast, you will appreciate this trail in the winter. Toss on a pair of snowshoes for a stunning winter view of the Mississippi River.
8. Superior Hiking Trail: Split Rock Ridge, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
The Superior Hiking Trail: Split Rock Ridge is in beautiful Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. This loop trail is considered a moderately difficult hike with an elevation gain of 646 feet, which means it can be challenging in places. Make time to take in several scenic stops along the way and enjoy your reward: a waterfall. April through October are the best months to hike this trail, as the weather is good and hunting regulations do not close the trail to hikers. If you are a lighthouse enthusiast, this hike will be a bonus for you. Once you have completed your hike, plan to visit the historic lighthouse and marvel at the beauty of Superior’s North Shore. You can easily spend several days in this area of Minnesota hiking, fishing, camping, and relaxing.
Pro Tips For Hiking In Minnesota
Many Minnesota State Parks and areas such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) require permits, so plan ahead before you lace up your boots to hit the trails. Camping sites often have to be reserved ahead of time, as does lodging in privately owned cottages and cabins. Pack plenty of water and know that it’s said that the Minnesota state bird is the mosquito, so be sure you have plenty of bug spray along. Having hiked many trails in Minnesota, I can tell you that I have had my fair share of Minnesota mosquito bites. Many hiking trails are along beautiful lakes, and Minnesota is known for outstanding fishing. Have your fishing pole in tow, as you never know when you may want to toss a line. Most importantly, purchase your Minnesota fishing license before you head out on the trail.
With hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the Superior National Forest, I’d highly suggest downloading this hiking guide that the national forest has to offer. A compass and a map are essential when hiking throughout Minnesota. If you are prepared before you lace up your boots, your experience will be the best that it can be.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. For my hikes, I have been wearing my KEEN Targhee III Waterproof Mid hiking boots in Weiss/Boysenberry. They have been great in Minnesota, as I have jumped a few streams and my feet have stayed dry. They have also given me great ankle support hiking around tree roots and rocks that frequent these trails. Shop KEEN’s Targhee and other hiking shoes here.