Did you know Minnesota (MN) has some magnificent national parks? This along with 66 state parks and many recreation areas, makes Minnesota the ideal state for some pretty awesome outdoor fun things to do for the entire family. Known as the Land of 10,00 lakes, there is no shortage when it comes to places to see and things to do.
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What Is A National Park?
A national park is an area that is set aside by the national government to preserve the natural environment. It may be set aside because of its historical or scientific significance.
A national park provides us a gateway to the outdoors. This gives many families amazing outdoor recreation opportunities to not only have fun but learn of the history and heritage of the area.
Our national parks are our natural treasures. I am always in awe whenever I visit a national park. How majestic and splendid the views are, the history it shares and the beauty it has preserved.
National Parks Passport Program
Want a fun way to document all your national park fun? Check out the National Parks Passport Program. You can collect a passport stamp for each national park you visit. The passport stamps are free but if you would have to purchase the official passport, you can do so from America’s National Parks. Otherwise, a simple notebook or journal will do just fine.
Whichever way you choose to document your family fun travels, you can be sure to have amazing memories with it. You can find the passport stamps at visitor centers and park stores at participating national parks.
Please note: The National Parks Passport Program is run by America’s National Parks, not by the National Park Service (NPS). They are a partner of the National Park Service and does donate some proceeds to the NPS.
National Parks Junior Ranger Program
Join the National Parks Junior Ranger Program. Almost every national park has a junior ranger program. Check out each park as the program varies from park to park.
The National Parks Junior Program’s main objective is to provide awareness to the kids while learning the history and importance of preserving our national parks/ national monuments.
The program is geared towards kids between the ages of 5-13 years old but anyone is welcome to participate. It offers activities for the junior ranger to complete. Once the junior ranger completes those activities and answers the questions, they can turn it in. In return, they receive a Junior Ranger patch.
Do You Have A Fourth Grader?
Have you heard of Every Kid Outdoors? I have only heard about it in the past couple of years. Right around the time my little one was starting the fourth grade.
So what is Every Kid Outdoor? Every Kid Outdoor is an initiative started to help engage and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates.
The goal is to provide each and every 4th-grade student across the country the opportunity to experience their federal public lands and waters in person throughout the school year.
If you do have a fourth-grader, be sure to sign up for this program and enjoy the free access to national parks across the country.
Free Entrance Days in the National Parks
Don’t have a fourth-grader? No problem. National Parks offers free entrance days to parks that normally charge an entrance fee.
Mark your calendar for these 5 days in 2020:
- January 20: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 18: First day of National Park Week
- August 5: Celebrating the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 26: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
How Many National Parks Does Minnesota Have?
Minnesota has a total of six national parks.
For these six Minnesota National Parks, you will be glad to hear there are no entrance fees to any of them. Check out these national parks and make for some amazing and memorable family time.
Traveling to a National Park is a great family road trip to take. Not only is a road trip great for exploring new places together, but it is also amazing for some family bonding. A great way to bond is with some fun questions and trivia.
Voyageurs National Park
Of all the national parks here in Minnesota, Voyageur National Park is actually the only “park”. With over 40% of the park to comprise of water, this national park has so much beauty and activities to offer. It is located approximately 5 hours north of the Twin Cities.
Voyageur National Park is open all year round. During the summer months, you can enjoy the many waterways, water activities, and hiking. During the winter months, the park turns into a winter wonderland where the lakes are frozen and allow for some snowmobiling. The trails offer perfect conditions for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Visitor Centers: There are 3 Visitor Centers and they are currently closed for the 2020 season. Please check out their website for updated hours.
- Rainy Lake Visitor Center – 1797 Ut – 342, International Falls, MN 56649
- Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center – 9940 Cedar Ln, Kabetogama, MN 56669
- Ash River Visitor Center – 9899 Mead Wood Rd, Orr, MN 55771
Entrance Fee – Free; just pay for the campsites
Where to camp – Voyageur National Park is fortunate to have widely dispersed campsites across the expansive park. All the campsites inside the park are only accessible by water. Most campsites are Frontcountry with 15 Backcountry and they all do require obtaining a permit.
What is the difference between Frontcountry sites and Backcountry sites? Frontcountry sites are accessible by boat while Backcountry sites are accessible by boat to a trailhead, then hike into the Backcountry. Some sites may require campers to additionally canoe to get there.
If you don’t have a boat or want to rent one, there are many campsites near the park accessible by car/ RV.
Grand Portage National Monument
Grand Portage National Monument is located in the homeland of the Grand Portage Ojibwe about 300 miles north of the Twin Cities along Lake Superior.
It features a landmark 8.5-mile trail with scenic routes, waterfalls, and historic sites.
This trail has allowed American Indians, explorers, and voyageurs to bypass high falls, cascades, and gorges to the historic meeting point to exchange North American furs for Eastern trade goods by the North West Company, the largest fur company in the world.
Discover Rendezvous Days and Pow Wow. This is usually held in the second week of August annually. Grand Portage comes alive as they come together and reflect on its rich history with music, dancing, craft demonstrations, and hands-on workshops.
This is definitely an exciting weekend at Grand Portage National Monument!
We happened to stumble upon this on one of our trips up to the North Shore one summer and loved learning of the heritage and history.
Grand Portage National Monument a historic site for both the Grand Portage Ojibwe and the North West Company with so many things to do and learn here.
Visitor Center Address – 170 Mile Creek Rd, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Entrance Fee – Free
Where to camp – Camping at Grand Portage National Monument is limited to two campsites at Fort Charlotte. A free backcountry camping permit is required. Fort Charlotte is becoming a popular destination so be sure to plan well in advance. Permit processing typically takes about 2 weeks.
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area run 72 miles in the middle of the urban area of the Twin Cities starting from Dayton to Hastings. It offering quiet stretches for fishing, boating and canoeing, birdwatching, bicycling, and hiking. These are some popular things to do along here.
Biking these beautiful trails can be done with your own bikes or rent a bike with Nice Ride MN.
For places to visit, there is an extensive list that you can find here.
Visitor Center Address – There are other visitor centers within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area which are operated by state and local governments and private agencies.
However the main headquarter is located in Saint Paul at Suite 105, 111 Kellogg Blvd E.St. Paul, MN 55101-1256
- Mississippi River Visitor Center – 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. Saint Paul, MN 55102
- St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center – 1 Portland Ave, Minneapolis, MN 54401
Hours – Operating hours of these facilities vary from season to season.
Entrance Fee – Free
Where to camp – There are no formal campgrounds within the national park. However, there are two state parks within the 50 miles radius of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area that offer camping facilities. They are both located on the east side of the Twin Cities near the St. Croix River: Afton State Park and William O’Brien State Park.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway consists of both the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers running from Taylor Falls to Stillwater! It offers over 200 miles of clean water that glides and rushes through a forested landscape.
Some popular things to do here are paddle, boat, fish, and camp among this wild and scenic beauty. If water activity is not your things, check out the amazing trails here as well as the historic towns.
Visitor Centers – There are two visitor centers within the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
- St. Croix River Visitor Center – 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, WI 54024
- Namekagon River Visitor Center -Highway 63, a half-mile east of Highway 53, Trego, WI
Hours – There are 2 Visitor Centers and they are currently closed for the 2020 season. Please check out their website for updated hours.
Entrance Fee – Free
Where to camp – There are many primitive campgrounds scattered along the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers. This offers campers the chance to move from campsite to campsite if they are doing multi-day camping here. Some of these campsites are only accessible by boat and are pretty isolated.
The Riverway is divided up into three camping zones and all have different management policies. These three zones are:
- Namekagon River and St. Croix River from Gordon Dam to Highway 8
- Highway 8 to Soo Line High Bridge
- Soo Line High Bridge to Boom Site Landing
There are many other campsites nearby that are managed by county parks, state parks as well as privately owned campgrounds.
Definitely a wide array of options for camping here.
Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument is located approximately 200 miles south of the Twin Cities in Pipestone, MN. It is a 301-acre monument that consists of the quarry pits. 56 of which are of active pipestone extraction sources with tallgrass prairie landscape surrounding them.
For over 3,000 years, American Indians have come to this site in order to quarry a soft stone that they use to make pipes. This is where the name “pipestone” came from.
The pipe is sacred to many American Indians who use it for prayer, important rites, and to conduct both civil and religious ceremonies. The site is still actively quarried today by American Indians enrolled in federally recognized tribes.
Visitor Center Address – 36 Reservation Ave, Pipestone, MN 56164
Hours – The visitor is currently closed for the 2020 season. Please check out their website for updated hours.
Entrance Fee – Free
Where to camp – There are no campgrounds within Pipestone National Monument. But there are plenty in the surrounding areas.
North Country National Scenic Trail
North Country National Scenic Trail runs through currently 8 states making it the country’s longest trail at 4,600 miles. This starts at North Dakota and goes all the way to Vermont. The 8 states include North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont.
The portion in Minnesota runs about 850 miles through the upper half of the state weaving to state forests, several historical society locations, and other tourist attractions.
You can explore the trail by different regions in Minnesota:
- Northwestern Minnesota – North Dakota/Minnesota state line to the Otter Tail/Becker county line at 95 miles (16 miles off-road, 79 miles on-road)
- North Central Minnesota – Otter Tail/Becker county line to US-2 in Grand Rapids at 196 miles (165 miles off-road, 32 miles on-road)
- Northeastern Minnesota – US-2 in Grand Rapids to the western terminus of the Kekekabic Trail at 152 miles (all miles off-road)
- Border Region – Western terminus of the Kekekabic Trail to the eastern terminus of the Border Route Trail at 104 miles (all miles off-road)
- Superior Hiking Trail – Eastern terminus of the Border Route Trail to the Minnesota/Wisconsin state line at 310 miles (306 miles off-road, 4 miles on-road)
Visitor Center Address – None
Hours – None
Entrance Fee – Free
Where to camp – There are various campgrounds along the trail. The North Country National Scenic Trail is ideal for backcountry camping as most sites are primitive and first come first serve.
There are also a few developed campgrounds near the trail in county parks, state parks as well as privately owned campgrounds. In the Detroit Lakes area, the North Country National Scenic Trail runs right through Itasca State Park, giving easy access for day hiking.
Camping In The Minnesota National Parks
Camping in a Minnesota national park is probably one of the best things to do while visiting there. The call of nature, the beautiful scenery, and the fresh outdoor air. You cannot ask for more.
While some campsites are primitive, first come first serve, it is best to check out each park and make reservations as soon as possible. Some of these campsites are quite popular and you do not want to run the risk of not having a place to tent when nightfall comes.
Final Thoughts On Minnesota’s National Parks
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 lakes (although it technically has 11,482 lakes) With the vastness of lakes and these 6 spectacular national parks, there are plenty of things to do and see for the entire family. If camping is not your thing, there are plenty of options for lodging as well. Grab this family travel planning guide to help you plan your next trip.
Check out these beautiful national parks! Let me know in the comments below what your favorite thing to do in a national park.
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