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river running through state park near minneapolis minnesotaMinneapolis, situated along the banks of the mighty Missippisspi in southeastern Minnesota, is known for its friendly atmosphere, thriving art scene, dynamic bars and restaurants, and as the hometown digs of “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.”

People flock to Minneapolis because there is so much to see and do all year-round, both within city limits and beyond. Summers in the “Mini-Apple” are filled with festivals, fairs, events, and gatherings—getting outside to enjoy the plentiful natural resources is a way of life. Winter does not slow Minnesotans (or Minneapolitans) down; there’s plenty to do, from ice fishing to ice skating to keep active.

The Minnesota landscape is filled with natural beauty, from rolling hills to sweeping prairie to the shores of Lake Superior.

The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” presents many unique recreational opportunities and adventures—and state parks are a great way to explore Minnesota. We’ve rounded up six of the most popular parks close to Minneapolis that are well worth visiting.

Map of State Parks Near Minneapolis MN

Here is a map of the Minnesota state parks covered in this post:

List of State Parks Near Minneapolis

Here are each of those state parks with their distance from Minneapolis and the unique adventures they offer.

1. Interstate State Park

Location: 307 Milltown Rd, Taylors Falls, MN 55084

Welcome to Interstate State Park, located about an hour northeast of Minneapolis on the scenic St. Croix River (lined with tall cliffs) near the Wisconsin border. Interstate Park is the first state park to be shared by two states; both Minnesota and Wisconsin stake a claim in this beautiful recreational area. Each state park offers different sights and experiences.

One of the unique features of Interstate State Park is the Glacial Potholes. Over 200 potholes or kettles were carved into the basalt rock base by large volumes of turbulent water. The St. Croix River started eons ago as a powerful glacial river, and in places where water and sand swirled, potholes formed. Some of the potholes can be seen from above, and some, like Bake Oven, you can explore from within.

There is just so much to see and do at Interstate, from rock climbing and exploring the Sandstone Bluffs Trail to the many scenic overlooks looking over the St. Croix; you’ll be happy to learn that there’s camping here so you can stay longer to appreciate this gorgeous natural resource.

Helpful tip: Rock climbing the ancient basalt cliffs that were long ago formed by lava flow is popular at Interstate. Here’s essential information on scaling the rocky terrain in Interstate State Park.

2. Afton State Park

Location: 6959 Peller Ave S, Hastings, MN 55033

Do you have limited time and need a quick break from the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis? Located 36 minutes southeast of the Mini-Apple is Afton State Park, a rugged and hilly riverside park; it is just the place to recharge without traveling great distances.

Rolling prairies, limestone-lined river canyons, and oak woodlands offer opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, swimming, and winter activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Helpful tip: Afton State Park has snowshoe rental, and you can check out fishing poles, birding kits, GPS units, and kids’ discovery kits for free.

3. Fort Snelling State Park

Location: 101 Snelling Lake Rd, St Paul, MN 55111

Fort Snelling State Park is located right in the heart of the Twin Cities. There’s a beach, a river, and a lake with plenty of opportunities to paddle, swim, fish, hike, bike, and cross-country ski.

Pike Island, located at the joining of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers is part of the park and has a loop hiking trail that follows the bank of each river and showcases the point where the rivers converge.

Interesting fact: Fort Snelling State Park trails connect to a network of trails including Minnehaha Park, the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

4. Lake Maria State Park

Location: 11411 Clementa Ave NW, Monticello, MN 55362

Just under an hour northwest of the city is Lake Maria State Park, one of the last remaining stands of a maple, oak, and basswood forest known as the “Big Woods” that once covered south-central Minnesota. The park is a remote wilderness with ponds, lakes, marshlands, and forested terrain.

There are walk-in camping sites, cabins, and miles of shaded and rolling trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding.

Interesting facts: Lake Maria State Park is the perfect habitat for the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Bright yellow markings on its shell easily identify the turtle.

5. Banning State Park

Location: 61101 Banning Park Rd, Sandstone, MN 55072

An hour and 20 minutes north of Minneapolis stretched along ten miles of the Kettle River in Banning State Park. The Kettle River is stunning and is a popular kayaking, canoeing, and rafting destination for paddlers from all over and considered “one of the best whitewater rivers in the Midwest.”

The Kettle River offers both the opportunity for still water paddling and turbulent rapids in areas appropriately named Hell’s Gate and Dragon’s Tooth. Banning Park also has hiking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and birdwatching.

Interesting facts: The name for the river derives from the Dakota word Cega watpa, meaning “Kettle River.” Named after the numerous “potholes” or kettles carved in the sandstone by the river’s swirling waters.

6. Minneopa State Park

Location: 54497 Gadwall Rd, Mankato, MN 56001

Minneopa comes from the Dakota word meaning “water falling twice” and aptly names the two-tiered waterfall you’ll find in Minneopa State Park, located about an hour and a half southwest of the Twin Cities in Mankato.

The park is set up with two different entrances; one where you can hike to view the upper falls of Minneopa and trek down to see the lower falls and an active beaver colony. The other part of the park features Bison Drive Road and Bison Range, home to a resident buffalo herd and a stone windmill constructed in 1862.

Minneopa State Park is open year-round for hiking, picnicking, and seasonal camping. The Bison Range is closed on Wednesdays for maintenance.

Interesting fact: When the windmill was operable, and the wind was just right, the mill could grind 150 bushels of wheat into flour a day.