The Ultimate 64-Hour Weekend: Kick off Spring at Jay Cooke State Park

Just two hours north of Minneapolis, this trekker’s paradise is a good bet for early-season miles.

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Published in partnership with Arc’teryx.

Pleasant spring hiking can be tough to find in Minnesota. The state’s north woods and lake country lie under a heavy blanket of the white stuff—never mind that of the state’s best backcountry is a weekend-punishing 4-to-5 hour drive from the Twin Cities even in the best of weather. But a little over two hours north of Minneapolis, the spring melt is already underway at Jay Cooke State Park. Its 50 miles of rugged trails kick off the Superior Hiking Trail along Minnesota’s North Shore (save that one for another time).

Friday: After a 2-hour drive from Minneapolis, stay the night at the camp just north of the River Inn Visitor Center. (You can check yourself in at the campground after hours during the early season; summer reservations recommended.)

Saturday: Cross Swinging Bridge, the suspension bridge spanning 126 feet from one red clay bank of the raging Saint Louis River to the other. The West Ridge and Summer Trails lead deep into back country, while the River Trail girds the river’s south bank before darting back to the interior. Early in the season, the campsite at Silver Creek can be a bit messy, so your best bet is to push on to the grounds at High Point and Ash Ridge along either side of the south bank of the St. Louis River as it bends south before kicking north. Set up camp, cook up some supper, and, if you’re still feeling up to it, take an evening walkabout. Bear Chase Trail is a good bet for an easy-out and back.

Sunday: Explore the Lost Lake Trail, Lower Lake Trail (views over Lost Lake) and Upper Lake Trail, which lead to richly-forested Spruce Trail and the bluff lookout at High Point. Including the High Point Trail makes this a hefty 18-mile out-and-back from High Landing. If pressed for time, consider leaving it off to pack out tonight. Otherwise, camp another night at High Point and prepare to pack out early Monday and book it back to Minneapolis—the raging river in your wake.

Be Aware: Check for closures and trail conditions.

What to Pack: Warm winter gear, waterproof shell.