The joy is in the journey of exploring a new place, and that’s why hikers are gravitating towards The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Minnesota is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hiking trails, boasting everything from glistening gold prairies and verdant old-growth forests to thundering exposed bedrock reminiscent of a time gone by. But, it may be argued that the state shines during the autumnal months when trees begin their annual display of flamboyance. Fall foliage is truly spectacular as the leafy forests meld into dazzling shades of reds and oranges. So, shoulder a backpack, grab the trail snacks, and lace up your hiking boots. It’s time to explore the Land of 10,000 views.
The Lost Forty Trail
Take a step back in time by wandering through the ancient pine trees of yesteryear. As one of the largest timber-producing states in the country, most of Minnesota was logged in the late 1800s. But thanks to a surveying error that accidentally mapped the area in Chippewa National Forest as a lake, 144 acres of red and white pines were left untouched. Today, visitors can hike along the 1.9-mile trail and marvel at the shockingly massive–and ancient–trees.
Aiton Heights Fire Tower, Itasca State Park
As the home of the Mississippi River headwaters and stands of old-growth forests, Itasca is teeming with adventure. Soak in the scenery by climbing the 100-foot tall retired fire tower to survey nearly 50 miles of trails winding through the park. A shorter, half-mile hike will get you there from the designated fire tower parking lot, but we recommend taking the scenic, three-mile journey that begins at the historic Douglas Lodge.
Cruiser Lake Trail, Voyageurs National Park
Voyage to the land where water meets wilderness in Voyageurs National Park, a region anchored by a maze of watery passages wrapped around various peninsulas and shorelines. The Cruiser Lake Trail is a tough 9.5-mile (one way) trek along the rocky cliffs and saturated marshlands surrounding Kabetogama Lake. The peninsula is a popular destination, but for good reason: it’s one of the best places in the park to see a moose in the wild.
Superior Hiking Trail
As the largest freshwater lake in the world, Superior takes its own bragging rights. But we think the accompanying long-distance Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is noteworthy on its own. The 326-mile SHT stretches from Jay Cooke State Park to the Canadian border in the north, meandering around gushing waterfalls, expansive shorelines, and undulating hillsides that terminate with expansive vistas not found elsewhere. If you only have time for one hike, we’d recommend venturing to the Devil’s Kettle waterfall, a mysterious wonder that seemingly sucks half the waterfall underground….never to be seen again.
Grass Lake + Bass Lake Loop, Maplewood State Park
Tucked away in the central region of Minnesota and less than an hour from the North Dakota border, Maplewood State Park is an unassuming gem. Eight lakes and plentiful beaches claim weekends of fun, but the true highlight comes on the trail where forests turn vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow in the fall. To best catch the cornucopia of colors, consider the Grass Lake + Bass Lake Loop, a 6.5-mile loop trail that dances along shorelines and beneath the brightly-colored maple leaves that give the area its name.
Campground Loop via North River Trail, Afton State Park
With delicate prairie flowers dotting the rolling hillsides, it’s easy to forget that you’re a half hour from the Twin Cities. But that’s the joy of Afton State Park: natural serenity with urban convenience. Take the half-mile North River Trail for a quiet stroll along the St. Croix River before turning counterclockwise and completing the 3.8-mile lollipop loop. For ambitious hikers looking to turn the day adventure into an overnight, pitch a tent in the hike-in campground and spend an evening beneath the stars.
Railroad and River Trail Loop, Interstate State Park
The larger Interstate State Park straddles the Dalles of the St. Croix River, encapsulating two smaller Interstate State Parks with one each in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Minnesota side is smaller, but it’s mighty. By syncing up the River, Sandstone Bluff, and Railroad Trails, this 3.2-mile hike allows you to traverse almost every single mile of the park while soaking in panoramas of the St. Croix River.
Dakota Valley Trail, Camden State Park
In a region known for its prairies, the Dakota Valley Trail is a verdant oasis packed with native prairies, curious wildlife, and mature oak and cottonwood trees that offer dusty hikers a little shade when it’s needed the most. The 2.5-mile hike slowly ascends through all of the park’s ecosystems by tiptoeing along the riverside ridgeline before turning away from the river valley and wrapping back toward the trailhead. Pro tip: If it’s a steamy day, bring a towel and jump in the lake once you’ve finished trail time.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced hiker or an adventure traveler looking to explore somewhere new: Minnesota has natural beauty for everyone. But, fall color changes quickly. Catch peak foliage by using Explore Minnesota’s Fall Color Guide to coordinate your next trip.