Northern Minnesota State Park Itinerary

Northern Minnesota State Park Itinerary

This Northern Minnesota state park itinerary will take you to some of the most remote regions within the state of Minnesota, and introduce you to some of its most beautiful spots over seven days.

Visit 10 of Minnesota’s most northern- north central and north eastern state parks and one National Park while relishing in their beauty and remoteness.

Note: Some links contain affiliate links which means that if you purchase them I will receive a small portion of the sale. That being said I only recommend places that I have personally stayed or visited.

Stay in Ely, MN

Stay at a VRBO or HomeAway house for a unique cabin-life adventure. My friends own this cabin and I’ve stayed there several times!

Check out Insula Restaurant for fresh ingredients and a filling meal.

Day 1:

Lake Vermillion/Soudan Underground Mine State Park

1/2 mile underground at Soudan Underground Mine

Take the 1 hour tour 1/2 a mile underground at the Soudan Underground Mine tour. Afterwards spend a few hours hiking the trails and exploring the 5-mile long hiking club trail. Trust me, it’ll feel good to be out of the earth and walking in the sun again. Then make sure to explore the Lake Vermillion part of the park- it’s northern Minnesota lake country at its best.

Grab some groceries from Zup’s to make a wild rice breakfast in the morning and some smoked fish and jerky goodies for your next several days of hiking, which is one of my favorite parts to staying in a gorgeous cabin setting, as compared to a hotel- so much more flexibility!

Day 2:

Bear Head Lake State Park

Bear Head Lake State Park Lodge

White pine trees whisper in the breeze as you stand at the edge of Bear Head Lake. While traveling in the winter can be risky for road conditions it’d be worth it to take advantage of a cozy fire at the trail center lodge after a few hours of snowshoeing!

International Wolf Center or the North American Bear Center

Ely international wolf center

Check out the wolf center or bear center for a great family-friendly educational spot to round out the day. Learn about the daily habits of the animals, plus watch them in action as they go about their day. If you’d like other suggestions of things to do I always enjoy perusing this list.

Stay in International Falls, MN

Day 3:

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park - Ash River Visitor Center

Voyageurs National Park is mostly a water park, so if you’re traveling without a boat it’s difficult to see much of it. While the Rainy Lake Visitor’s Center is easier to get to and certainly more public, I highly recommend opting for the Ash River Visitor Center point of entry. There are several one and two mile hikes that you can enjoy on land while still getting a sense of the beauty of the area and the park. Take a hike or two and have a picnic along the way- Bring along some smoked trout from Zup’s for a truly northern MN experience.

There are plenty of hotel options in International Falls where you can stay, nothing fancy, but you’re not there to spend time sitting in a hotel! TripAdvisor has a nice list of the best hotels in International Falls.

Day 4:

Franz Jevne State Park

Franz Jevne State Park

One of those state parks you never hear any one mention, but it’s perfect location along the Rainy River US-Canada border line makes for a relaxing retreat into nature. A rustic campground, short walking trails and jack pine and birch trees sit on the 88 acres that make this one of Minnesota’s smallest state parks.

Zippel Bay State Park

Zippel Bay State Park

Looking out over Lake of the Woods it’s hard to believe that you’re at the northern-most point of Minnesota (that’s reachable by land). On a sunny summer day the beach is a great place to play; the white sands and pristine waters feel more like an ocean beach than a lake beach, but bundle up tight in the off season as that wind will blow straight through your ears as you walk the 1.5 mile hiking club trail along the water’s edge.

Stay in Hayes Lake State Park

Stay in a heated camper cabin in the park! While it’s still camping- no running water or cooking ability within the cabin- it’s luxurious compared to sleeping on the ground. The only down side is that they don’t allow dogs in the cabins.

Day 5:

Hayes Lake State Park

I’ve read that Hayes Lake State Park is the most isolated of the parks and the one where you are least likely to run into another person. While that was not our experience, it’s definitely isolated- a 30 minute drive to anywhere with a good meal so plan accordingly.

Lake Bronson State Park

Lake Bronson State Park

Climb to the top of a three-story observation tower to survey the landscape (although the tower itself is not in the most picturesque of locations, it’s still a neat climb). Then walk the hiking trail along Lake Bronson, which was created with a dam back in the 1930s during the drought.

Old Mill State Park

Old Mill State Park

Stay in Grand Forks

We stayed at the new Baymont Inn & Suites, which actually had a great breakfast and beautiful rooms for a really decent price, but you can also check out this list of other hotels in the area.

Day 6:

Red River Recreation Area

After all the flooding along the Red River in the Grand Forks area they decided to do something amazing along the river banks- they created a huge green space- a buffer, a park, and a wonderful place for enjoying the outdoors. One of the goals with Red River state recreation area was that it maintain its urban environment feel- so from the campground you can walk to numerous shopping and restaurant locations! Pretty cool deal.

Buffalo River State Park

Buffalo River State Park

A sand bottom swimming “pool” and a great learning environment for local school children. There are also some nicely paved walking areas that make exploring easier with a stroller or wheelchair.

Stay in Moorhead

Day 7:

Maplewood State Park

Horseback riding Maplewood state park

Day 8: Drive home.

Learn more about my goal to visit all of Minnesota’s State Parks this year.

Follow me on Instagram @Gretcholi or check out the hashtag: #PicklesTravelMNStateParks

pinterest 7-day itinerary

16 Thoughts on “Northern Minnesota State Park Itinerary

  1. Jennifer SingerNo Gravatar on November 9, 2016 at 1:07 pm said:

    Looks like and amazing adventure. I love the new layout for the web page and your Instagram integration.

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on November 10, 2016 at 8:42 pm said:

      Thanks Jenn! I don’t usually integrate my instagram photos in, but I worked so hard to get them posted on this trip, even when there wasn’t a phone signal, that I figured I had better make sure to show them off a bit more ;c)

  2. Kayla DiercksNo Gravatar on November 9, 2016 at 1:13 pm said:

    This trip looks like the dream. I miss Northern Mn!

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on November 10, 2016 at 8:43 pm said:

      I hear you there Kayla! It feels like the second I get back from a trip from up north I’m already craving to be back up there!

  3. I love seeing pictures of these parks! I grew up in northwestern Minnesota so a lot of the parks are very familiar to me!

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on November 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm said:

      How fun Bree! Which ones did you visit most frequently? They were all so beautiful- it always blows me away how diverse our state is!

  4. This is absolutely fabulous! I would love to do the same thing some summer, before we head to a warmer climate. ;) Can’t wait until this list is finished. We’re looking for a park we haven’t been to for Labor Day weekend this year. Trying to keep the distance down because of traffic. Maybe 2.5 hours from the twin cities.

    PS – I’d love the option to subscribe to your blog so I can get updates via email. ;)

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on April 26, 2017 at 10:36 am said:

      Thanks so much Holly! I’m working on creating a email list you can subscribe to, and will let you know when that’s done!

      I’m going to think about a destination for you and get back to you with a few suggestions. Fort Ridgeley doesn’t get as much attention as I think it should so you wouldn’t have to deal with as much traffic as Nerstrand, for example, but I want to give you a few good options so stay posted ;-)

  5. KellyNo Gravatar on May 6, 2017 at 8:59 pm said:

    These all look like great trips! Northern MN…what a great place to be!

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on May 7, 2017 at 1:54 pm said:

      I love Northern MN so much! It’s such a great destination that really needs more attention than it gets ;-)

  6. Catherine - Red Door PonderingsNo Gravatar on May 13, 2017 at 8:43 pm said:

    Great read. Really lovely images and I enjoyed the insight you provided on the parks & accommodation.

  7. Ketki SharangpaniNo Gravatar on May 13, 2017 at 10:01 pm said:

    Very informative. I have been to Minneapolis before, but never visited any of the state/national parks in the area. I especially loved state parks with a beach, Indiana Dunes is one my fave ones, didn’t know Minnesota also has them.

  8. StaceyNo Gravatar on May 14, 2017 at 12:26 am said:

    I would love to take this trip! I’ve only been to Minneapolis in Minnesota. We will have to check out these parks next time!

  9. Chantell CollinsNo Gravatar on May 14, 2017 at 4:08 pm said:

    I have been to 40 US states but Minnesota isn’t one of them. Looking at these photos has convinced me that I need to go back to the USA and visit. I love the outdoors and horseriding so I would definitely be up for that.

  10. YvetteNo Gravatar on May 14, 2017 at 5:15 pm said:

    I didn’t realise Minnesota had so much to offer! I’m planning a big USA trip as we speak, I would love to go horse-riding, it looks like so much fun there

    • Greta AlmsNo Gravatar on May 21, 2017 at 12:18 pm said:

      You would love visiting MN Yvette! There are so many great outdoors activities to do- including horse-back riding! Where all are you planning to visit?

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