1. Itasca State Park
Itasca is not only home to the headwaters of the Mississippi, it is Minnesota’s oldest state park. Spend the day cooling off in the water of Lake Itasca, or see if you can make it across the rocks that span one of the longest rivers in the world. It can get pretty busy, so get there early if you want to get pictures without people. There is something for everyone in the family: biking, hiking, swimming, fishing, boat tours, camping – and for those who want to enjoy the outdoors without sleeping outdoors, there are plenty of lodging options ranging from a hostel to suite rentals.
2. Gooseberry Falls State Park
This park is called the gateway to the North Shore, because it was the first of several state parks lining the north shore of Minnesota which will eventually be connected by the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. There are several falls, as well as hiking that will lead to the shores of Lake Superior. Grab a picnic lunch and head down to the area known as Picnic Flow to walk on an ancient volcanic lava flow. Gooseberry Falls is a perfect day-trip destination for those in the Duluth area.
3. McCarthy Beach State Park
McCarthy SP sits between Side lake and Sturgeon Lake, near Superior National Forest. The beach is one of the best in Northern Minnesota, and the water is clear and shallow enough to wade out for several hundred feet. You can also launch your watercraft on Side Lake and spend the day fishing or cruising along the five lakes that connect Side Lake to Sturgeon Lake. The campground sites overlook Side Lake, but make sure to reserve early. If you don’t get one, it’s a short bike ride, walk or drive from the upper campground to the lower campground.
4. Fort Snelling State Park
You can escape the concrete jungle of the Twin Cities with a short trip to Fort Snelling State Park. Fort Snelling was built in the 1820’s atop a bluff overlooking the confluence of the lead you to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis or to the Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge. Plan your trip for the fall if you want to enjoy miles of hiking through a wonderland of colors. There is also a beach on Snelling Lake and canoe rentals at the park office.
5. Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park
You can tour the historic Soudan Underground Mine in the Iron Range to learn what life was like for a miner in Minnesota’s first iron ore mine. The mine is now home to the University of Minnesota’s particle physics lab. After you are done touring the mine area, you can drive or hike to Vermillion Lake and drop a line to catch your lunch. There is also camping available.