1. Bear Head Lake State Park
Bear Head Lake Park, though little known outside of Minnesota, was voted as America’s Favorite Park in 2010. In a contest designed by a major soft drink company in which 5.7 million votes were cast, Bear Head Lake State Park beat out the likes of Yellowstone and Yosemite to take the title. The park is located just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota and is home to black bears, wolves, deer and moose. Things to see and do in Bear Head Lake State Park include tent and RV camping, fishing, 17 miles of hiking trails and lakes with sand beaches and boat and canoe access.
2. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse is located on the shores of Lake Superior near the town of Two Harbors, MN, and is said to be “the most photographed lighthouse in America”. In 1905, the Mataafa Storm damaged 29 ships, leading to the eventual construction of the lighthouse in 1910. The lighthouse was built before Highway 61 ran through the area, so a steam-powered hoisting derrick was built and the supplies were shipped in and hoisted to the top of the 130-foot cliff. In 1924 the North Shore Highway that ran from Duluth, MN to the Canadian border was completed, and Split Rock began to attract visitors from Duluth and other nearby areas. The lighthouse attendants were expected to be gracious hosts to the tourists until it became too much to handle. The Split Rock Lighthouse visitor log recorded 30,000 names and an estimated 90,000 total visitors in a single year, at which time the lighthouse staff was relieved of its tour guide duties.
3. Itasca State Park
Itasca Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park and home to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. In 1832 explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft correctly claimed Lake Itasca as the source of the Mississippi. He named the lake by combining the Latin words for “truth” (verITAS) and “head” (CAput), linking them together and forming a new word, Itasca. Itasca State Park, MN is located west of Highway 371 near Leech Lake, and offers many things to do such as camping, fishing, canoeing and kayaking and hiking.
4. Scenic State Park
Scenic Park is located amidst the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. The park is home to a forest of virgin white and red pines that were never touched by logging interests, as well as the untouched beauty of Coon Lake, Sandwick Lake and Lake of the Isles. Some things to see and do in Scenic State Park include hiking the Chase Point Trail, view the interpretive displays at the historic CCC-built lodge houses, RV camping, tent camping (drive-in, backpack, and boat-in sites available), fishing, canoeing, birding and taking in the scenic views.
5. Frontenac State Park
Frontenac Park, MN is located at Lake Pepin, a natural widening of the Mississippi River, and is known as one of the best bird watching areas in the country. The park is home to numerous scenic overlooks and is home to the bluff called “point-no-point”. A trick in visual perspective makes the bluff appear prominent from a distance to travelers moving downstream on the river, but vanishes from view as it is approached. One of the Gerard brothers, the first settlers of the nearby town of Old Frontenac, used to jump from point-no-point with his flying machines in an attempt to soar above the river. The machines didn’t work, but he was never badly hurt in his attempts. Some things to see and do in Frontenac Park are birding, hiking, camping, canoeing and boating. This park lies along the Great River Road Minnesota, which follows the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to the Iowa Border. This is a beautiful drive that you must take sometime.
6. Jay Cooke State Park
Jay Cooke Park on Minnesota’s North Shore is home to three different zones of Rustic Style constructed buildings, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Jay Cooke, the park’s namesake, was a very successful banker who operated around the time of the Civil War. Jay Cooke Park offers much to visitors in the way of camping, hiking, and biking along the beautiful St. Louis River, and is well known for the swinging suspension bridge that rises high above the river.
7. Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage Park is home to Minnesota’s highest waterfall, over 120 feet. Grand Portage is located along the Pigeon River in MN near the Canadian border on the shores of Lake Superior. The park is home to the Grand Portage National Monument and Heritage Center, where visitors can have the history of early Native Americans and the fur trading era interpreted for them. The High Falls of Grand Portage required travelers to get out of their boats and carry them around the falls. This act is known as a “portage” and the inland Lake Superior bypass of the falls became known as the “Grand Portage”.
8. Tettegouche State Park
Tettegouche Park is one of Minnesota’s hidden natural treasures. The park is home to the High Falls of the Baptism River, beautiful overlooks at Shovel Point and a hiker’s paradise with miles of trails overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains. You can rent a rustic cabin at the historic Tettegouche Camp, or stick with standard tent camping. Tettegouche State Park is one of few places that have camping year round.