Article Summary: National Parks Near St. Paul
National Parks near St. Paul. There’s so much more to this vibrant city than the Minnesota Vikings. In this article, More Than Just Parks takes you to six incredible national park sites that are within a day’s drive of St. Paul.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Saint Paul has more Mississippi Riverfront, 26 miles, than any other city along the iconic river. Downtown’s Rice Park is older than Central Park in New York City. The Minnesota State Capitol has the second largest unsupported marble dome in the world.
It’s also home to some amazing national parks which are within a day’s drive (or less) of the city.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to the St. Paul area then one book that I highly recommend is: Moon Minneapolis & St. Paul (Travel Guide) by Tricia Cornell.
Now let’s go ahead with 6 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from St. Paul to one of these truly amazing places.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near St. Paul
National Parks Near St. Paul
- Best National Parks Near St. Paul
- More National Parks Near St. Paul
- Watch Our Award-Winning Voyageurs National Park Video
- National Parks Near St. Paul FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Parks Near St. Paul
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Best National Parks Near St. Paul
1. Grand Portage National Monument
Distance From St. Paul: Five hours via I-35 N & MN-61 N.
Grand Portage National Monument is located near the northern tip of Minnesota and is a historic site that commemorates the importance of the fur trade in the region.
The history of Grand Portage National Monument dates back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, when the fur trade was a major industry in North America.
At that time, the Grand Portage was a vital link in the trade route between the Great Lakes and the interior of what is now Canada. Fur traders and Native Americans traveled this route to exchange goods and transport furs to market.
The Grand Portage was an eight and a half mile trail that linked the western end of Lake Superior to the Pigeon River and the Canadian interior.
The Fur Trade Brought Both Prosperity & Conflict
The fur trade brought both prosperity and conflict to the region, and the Grand Portage became a hub of activity as traders, voyageurs, and Native Americans gathered to exchange goods and negotiate treaties. The site was also an important cultural crossroads, where different cultures and languages met and intermingled.
In the late 19th century, the fur trade declined as the beaver population was depleted and fashion trends changed. The Grand Portage became a quiet backwater, largely forgotten by the outside world.
In 1958, the Grand Portage was designated a National Monument to commemorate its role in American history and to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Today, the site is managed by the National Park Service and offers visitors a glimpse into the past, with reconstructed buildings, interpretive programs, and cultural demonstrations that bring the history of the fur trade to life.
Things To Do At The Grand Portage
The monument preserves 710 acres which includes: the historic depot (71 acres) located on Lake Superior, the site of Fort Charlotte (98 acres) on the Pigeon River with the Grand Portage (541 acres) connecting the two depots. The 8.5 mile portage corridor and Fort Charlotte (639 acres) contain the majority of the Monument’s semi-wilderness setting.
There are some wonderful activities for visitors which include:
- Heritage Center and Historic Depot: It’s a great place to begin your adventure. There you can view exhibits about Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture and where you learn about a time when the fur trade dominated North American commerce.
- View One Of The Excellent Films On The Grand Portage Story: There’s a feature film (23 minutes) titled “Rendezvous With History A Grand Portage Story,” as well as shorter films which include: “Our Home: The Grand Portage Ojibwe,” “The Gift of the Birch Bark Canoe,” “A Gap in the Hills: Geography of Grand Portage,” and “The Men of the North West Company” – Running time for all four is 24 minutes.
- Visit The America’s National Parks Bookstore.
- Visit The Historic Depot: It includes three reconstructed post and sill log buildings and four outside areas.
- Hike The Mount Rose Loop Trail: Visitors will be treated to a stunning overlook of the historic depot, Grand Portage Bay, Mount Josephine, and the gap in the hills where the Grand Portage footpath goes.
CHECK OUT: 5 EPIC ILLINOIS NATIONAL PARKS
2. Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
Distance From St. Paul: It’s right there! Saint Paul’s 26 miles of Mississippi Riverfront are more than any other city from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi National River & Recreation Area is a National Park Service unit that covers 72 miles of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minnesota.
The park was established in 1988 to protect and preserve the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Mississippi River and to provide opportunities for the public to experience and enjoy this unique and important river.
The park includes a diverse range of habitats and ecosystems, from prairie and hardwood forests to wetlands and floodplain forests, and is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species.
It is also an important cultural resource, with a rich history that includes Native American habitation, European exploration and settlement, the development of the river as a transportation and commercial hub, and the growth of the cities along its banks.
The Mississippi National River & Recreation Area offers a range of recreational opportunities for visitors, including hiking, fishing, boating, bird watching, and wildlife viewing. It also has a number of educational programs and interpretive centers that help visitors learn about the river and its history.
The park works closely with local communities and organizations to promote conservation, education, and public access to the river, and it plays an important role in protecting and preserving this valuable resource for future generations.
Things To Do
This 72 mile river park offers quiet stretches for fishing, boating and canoeing, birdwatching, bicycling, and hiking.
And there are plenty of visitor centers and trails that highlight the fascinating human history of the Mississippi River. This a great place to start your exploration of this important river.
I recommend beginning your visit at The Mississippi River Visitor Center. The center provides fun activities for people of all ages as well as highlighting the fascinating human history of the Mississippi River.
I also recommend exploring the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. This central, historic landmark provides panoramic views of the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam, St. Anthony Falls, and the surrounding mill district.
If you love a good hike then Coldwater Spring is a great place for you. There are many for wildlife viewing and photography. The breathtaking trails there surround a restored prairie oak savannah and wetlands.
3. North Country National Scenic Trail
Distance From St. Paul: Two hours & 35 minutes via I-35 N.
The North Country National Scenic Trail provides visitors opportunities from bird watching to backpacking. This is another great Minnesota National Park!
The trail traverses eight northern states and connects a host of natural, historic and cultural sites. You can see everything from small towns to larger cities, valleys to hilltops and much more.
The History Of The North Country National Scenic Trail
In 1980, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) was authorized by Congress. It stretches 4,600 miles from upstate New Hampshire to its western terminus at Lake Sakakawea State Park.
The trail actually traversed seven states until 2019 when Vermont was added. The Vermont section is only about 70 miles long.
From the leisurely lake walk of downtown Duluth to the rugged Sawtooth Mountains to the prairies of the Red River Valley to the gentle rolling Laurentian Divide, the North Country Trail offers a cache of contrasting hiking experiences across its roughly 850 miles in Minnesota.
Historic marks include the remnants of iron mining along the Mesabi and Vermilion ranges, Native American historic sites, and remnants of Paul Bunyan’s white pine logging era.
Keep your eyes open wide for iconic Northern wildlife such as loons, moose, whitetail deer, black bear, Canada lynx, timber wolf and bald eagle. (Source: North Country Trail Association)
CHECK OUT: 6+ SENSATIONAL MICHIGAN NATIONAL PARKS
More National Parks Near St. Paul
4. Pipestone National Monument
Distance From St. Paul: Three hours & 33 minutes via US-212/W Yellowstone Trail.
The Pipestone National Monument is located in southwestern Minnesota and is a unique and important cultural site that has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years to obtain the red stone used to make pipes for spiritual and cultural purposes.
The red stone, also known as pipestone, is found in a quarry within the monument and has been valued for its spiritual significance and its workability as a material for making pipes.
The history of the Pipestone National Monument is closely tied to the spiritual and cultural practices of the Plains Indian tribes, who have used the pipestone quarries for generations. The quarries have been a source of both peace and conflict, as different tribes have come together to work and trade at the site, and disputes have arisen over access to the pipestone.
In the late 19th century, the quarries were threatened by commercial development and the arrival of settlers, and in 1937 the site was designated a National Monument to protect it and preserve its cultural significance. Today, the Pipestone National Monument is managed by the National Park Service and offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the Plains Indians, as well as the natural beauty of the area.
The park features interpretive trails, a museum, and demonstrations of traditional pipe-making techniques, and it remains a significant and sacred place for Native Americans and others who appreciate its cultural and spiritual significance.
CHECK OUT: 10 EPIC OHIO NATIONAL PARKS WORTH VISITING
5. Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Distance From St. Paul: 58 minutes via I-35 E N & US-8 E.
The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway encompasses the Saint Croix River and its tributaries in northeastern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The park was established in 1968 to protect and preserve the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Saint Croix River and its valley, and to provide opportunities for the public to enjoy and experience the river.
The Saint Croix River is a unique and important resource, with a rich history that includes Native American habitation, European exploration and settlement, and the growth of the region as an agricultural and industrial center. The river is also a popular recreational destination, with opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway covers over 250 miles of the Saint Croix River and its tributaries, and includes a range of habitats and ecosystems, from prairie and hardwood forests to wetlands and savannas. The park is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, and it offers a unique and scenic landscape for visitors to explore and enjoy.
In addition to its natural resources, the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway also has a rich cultural heritage, with historic sites and communities that reflect the history and character of the region. The park offers a range of interpretive and educational programs, including ranger-led tours, workshops, and special events, that help visitors learn about the history and ecology of the river and its valley.
Hiking Trails Along The Saint Croix
There are seven hiking trails which are open year round. Trail surfaces are uneven and may be steep so be sure to watch your step. And also make sure to check for ticks.
Ridge View Trail is a three mile trek with two loops. The Chisage Loop traverses basalt rock outcroppings; the Osceola Loop is more level as you hike through pine and woods. Vistas of St. Croix River backwaters are visible from the bluff side of the trail.
This trail is a great place to see scarlet tanagers, bald eagles, turkey, grouse, and other forest-loving wildlife. Forest plants include marsh marigolds and large maple trees.
Trego Lake & Trego Nature Trails
The Trego Lake Trail is 3.6 miles and 3 loops. It offers hikers many scenic overlooks of Trego Lake. The area has a large population of white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse. Watch the ground for signs left by these animals.
The Trego Nature Trail is 2.8 miles. Hikers will see a beautiful forest and breathtaking views of the Namekagon River. Wildlife seen can include deer, fox, otters, wolves, and bobcat.
Indian Head Flowage & Sandrock Cliffs Trails
The Indian Head Flowage Trail is a three quarter mile trek. This trail crosses bridged streams as it winds its ways through woods and wetlands to the river.
Hikers will be treated to wildflowers which include marsh marigolds, trilliums, blue flag iris, wild geraniums, and more.
Sandrock Cliffs Trail is five miles and four loops. The lower loop of this trail follows the river closely, then turns onto a ridge providing a variety of terrain and scenery.
The highlight of this trail system is the sandstone cliffs located in a side channel of the river.
6. Voyageurs National Park
Distance From St. Paul: Four hours & 22 minutes via I-35 N & US-53 N.
Voyageurs National Park was established in 1975 to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources of the area, and to provide opportunities for the public to enjoy and experience the beauty and diversity of the park’s landscape.
The history of Voyageurs National Park is closely tied to the history of the voyageurs, French-Canadian fur traders who plied the waterways of northern Minnesota in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The voyageurs were instrumental in the exploration and development of the region, and their legacy can still be seen in the park today, in the form of historic sites, cultural artifacts, and place names that reflect their presence and influence.
Voyageurs National Park covers over 218,000 acres and includes four large lakes and several smaller ones, as well as a network of rivers and waterways. The park is known for its scenic beauty and diverse natural resources, including forests, wetlands, and open water, and it is home to a wide range of plant and animal species, including many that are found nowhere else in the world.
The park also offers a range of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing. There are several visitor centers and ranger-led programs that provide information and interpretation of the park’s resources and history, and the park works closely with local communities and organizations to promote conservation and public access to the park.
Check out our complete article on the 10 Best Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
Best Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
1. Paddle in a Canoe
The best and only way to experience Voyageurs is by boat, but for a truly authentic experience try your hand at canoeing for a day, or if you’re experienced, plan a multi-day trip.
Canoes are the historic mode of transportation in this area and slowly plying the waters of the park’s lakes in a canoe can help give you a fuller appreciation of this unique north woods environment.
2. See the Northern Lights
On clear nights in Voyageurs you can see one of the most spectacular light shows in the world, the northern lights. They start as a faint glow on the horizon before working their way up the sky, dancing in real time right before your eyes.
Here in the remote north woods there is almost no light pollution whatsoever and the night sky is truly a wonder to behold.
There’s no need to go to Iceland or Norway or even Alaska if it’s the northern lights you seek, you’ll find them here in all of their glory.
Fall and winter give you your best chances of seeing the northern lights, but you may be lucky enough any time of year if the conditions are right.
3. Explore Ellsworth Rock Gardens
This incredibly unique garden features countless works of art made entirely out of stone. Some of the stones are massive monoliths balanced delicately upon other stones.
This incredible attraction is entirely the work of one man, a humble carpenter from Chicago named Jack Ellsworth, who built these amazing works of art over the course of 20 years starting in the 1940’s.
Tie off your boat here along the shores of Lake Kabetogama and explore the fascinating artistic expressions of one determined man.
4. Go Fishing
The waters of Voyageurs National Park and the surrounding areas are teeming with native fish that are great for eating or just for sport.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of catching your own meal and cooking it over an open fire on an island all to yourself.
Be sure to follow NPS and Minnesota DNR rules governing fishing in the area and fish responsibly.
5. Camp on Your Own Island
In Voyageurs there are no campgrounds with sites plotted next to each other one after the other with whirring RV generators, yelling kids, and barking dogs.
In this one-of-a-kind national park every campsite is all to itself, and yes, some are even on their own entire island. Did I mention there are over 150 campsites?
See our full article on Camping in Voyageurs National Park.
Watch Our Award-Winning Voyageurs National Park Video
The Story Behind The Film
This film is the culmination of several weeks spent in the northernmost region of Minnesota known as Voyageurs National Park. Encompassing more than 340 square miles, Voyageurs is a watery wonderland almost exclusively accessible by boat.
Journey with us as we explore a land blanketed in pristine lakes, erupting with kaleidoscopic fall colors, and home to the most spectacular displays of the northern lights on the planet.
This is Voyageurs. Filmed primarily in stunning UHD 8K.
This film was made possible by the wonderful people at the Voyageurs National Park Association who work so hard to maintain the park for folks like us. Please check them out (and feel free to donate!): voyageurs.org
National Parks Near St. Paul FAQ
The national parks in Minnesota are as follows:
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
North Country National Scenic Trail
Pipestone National Monument
Grand Portage National Monument
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is absolutely worth visiting – though it will take a bit more effort and planning than many of the other parks in the system. You’ll need to bring your own boat or rent one to get around, and the park’s remote location is also a deterrent to some.
Why Trust Us About National Parks Near St. Paul?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Parks Near St. Paul
List Of National Parks Near St. Paul
- Grand Portage National Monument
- Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
- North Country National Scenic Trail
- Pipestone National Monument
- Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
- Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs Camping: Voyageurs National Park Camping (Everything You Need to Know)
Things to Do: 10 (INCREDIBLE) Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs Guide: Voyageurs National Park: Epic Guide to Minnesota’s Watery Wonderland
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!