Endless waterways, vibrant forests, and storied histories are the highlights of Minnesota’s national parks. For your next adventure, visit Voyageurs National Park, Pipestone National Monument, Mississippi National Recreation Area, Grand Portage National Monument, or Saint Croix National Riverway.
Minnesota is filled with beautiful landscapes and natural areas, some in the most remote places of the country while others are literally in the center of the city.
The team behind
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car insurance, has highlighted five of the best national parks, monuments, and riverways in the state to get you stoked for your next outing, be it a chill Sunday floating down the Mississippi River or a multi-week portage trip deep into the wilderness of the Canadian Shield.
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Voyageurs National Park
Location: International Falls, Minnesota
Hours of operation: 24 hours, year-round
What makes Voyageurs National Park special
Located along the Canadian border near the town of International Falls, Voyageurs is only accessible by boat, providing a surreal remoteness where you can explore the transition between land and aquatic ecosystems.
Boat access is required (or snowmobile in the winter) putting you truly in the middle of pristine wilderness with 218,000 acres of forest and lake to explore.
Explore historical sites from indigenous communities that once lived on the land, and learn about the fur trade that took place with the European settlers.
What to do in Voyageurs National Park
Boating/paddling: Rent a boat, or bring your own to experience the park properly. One-third of the park's area is water made up of four main lakes and 26 smaller interior lakes, making Voyageur a mecca for portaging.
Hiking: There are more than 27 miles of established trails and countless miles of coastline to wander along and take in the breathtaking sights.
Camping: Ever wanted to camp on a private island? Frontcountry and backcountry camping are both available in the park, book your permit or site on the
NPS site before you head out.
Stargazing: The deeper into the park you go, the further you get from light pollution. Summer is the best time to see stars, but if you find yourself in the park in the winter you might get a chance to bask under the Northern Lights.
Hunt for petroglyphs: Long before the Europeans started trading fur in the park, indigenous communities were calling it home. You can find some of the stone art that they left dotted around the park, the most popular site being Ellsworth Rock Garden.
When to visit Voyageurs National Park
The busiest time in Voyageurs National park is the summer when the weather is warm enough to sleep comfortably at night and enjoy the water to the fullest. The frost-free period tends to be from June to September (but varies year to year), with average highs in the mid-60s to mid-70s and average lows from the mid-40s to mid-50s.
Our recommendation for the best time to visit though is in the fall. Yes, it’s a bit colder but you will skip the summer houseboaters, get to watch the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, and maybe catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Pipestone National Monument
Location: Pipestone, Minnesota
Hours of operation: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, year-round
What makes Pipestone National Monument special
Located in the southwest corner of the state, Pipestone National Monument has been a sacred site in native culture for thousands of years.
The area was originally a neutral ground where various tribes like the Sioux, Lakota, and Dakota would come to quarry catlinite to create ceremonial pipes (hence the name pipestone).
The traditional pipestone quarry is still actively quarried by local native communities using traditional methods.
The beautiful grasslands and Winnewissa Falls offer lovely landscapes to wander through.
What to do in Pipestone
Engage with the historical practice: Onsite, you can tour the museum and participate in cultural demonstrations of traditional crafting methods (offered from May through October).
Hike circle trail: The ¾ mile trail takes you across grasslands, along Pipestone Creek, and past Winnewissa Falls.
Support local artisans: Purchase handmade crafts and jewelry at the gift shop.
Snowshoe in the winter: When the snow falls in the winter, the circle trail makes for a wonderful path to traverse on snowshoes
When to visit Pipestone National Monument
The best time to visit Pipestone National Monument is from May to October when cultural demonstrations are offered to the public. Weather in the summer tends to be warm and humid, usually making for comfortable conditions to explore the outdoor recreation in the park.
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Hours of operation: Varies for each site you might want to visit
What makes the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area special
A natural recreation site in an urban environment to get away from the hectic cityscape, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is located right in the heart of the Twin Cities.
There are 72 miles of the park along the river stretching through Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
The visitors’ center exhibits and trail information teach you about the history of the Mississippi River.
What to do in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Bike: The trail system along the river has wonderful biking paths to get around the city or to visit Minnehaha Falls, a waterfall in the middle of the city
Paddle: Drop your canoe or kayak to appreciate the park from the water. Don’t have your own boat? Go on
Paddleshare.org for an access code to the self-serve kayak rental service and pick up a kayak from one of their kayak lockers.
Go to the Mississippi River Visitors Center: The visitors center offers videos, exhibits, and programs to get the public engaged with the history of the Mississippi River. The Center is open year-round from Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday).
When to visit the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
There is no bad season to visit the park. Of course, if you want to paddle or bike it would be best to avoid the cold winters. Since the park is in the center of the Twin Cities, each season has a different vibe to offer, and if you get too cold or too hot then you can head off-trail into a cafe or bar instead!
Grand Portage National Monument
Location: Grand Portage, Minnesota
Hours of operation: Sunrise to sunset; Historic Depot Open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Memorial Day Weekend to Columbus Day weekend
What makes Grand Portage National Monument special
Grand Portage National Monument is an 8.5-mile stretch that passes the harsh waters of the last 20 miles of the Pigeon River before it feeds into Lake Superior.
The site preserves the heritage of the Ojibwe transit route and the history of the fur trade.
The park is located in Grand Portage Reservation on the northeastern tip of Minnesota on the north shore of Lake Superior just south of the Canadian border.
What to do at Grand Portage National Monument
Learn about the area's history: The Anishnaabe have been using the route for thousands of years, and it became an important trade route with European settlers during the fur trade. The Heritage Center offers exhibits to teach the public about the rich history of the region.
Hike the 8.5-mile portage: The portage connects the Pigeon River to Lake Superior. Hike the path surrounded by hardwoods and evergreens, as it switchbacks up Mount Rose to incredible views.
Attend the Rendezvous Days and Pow Wow: Each year on the second weekend of August, the park and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa host a celebration of Ojibwe culture with food, music, crafts, and other community events.
When to visit Grand Portage National Monument
The best time to visit is in the summer when the Historic Depot is open, the weather is warm, and the water is welcoming. Average temperatures in the summer tend to range from 55℉ to 78℉.
Pro Tip The park is located in the middle of the Grand Portage Reservation. Please be respectful to the land and the community that calls it home.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Location: St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin
Hours of operation: 24 hours, year-round (except during periods of dangerous water conditions)
What makes Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway special
Located along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border just east of the Twin Cities, the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway is another easily accessible waterway, preserved for recreation.
The area encompasses 252-miles of parkland along the Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers.
What to do in Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Paddle: The best way to explore the scenic riverway is from in the river. If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak, there are plenty of rental services located along or near the river to help you out.
Appreciate the wildlife: There are tons of trails along the riverway. The area is a major migratory route of birds, the Indianhead Flowage Trail bursts with flowers in the springtime, and you can immerse yourself in all of it by hiking in and camping along the St. Croix Trail.
Have a picnic: The accessibility of the park makes it the perfect place for a family picnic. Pack your car up and head to sites like Osceola Landing to post up for the day chilling in the sun by the water.
When to visit Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
The riverway is a wonderful place year-round. The summer is of course ideal for the warmth, but the spring brings higher water levels and beautiful flower blossoms, the fall has the changing leaves and brisk sweater weather, and the trail systems make for the perfect snowshoeing paths in the winter.
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