If you enjoy river views on your hikes, then you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to hike along the St. Croix River. The St. Croix River is a tributary of the Mississippi River and a National Scenic Riverway. There are five Minnesota State Parks situated along the St. Croix River. And luckily for those of us with dogs, all five are dog-friendly.
From north to south, as the river flows, the Minnesota State Parks on the St. Croix River are:
- St. Croix State Park
- Wild River State Park
- Interstate State Park
- William O’Brien State Park
- Afton State Park
These 5 state parks are all located along the last 125 miles of the St. Croix’s total 169 miles. It is these last 125 miles that form a natural border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. And in this section of the river, the St. Croix River offers river bluffs and glacier potholes, rapids and overlooks, and both coniferous and deciduous forests. So get your pup ready to explore these Minnesota State Parks and their great hikes along the St. Croix River.
St. Croix State Park
St. Croix State Park is the largest Minnesota State Park, covering over 34,000 acres. As a hiker, 34,000 acres sounds like a lot. But the more important number is how many miles of trails are open to you and your dog? The answer: 127 miles. But be aware that you may have to share these trails with horseback riders and/or bicyclists in the summer.
If you are looking for river views on your hike, head to the eastern or western boundary of the park. The St. Croix River forms 21 miles of the eastern boundary. To the west, the Kettle River, Minnesota’s first Wild and Scenic River flows to meet the St. Croix.
Glia and I drove to hike at St. Croix State Park in late March. Unfortunately, the road out to the western edge of the park was closed. This meant that we were unable to hike along the Kettle River.
The Kettle River Highbanks Trail is one of the most popular in the park. This 3-mile one direction trail is described in the park map.
Walk along the state designated Wild and Scenic Kettle River. Enjoy scenic views of rocky rapids, nesting eagles and beautiful flowers. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the Kettle River Highbanks overlook deck.
Since we couldn’t hike this trail, we instead hiked along the banks of the St. Croix River. The one-mile loop from the River’s Edge Trail to the River Bluff trail was the perfect trail from which to enjoy the rivers beauty. Honestly, we liked the River’s Edge Trail so much we walked it twice.
Unfortunately, one mile is not quite long enough for us to feel like we got out on a hike. So we paired this hike with a hike on the Sundance Trail that leaves from the campground. This trail is a little under 4 miles in length. It was a nice flat hike through forested terrain. It was a quiet Wednesday, so there weren’t any other hikers on the trail. As a result, we saw a heard of deer, several birds, and even saw a black bear head off into the woods.
If you don’t want to hike the Sundance trail, you could instead take the River Bluff trail all the way to Norway Point.
Note that most of the hiking trails are converted to skiing trails or snowmobile trails in the winter.
Wild River State Park
Wild River State Park contains 35 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails. Again, you may encounter horses in the summer months and many of the trails are closed to hiking when they are groomed for cross-country skiing.
Since Wild River State Park is located along 18 miles of the St. Croix River, you won’t have trouble finding a few miles of hiking trails with river views.
The dogs and I have visited Wild River State Park twice now. When we visited in the winter, we hiked the Sunrise Trail (one of the few trails not groomed for skiing). We had considered hiking the Sunrise Trail to the Sunrise Loop and back. But that hike would have totaled 15+ miles, which was a bit more than we were prepared for on a snowy, cold day. We enjoyed this trail, but it was not as scenic as many of the other state park trails. We were treated to occasional glimpses of the river, but mostly trees obscured our views.
When we returned in early April, the snow had melted and we were able to hike the River Trail. This trail was exactly what we had been hoping for during our first visit to Wild River State Park. So explore as many of the trails as you can, but don’t skip the River Trail when you hike with your dog at Wild River State Park.
Interstate State Park
As mentioned above, the St. Croix River forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin before it flows into the Mississippi River. Despite the close proximity of Wisconsin to all 5 of these state parks, Interstate State Park is the only one with a Wisconsin State Park just across the river.
While Wisconsin’s Interstate Park has more hiking trails, the Minnesota side is known for the glacial potholes. There are at least 10 different lava flows that are exposed in this park, along with two distinct glacial deposits. And your dog is welcome to walk among the potholes with you.
From the campground area, hike out to the potholes on the River Trail and then hike back on the Railroad Trail. If you want to hike all 4 miles of trail, take the Sandstone Bluff Trail loop off the Railroad Trail. During our visit, the River Trail was pretty busy, while the Railroad Trail was sparsely populated with dogs and people.
We visited Interstate State Park in the fall. The fall colors were lovely along the St. Croix River, and we enjoyed the views from the Minnesota side. But if you truly want to hike, head into Wisconsin. Wisconsin Interstate State Park has 9 miles of trails to enjoy. And these trails are further away from the highway than they are on the Minnesota side. We were able to use our National Parks Pass for entrance into Wisconsin Interstate State Park, as it is part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve and accepts federal passes for admission.
William O’Brien State Park
William O’Brien State Park is close to the Twin Cities Metro area and is one of our favorite local state parks. If you follow this blog, you have probably already heard about William O’Brien as we wrote an entire post on this state park. We also included it in our 7 Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in the East Metro post.
This lovely state park offers 12 miles of hiking trails to visitors and their leashed dogs. While there are many worthwhile trails in this state park, make sure you don’t skip the 1.6 mile Riverside Trail. This is the trail where you will be treated to the best views of the St. Croix River.
Afton State Park
Afton State Park is the final state park along the St. Croix River before the St. Croix flows into the Mississippi River. Afton is another state park located in close proximity to the Twin Cities. And as a result, we often run into other hikers year-round at this state park.
However, Afton has plenty of trails for its visitors to spread out on. With 20 miles of trails to choose from, you and your dog will easily find a hike to suit your needs.
Since this blog post is all about hiking with your dog along the St. Croix River, you should make sure to hike both the North and South River Trails. You will be treated to great river views, and there are even a few spots where you and your dog can wade into the river.
Once you have had your fill of river view hiking, continue through lovely wooded trails into the prairie trails. Afton is a wonderful state park to spend the afternoon (or whole day) hiking with your dog.
Related Questions and Hikes
How much does a Minnesota State Park pass cost? As of 2019, a day pass is $7 and an annual pass is $35. The annual pass is valid from the month you purchase until that month next year. So for example, if you bought a pass today, it would be valid from April 2019 through March 2020.
Looking for more hikes in the Twin Cities? Check out our list of 7 great dog-friendly hikes in the East Metro.
Want to do more river hiking? Consider hiking the bluffs at Great River Bluffs State Park for views of the Mississippi River. Or cross state lines to view the Mississippi from Wisconsin’s Perrot State Park.