5 Great Dog-Friendly State Parks in Southeastern Minnesota

Southeastern Minnesota is home to river bluffs and rolling farmland. Although not as of a popular tourist destination when compared to the North Shore or the Boundary Waters, this area of Minnesota still has some wonderful state parks of its own.

The following state parks are all located in southeastern MN: Whitewater, Carley, Beaver Creek Valley, Great River Bluffs, and Forestville/Mystery Cave. Each of these state parks offers 5 miles or more of dog-friendly (on-leash) hiking trails. 

Each of these unique Minnesota State Parks is dog-friendly, meaning that leashed dogs are allowed on all of the hiking trails. So before making your camping reservations for this summer (or maybe planning a winter day trip), read our reviews below to help you pick the perfect park for your next dog-friendly southeast MN adventure.

Whitewater State Park

19041 Highway 74
Altura, MN 55910

Miles of Hiking Trails: 10 miles

Hiking at Whitewater State Park
The view from a lookout near Chimney Rock.

Whitewater State Park is the most visited state park in southeast Minnesota. In fact, it was the 6th most visited state park in all of Minnesota according to data from 2014. This state park is popular for hiking and trout fishing. Many also appreciate the reduced mosquito population in this state park. I mean honestly, who doesn’t want less mosquitoes?

The hiking trails climb limestone bluffs and cross the Whitewater River, creating a wide variety of trail types to choose from. If you enjoy a steep, but relatively short, climb up into the bluffs, Chimney Rock and the trail to Inspiration Point are a must hike for great views of the valley.

Find out more at the official DNR website for Whitewater State Park.

Carley State Park

50366 County Rd 4
Plainview, MN 55964

Miles of Hiking Trails: 5 miles

Hiking at Carley State Park
Crossing a branch of the Whitewater River.

The smallest state park included in this post, Carley State Park is located just a few miles from Whitewater State Park. Hiking trails wind around the north branch of the Whitewater River through stands of White Pines and Oak trees. If you visit in early May, you might even be able to enjoy flowering Virginia Bluebells.

Many of these trails have a decent amount of elevation change, but overall we found Carley State Park’s hiking trails to be less strenuous compared to those at Whitewater State Park.

Find out more at the official DNR website for Carley State Park.

Beaver Creek Valley State Park

15954 County 1
Caledonia, MN 55921

Miles of Hiking Trails: 8 miles

Hiking at Beaver Creek Valley
Hiking along the Hole-in-Rock Trail.

Like Whitewater and Carley State Parks, Beaver Creek Valley is another state park located in bluffland. Known for its clear streams fed by the “Big Spring,” the streams of Beaver Creek Valley are native trout streams.

There are two main hiking trail loops: One is a mostly flat trail that meanders along Beaver Creek and through maple-basswood and oak forests. The other loop connects Steep Rock Trail, West Rim Trail, and Hole-in-Rock Trail to create a loop with steep terrain and scenic vistas as these trails take you through the bluffs in Beaver Creek Valley.

Find out more at the official DNR website for Beaver Creek Valley State Park.

Great River Bluffs State Park

43605 Kipp Drive
Winona, MN 55987

Miles of Hiking Trails: 6.5 miles

Hiking at Great River Bluffs State Park
Enjoying views of the Mississippi River.

Great River Bluffs State Park is another Minnesota State Park located amidst river bluffs. However, this time, the river is a bit bigger. And as a result, so are the bluffs. 

The hiking trails of Great River Bluffs State Park offer vista views of the great Mississippi River. With several great outlooks, you and your pup are sure to find a view you will enjoy. In between outlooks, the trails wind through forested rolling terrain.

Find out more at the official DNR website for Great River Bluffs State Park. Or check out our blog post all about hiking at Great River Bluffs State Park.

Forestville/ Mystery Cave State Park

21071 County 118
Preston, MN 55965

Miles of Hiking Trails: 20 miles

Hiking at Forestville State Park.
Enjoying the trail to Big Spring.

Forestville/Mystery Cave is a unique State Park in that it has both an above ground and a below ground section. Mystery Cave is full of stalactites, stalagmites, and underground pools all that maintain a constant temperature of 48 degrees Fahrenheit. While the park does offer tours of the cave, dogs are not allowed in the below ground areas of Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.

However, with 20 miles of hiking trails, there is still plenty to do with your dog above ground. Hike along blue-ribbon trout streams or make your way to the ridge top trails. Most trails climb about 200′ from valley floors to ridge tops. The scenic overlook, cemetery, and Big Spring are nice recommended hiking destinations.

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is a popular state park for horseback riding. Dogs and horses that aren’t used to each other don’t always mix well, so please make sure to give horses plenty of space when sharing the trail. If your dog has a tendency to react to horses, consult the trail map to determine which trails are shared with horseback riders and which are reserved for foot/paw traffic only.

If you are reading this post in the winter, please note that Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is the only one of these 5 southeastern MN state parks that has groomed ski-trails when there is snow on the ground. This means that there are several trails that are not open for hiking, with or without your dog, during the winter months.

Find out more at the official DNR website for Forestville/ Mystery Cave State Park.

Related Blog Posts

Looking for more inspiration to get out and hike with your dog along one of Minnesota’s great hiking trails? Check out the following blog posts.

And for our readers who live and hike in Minnesota on a regular basis, we would love to hear about your favorite dog-friendly hiking trails. We are always looking for more trails to explore. Leave us some information about your favorite trails in the comments section below.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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