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5 of the Best Dog-Friendly Hikes in Minnesota

Minnesota might not be known for great hiking like Colorado or Oregon are. But this land of 10,000 lakes still has thousands of miles of hiking trails to be discovered within the 51.2 million acres of land contained inside the state’s borders. And while not every trail is dog-friendly, most of them are.

Interested in hiking with your dog? Here is my list of the 5 best dog-friendly hiking trails in the state of Minnesota:

  1. Hell’s Gate Trail at Banning State Park in Sandstone, MN
  2. Middle Falls Trail at Grand Portage State Park in Grand Portage, MN
  3. Eagle Mountain Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near Grand Marais, MN
  4. Bear and Bean Lake Loop on the Superior Hiking Trail near Silver Bay, MN
  5. Coyote Point Trail at Whitewater State Park in Altura, MN

Keep reading to find out more about each of these trails and why my pups and I enjoy them so much.

1. Hell’s Gate Trail

Banning State Park is located about an hour and 15 minutes north of the Twin Cities metro area and is one of my favorite state parks in Minnesota. The park has 17 miles of trail with many of the best, including the Hell’s Gate trail, along the bluffs at the edgeof the Kettle River.

Hell’s Gate Trail is the most rugged trail at Banning State Park. So for those of you who aren’t interested in a little scrambling over rocks as the trail becomes more of a suggestion than a well marked track through the woods, this might not be the trail for you. In that case, I recommend the Quarry Trail paired with the High Bluff Trail to reach Wolf Creek Falls. But for those dog and human pairs who are ready for a little more adventure, Hell’s Gate Trail is a fun afternoon adventure.

You can access Hell’s Gate Trail from either the Wolf Creek Falls area or from the southern end of the Quarry Loop Trail. Either way, the trail will be fairly easy to follow at first. But as you approach the middle of the trail, the trail will become rockier.

At that point, you may have to choose your own route and crawl through and over a few boulders and rock ledges. Some routes are easier than others, so just backtrack and try again if you find a route you aren’t comfortable with. The trail is often pretty busy (especially on summer weekends), so you can always watch others tackle the trail in front of you.

Although a 6 foot leash (or shorter) is required for hiking with your dog in MN state parks, you may need a longer leash for this section. Or a human hiking partner to trade off holding the leash will you navigate a few of the sections. Smaller dogs may need some help getting up and over obstacles on this trail. And there is one spot that I typically keep a hand on my 40# dog’s harness to help her down or up depending on which direction we are heading.

Does this trail sound too challenging for you and your pup? Then check out some of the other trails at Banning State Park. We discuss other trails at this fantastic Minnesota hiking destination in the following blog posts:

2. Middle Falls Trail

Located along Minnesota’s border with Canada in Grand Portage State Park, Middle Falls Trail offers beautiful views of Lake Superior as well as the chance to view two waterfalls. Middle Falls is the destination of the lollipop loop that is Middle Falls Trail. But before you start your hike to Middle Falls, I highly recommend checking out High Falls, located near the start of the Middle Falls Trail.

High Falls is the highest waterfall in Minnesota, dropping 120 feet as the water of the Pigeon River flows towards Lake Superior. The trail out to HIgh Falls is handicap accessible, but there are a significant amount of stairs to the actual overlook for the falls.

Once you have spent enough time admiring the dramatic High Falls, start out on the much more rugged Middle Falls Trail. Middle Falls Trail is approximately 3.5 miles round trip (4.5 miles round trip from the Visitor’s Center).

The trail begins by climbing upwards to some lovely views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forests. Don’t skip the spur trail to the overlook.

The trail is relatively well maintained but is narrow in sections. And it does become a little more overgrown as you head further away from the lakeshore and closer to Middle Falls.

Middle Falls is more intimate than High Falls. You can walk right up to the rushing water and almost reach the rocks on the Canadian side.

Overall, this trail has a more remote feel than many of the trails in Minnesota State Parks. Depending on the time of year your visit, this can be an isolated and quiet trail to enjoy with your pup. We really enjoyed viewing the falls with a crusting of ice during our November 2019 trip to the North Shore.

3. Eagle Mountain Trail

Eagle Mountain is the highest elevation point in Minnesota, at 2,301 feet. The peak is located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and can be accessed via a 3.5 mile (one-way) trail for a lovely 7-mile round trip hike.

Accessing the trailhead, located on the north side of FR170, does require some driving on dirt/gravel roads. But driving further away from the popular Hwy 61 along the North Shore also means that this wilderness trail sees less human foot traffic than the state park trails along the North Shore.

Because this trail enters the BWCA, you will need a permit. If just hiking for the day, you can use a self-issue permit. Instructions and permits can be found at the trailhead kiosk.

The trail itself is lovely and rugged, with many tree roots and rocks to step over. It passes by some idyllic little lakes as the trail meanders through the forest.

And as you reach the peak of Eagle Mountain, there are some fantastic views. The actual highest point is surrounded by trees, so not much to see at that location. But you can take a picture with a plaque located at the highest point. Then turn around and retrace your steps back to your car.

*Dogs are allowed to hike off-leash on this trail, as long as they are under voice control.

Find more information about this trail on Superior National Forest’s website.

4. Bear and Bean Lake Loop

Perhaps one of the most photographed hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), the Bear and Bean Lake Loop is a popular SHT day-hike. The loop is about 7 miles round trip if started from the main trailhead.

This is another rugged trail with lots of tree roots to navigate around and over. So wear good shoes and watch your step. Although this trail is rugged and has a remote feel, it can be a highly trafficked trail on summer weekends.

The trail is well-labeled with the blue blazes of the Superior Hiking Trail. So even when you cross over rocky terrain where the path is not as well worn, you can look down and find a blaze painted on the rock itself or up on a nearby tree. This is a great feature of the SHT that makes it easy to navigate.

As you navigate through the forest, there are a few overlooks towards Lake Superior and then to the forests to the west. Eventually, you will come to a beautiful overlook of Bean Lake.

Continue on the trail and you will have the opporunity to hike down to the Bear Lake Campsite to sit on the shoreline of Bear Lake. Perhaps it will be warm enough that you might even take a swim in this lake.

Then, just past the Bear Lake campsite spur, you will come to an overlook of both lakes. Make sure to take the classic photo of yourself at this overlook before starting your way back to the your car.

Find out more in our blog post all about the Bear and Bean Lake Loop.

5. Coyote Point Trail

For our final favorite Minnesota hike of this post, we are switching gears and highlighting a location in southern Minnesota. Located about 40 minutes east of Rochester, MN, Whitewater State Park offers several challenging dog-friendly hiking trails.

We recommend you hike this entire state park, but if you have to pick just one trail, consider the Coyote Point Trail. This trail starts from just behind the visitor’s center.

It first crosses the Whitewater River using a stone/concrete slab bridge. Then enters into the woods to begin a steady climb upwards to reach beautiful views of the Whitewater River Valley.

As you reach Coyote Point, the trail does get a bit rocky and narrow. Use caution. There is also a short ladder in this region. If your dog is too big to help down a ladder easily, consider hiking this trail in reverse so that your dog climbs up the ladder instead.

After you soak in all the views you can from the Coyote Point Trail and Coyote Point, you have four options:

  1. Backtrack a bit and stay on the Dakota Trail to explore more of the western side of the park.
  2. Head down the stairs and take a right into a flat meadow before connecting with more strenuous trails again.
  3. Head down the stairs and across the road to the Chimney Rock Trail. The Chimney Rock Trail is another of our favorite trails at this state park. Be ready to hike up a steep trail again to obtain great views from the other side of the park.
  4. Head down the stairs and meander back to the visitors center on a flatter trail along the riverbank.

To help you make your decision, here is a view from the Chimney Rock Trail in summer.

Whatever you choose, you are sure to enjoy your hike at Whitewater State Park. Looking for more hikes in Southern Minnesota? Check out our post about 5 Great Dog-Friendly State Parks in Southeastern Minnesota.

And a big plus to hiking at many of the parks in Southeastern Minnesota is the distinct lack of mosquitoes. Beaver Creek Valley SP, Forestville/Mystery Cave SP, Frontenac SP, Great River Bluffs SP, John A. Latsch SP, and Whitewater SP all feature minimal mosquitoes.

Why, you ask? Per MPR News, you can thank the lack of glaciers from millions of years ago for this. The last glaciers that came through Minnesota missed this area, so there are no natural lakes in this region. Since mosquitoes need stagnant warm water to reproduce, they are out of luck here. These parks only have cold spring-fed water that moves.

Get Out and Start Hiking Minnesota

Of course, there are many, many more great hiking trails in Minnesota. This is just a list of my current top 5. But whether you choose one of these hikes or start on a completely different trail with your pup, I encourage all of my readers to spend some time in the forests and prairies of Minnesota, enjoying the outdoors with your own dog.

Happy Hiking!

Kate, Glia, and Sasha

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