A Dog-Friendly Guide to Banning State Park: Winter Edition

Banning State Park is located just minutes off of I-35 near Sandstone, MN. This state park is stretched along the Kettle River, offering dramatic views of turbulent rapids. In fact, there are five sets of rapids, ranging from Class III to V, located inside this state park. Some of the hiking trails parallel this river, offering fantastic views of the rapids before leading you through the historic ruins of Banning Sandstone Quarry. And to top everything off, there are two waterfalls located within Banning State Park.

Dog-Friendly Hiking at Banning State Park

Banning State Park has 17 miles of trails for you and your dog to enjoy. Dogs need to be on a 6-foot leash and, of course, cleaned up after.

The map for Banning State Park highlights 5 trails of special interest:

  • Blueberry Slide Trail for a quick walk along the rapids to an overlook of the river.
  • Quarry Loop Trail to discover the ruins of Banning Quarry, which once operated in this area. But even if you aren’t interested in Banning Quarry, this trail is still a great park highlight, offering scenic river views and a vantage point to observe Hell’s Gate Rapids.
  • Wolf Creek Trail to hike among exposed boulders on your approach to a 20 foot waterfall.
  • Skunk Cabbage Trail for a hike along Kettle River and through the forest. The state park notes that in spring and summer, numerous wildflowers and birds can be observed from this trail.
  • Big Spring Falls Trail for more waterfall views. Take note that this trail is accessed from the town of Sandstone on Pine Avenue South.

Quarry Loop Trail at Dog-Friendly Banning State Park

We love trails that offer water views, so during our afternoon at Banning State Park, we mostly hiked along the river’s edge. After parking at the picnic area, we took Quarry Loop trail south along the river. Even blanketed in snow, this trail was amazing with wonderful scenic views of the river. The trail was mostly level and footing was secure except for a few short rocky areas.

The ruins of old quarry buildings add a historical interest to this hiking trail. The Banning Sandstone Quarry was active in the late 1800s and employed around 500 workers. Work at the quarry ceased by 1905, as contractors began to use structural steel for building construction. During a hike on Quarry Loop Trail, you will see the shell of the old quarry buildings and hike along the walls of the quarry itself. During our winter hike, the walls of the quarry were covered in frozen cascades of water (see the picture above). Informational plaques are placed near points of interest along this trail.

Chasing Frozen Waterfalls at Dog-Friendly Banning State Park

One of the highlights of Banning State Park is Wolf Creek Falls. And it is this waterfall that drew us to discover this state park during the winter months. Originally inspired to go chasing a frozen waterfall by an article about 10 frozen waterfalls in MN, we went on the hunt for additional waterfalls a little closer to home.  At that point, we uncovered an article of the Top 9 Waterfalls within 2 hours of Minneapolis. Wolf Creek Falls was included in that list.

So when Glia and I arrived at Banning State Park, the first thing we did was plan a route that brought us to Wolf Creek Falls. We linked the Quarry Loop Trail to the High Bluff Trail and Wolf Creek Trail to bring us to Wolf Creek Falls.

When you arrive at the falls, you start at the top of the waterfall and hike down the boulders for a view from the base of the falls. With the falls frozen, we almost missed them, mistaking the river for just more bluffside terrain. But once we made it to the base and looked around a little, we heard the unmistakable sounds of running water and the stunning frozen falls spread out in front of us. For those looking, the falls are to the right of the trail as you hike down the boulders. Also, please note that smaller dogs may need some assistance traversing the boulders.

On a winter day in January, we had the falls to ourselves. In fact, we actually had all the trails to ourselves, only seeing two parked cars and no other people or dogs during our Saturday hike. It was too cold to spend much time just sitting and admiring the falls, but we spent a few minutes listening to the running water and snapping a couple photos.

After finding the falls we enjoyed a lovely hike back along Wolf Creek Trail and Spur Trail.

Finding Big Spring Falls

As we left the main portion of Banning State Park, we sill had one dog-friendly hiking trail to find. The park map states that visiting Big Spring Falls is worth the drive. And we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to explore a second frozen waterfall.

However, we were unable to find the trailhead. We made it to the edge of town, but then the road  became icy and winding. Our car doesn’t have four wheel drive, so we elected to wait until better road conditions to find this waterfall. See you in the spring Big Spring Falls.

Dog-Friendly Banning State Park

Overall, we had a wonderful visit to Banning State Park. And we highly recommend taking your dog on a winter hike to Wolf Creek Falls. Banning is a wonderful state park, ranking near the top of our list of Minnesota State Parks so far. However, we have only made it to 9 of the 66, so stay tuned to see how Banning stacks up as we continue on our goal to visit all 66 of Minnesota’s state parks.

Which Minnesota State Park is your favorite and why? Let us know 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts