Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minnesota is my favorite Minnesota State Park within an easy drive of the Twin Cities. This state park has it all: dog-friendly trails, waterfalls, rapids, forests, bluffs, and more.
What can you do in a day at Banning with your dog? Follow along with us as we spend an afternoon exploring this premier state park. From a drive into Sandstone, MN to find the trailhead for Big Springs Trail to a hike through old quarry ruins to the 20 ft Wolf Creek Falls, we spent 4 hours on the trails on a recent Wednesday in June.
So pack plenty of water, a good 6-foot leash, and a secure collar/harness. Then grab your dog and hop in your car for the short drive to Banning State Park.
Big Spring Falls
Glia and I originally visited Banning State Park in the winter. We were hoping to visit both of Banning’s waterfalls while they were frozen. However, we were unable to get to Big Spring Falls as the road was icy. I don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so we turned around before we found the trailhead.
Consequently, I was extra determined to find this trailhead this summer. From I-35, take the Sandstone exit. Take a slight right onto MN-123 and watch for Pine Ave South. You will take this right (this road is across from Robinson Park). Drive about 1 mile south on Pine Ave South.
The road will become dirt/gravel. But keep driving until you see a couple of parking spaces on the left of the road. This parking area is across from a big rock and just before a small gate across the road. Park here and you should easily be able to find the trailhead leaving from this parking area.
On our Wednesday morning, there were two cars at the trailhead, but we didn’t run into any other people on the trail.
The trail itself starts out flat as it meanders less than a mile through a classic Minnesota forest before reaching the river. The trail becomes rockier as it approaches the banks of the Kettle River.
We did a little climbing down from a small boulder onto a picnic table to get close to the falls. It looked like the trail may have continued back into the forest for an easier route down to the falls, but we enjoyed the small scramble.
Big Spring Falls is a beautiful location and we really enjoyed having the area all to ourselves. The falls are viewable from both the base and the top at this location.
After spending some time soaking in the natural beauty of Big Spring Falls, we headed back out the way we came in. It looks like this trail may connect to the rest of the state park, but we only had an afternoon and wanted to make sure we had plenty of time left to hike to Wolf Creek Falls.
Quarry Loop Trail
After a short drive from the Big Spring Falls trailhead to the main day-use area of Banning State Park, we were ready to continue hiking. Parking at the main picnic area gives great access to a variety of the trails.
Since our goal was to maximize river views, we headed towards Quarry Loop Trail. Quarry Loop Trail is the hiking club trail at Banning State Park.
If you are unfamiliar with Minnesota State Park’s hiking club, this program was created to encourage Minnesotans to get out and hike. According to the state of Minnesota “ The Hiking Club combines the best elements of an expedition, a classroom, and a treasure hunt. Hiking Club trails wind through Minnesota’s most beautiful settings and are great for all ages. Plus, you earn awards as you hike!”
To find out more about the Hiking Club Program, head over to the MN state park clubs information page.
Quarry Loop Trail is well-deserving of its place among the best trails in Minnesota state parks. This mostly flat trail follows the bluffs along the Kettle River’s edge as it winds through the ruins of an old sandstone quarry.
The Banning Sandstone Quarry was at its largest in the late 1890s, when it employed around 500 workers who chiseled the rock into massive blocks. By 1905, all work at the quarry at ceased as structural steel became the building construction material of choice.
When Banning State Park was established in 1963, the park acreage included the weathered ruins of Banning Sandstone Quarry along the Kettle River. A variety of informational plaques have been created and placed near buildings of interest along the Quarry Loop Trail.
This loop trail is 1.8 miles long by itself. However, we typically utilize this trail as a way to walk along the river as we head towards Wolf Creek Falls.
On our latest visit, we also tried out the Hell’s Gate Trail. Note, this is not a good trail for young children. Glia did a fair amount of scrambling before we turned around (Hell’s Gate is an out and back trail) and we didn’t quite make it to a good view of Hell’s Gate Rapids.
Wolf Creek Falls
While not the tallest or most impressive waterfall, Wolf Creek Falls is still beautiful and definitely worth the hike.
From the Quarry Loop Trail, we made our way to High Bluff Trail and Wolf Creek Trail. This section of the hike loses the river views, but it is still a lovely hike through some Minnesota forest.
As you near the falls, the terrain becomes a little rockier and requires a moderate amount of concentration to walk up and down the rocky terrain.
Wolf Creek Falls will appear on your right-hand side. The sound of rushing water is your first indication that you are approaching the falls. Next, you will be able to glimpse a bit of Wolf Creek itself. But you won’t be able to see the falls until you step out of the forest and on to a rocky ledge right next to the falls themselves.
Once you step onto this portion of the boulders, the 20-foot falls will be impossible to miss. Take your time here and soak in the view. It is a peaceful location and well worth the time to enjoy.
This waterfall looks pretty amazing frozen also! Check out our winter guide to Banning or our 3 favorite frozen waterfalls within 1.5 hours of the Twin Cities.
Once you have finished viewing the falls, you can wander down to the banks of the Kettle River and let your dog take a quick dip in the river to cool off.
More Dog-Friendly Trails at Banning State Park
On our most recent trip, we hiked back to the parking lot mostly the same way we came out to the falls, but if you are looking for a longer hike there are plenty of options available. Use a combination of Wolf Creek Trail, Trillium Trail, Cartway Trail, and Skunk Cabbage Trail to loop back to the parking lot instead.
We also took a quick walk down to Blueberry Slide Trail to see the launch site for kayakers wanting to tackle the rapids of the Kettle River. You can also get a great view of the Blueberry Slide Rapids from this trail
Plan a Visit to Dog-Friendly Banning State Park
As you can tell, we highly recommend planning a trip to Banning State Park with your pup. This is a lovely area for a great on-leash adventure. And it is generally less crowded than the state parks on the North Shore or in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Related Blog Posts
Is Banning too far away for an easy day trip for you and your pup? Then consider some of the other 66 state parks in Minnesota. Below is a list of Minnesota state parks near the Twin Cities and Rochester that we have already written blog posts about.
- 5 Great Dog-Friendly State Parks in Southeastern Minnesota
- 5 Dog-Friendly MN State Park Hikes along the St. Croix River
- Hiking with Dogs at William O’Brien State Park
- Hiking at Great River Bluffs State Park
What is your favorite Minnesota State Park? Let us know in the comments below.