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Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in Rochester, MN

Type the city of Rochester into Google, and many of you will be directed to information about Rochester, NY. But Minnesota has it’s own Rochester. Rochester, MN is mostly famous for being the birthplace of a renowned medical center – the Mayo Clinic. The economy built around this clinic has helped Rochester grow to become the 3rd largest city in Minnesota (just behind Minneapolis and St. Paul) with a little over 100,000 residents. So whether you are visiting Rochester for business, pleasure, or health, if your dog is joining you, you may want to find some dog-friendly hiking trails.

What are the best dog-friendly hiking trails in Rochester, MN? Our favorites are Quarry Hill Nature Park and the Douglas Trail. If you don’t mind paying an entrance fee, Chesterwoods is another option for hiking space. And if you are okay with a more urban, paved trail experience, check out the many paved trails within Rochester. The paved trail by Silver Lake is a great option. And of course, there are a few state parks within driving distance. The closest two are Whitewater and Carley State Parks. 

Each of these dog-friendly locations is different, so continue reading to find the best match for you and your pup.

Quarry Hill Nature Park

Located in northeast Rochester, Quarry Hill Nature Park is free and open to the public year round. Within the 329 acres of this park are over 8 miles of hiking trails.

Quarry Hill divides their trail types into 7 categories: Savanna, Woodland, Pond/Prairie, Stream, Sports, Family, and Quarry Ruins. Trails are well labeled as you navigate the park.

Trail Types

The oak savanna trails were reclaimed in 1997 and seeded with native prairie plants. In this area of the park, you will find mostly flat, grass-covered trails. The trails leading to this area of the park are moderately hilly.

The woodland trails are dirt or grass covered as they wind through forested terrain. Some of these trails have moderate elevation change.

If you are looking for more flat and grassy trails, consider the loop around the pond through a prairie grass landscape. This is a short trail, but full of lots of pond sights and sounds in the summer (you will likely hear plenty of frogs). Keep your dog out of this pond as it does grow algae in the summer.

For a different water experience, take a short path to Silver Creek to find a small stream nestled in forested terrain. This trail is also grassy and flat.

There are a few wider grass and dirt trails, that Quarry Hill labels as sports trails. This labeling is due largely to the fact that these trails are reserved and groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter. But in the summer, they are open for you and your dog to enjoy.

The family trail designation indicates the paved trail that connects all three parking lot areas. Blacktopped and relatively flat, this trail is perfect for strollers, bicyclists, and rollerblade users.

And finally, our favorite trail system is the quarry ruin trails. These trails travel through the ruins of the quarry for which Quarry Hill is named. Per the trail map, there are

“ruins of the historic quarry operation, a large sandstone cave formerly used as food storage, the State Hospital cemetery, and two overlooks of downtown Rochester. Informational signs about the history of the grounds are located along these trails.”

These trails a little steeper and rockier than other trails at Quarry Hill, so use caution when the ground is wet or slippery.

Looking out across one of the quarry ruin trails.

A well-used park

Quarry Hill is a fairly well-populated park year round. In the summer, Quarry Hill hosts week-long nature sessions for elementary school-aged children. So, even if you visit on a weekday, expect to encounter other park visitors. As a result, it is extra important to follow all leash regulations and to pick up after your dog. If you forget to bring a bag to use to pick up after your dog, you are in luck. A stash of bags is kept near the entrance to the nature center (at the beginning of the paved trail near the parking lot).

Even though the main entrance area parking lot is full of activity, if you hike to the back trails you can still find plenty of peace and solitude to enjoy nature with your pup.

The Douglas State Trail

The Douglas Trail is a state trail that begins in northwest Rochester. It is a paved, multi-use trail and extends for 12.5 miles through the small town of Douglas to the town of Pine Island. For much for the 12+ miles, there is an unpaved trail for horseback riding and snowmobiling that runs parallel to the paved trail.

We rarely see horses in the section closest to the city of Rochester, so we often use the unpaved trail to hike with the dogs. The trail is relatively flat, so it is an easy hike/walk. The path is shaded by tall trees for most of the walk, with views of neighborhoods that transition into farmlands as you exit the city limits. (Please note, we do not recommend using the unpaved trail if horses are present. Dogs and horses that are not used to each other can cause dangerous situations on a narrow trail.)

Often, we start our walk from my parent’s northwest Rochester neighborhood. But to enjoy more of the rural landscape, park at the lot in Douglas and walk towards Pine Island.

Please note, dogs must be leashed and picked up after along the entire 12.5 miles of this trail.

If you choose this trail for a walk with your dog, make sure to watch out for bicycles. The Douglas Trail is a popular spot for bicyclists.

Paved City Trails

If you are looking for a more urban walking location, check out the many miles of paved multi-use trails within the city limits. Most of Rochester is connected by these paved trails. With a little work, you can even connect Quarry Hill to the Douglas Trail. Although, it would take several hours to walk between them.

If your dog doesn’t react to geese, consider a hike around one of the lakes (like Silver Lake) for a more natural setting. Silver Lake is a small lake, but walking near even small bodies of water is still relaxing. 

Chester Woods Parks

Another option to get out of the city limits is to visit Chester Woods Park. Growing up, I would sometimes ride my horse through the trails of Chester Woods Park. It is a great location for a horseback trail ride. However, options for dogs are significantly limited compared to horses.

Only three miles of trails are open to leashed dogs. Glia, Sasha and I have not personally explored these trails, as there is a $5 daily, or $25 annual, entrance fee. The entrance fee, coupled with the fact that the 12 miles of primitive trails do not allow dogs, has kept us from exploring this park.

However, if you already have an annual pass for Chester Woods Park, you should definitely stop by with your dog. Find out more about visiting Chester Woods Park in the park brochure.

Nearby State Parks

If you are willing to drive a few miles outside of Rochester, consider one of the many state parks in Southeast Minnesota. The two state parks closest to Rochester are Whitewater State Park and Carly State Park. However, Rice Lake State Park is just a few miles further and may be closer if you are on the western side of Rochester.

Carley State Park

The closest state park to Rochester is Carley State Park. Located 30 minutes (23 miles) from the center of Rochester, Carley State Park is an easy drive for those located on the eastern side of the city.

Carley State Park is a smaller state park, but it still offers nearly 6 miles of trails you can enjoy with your dog. The trails provide a good variety of terrain. From the flatter Wildflower trail to steep trails with stairs, switchbacks, and concrete block river crossings, you are sure to find a trail that you will enjoy. And in early May, the Wildflower trail often has Virginia Bluebells blooming along the trail.

During our visit,  we really enjoyed the hiking club trail. If you are looking for a longer hike, link the hiking trail with the trails on the south end of the park.

Whitewater State Park

Located approximately 35 minutes (25 miles) from the center of Rochester, Whitewater State Park is one of the premier state parks in this area of Minnesota. This 2,700-acre park welcomes over 250,000 visitors a year. But even with that number of visitors, if you visit this park on a weekday during the shoulder seasons, often times you won’t cross paths with even one other hiker.

Hiking trails traverse limestone bluffs and ravines, making this state park one of the more challenging to hike. Of course, these limestone bluffs are not mountains, so the difficulty is still only moderate. And there are flatter trails available if you prefer.

Glia and I highly recommend starting on Chimney Rock Trail and connecting to Inspiration Point Trail for some of the best views in the park. From these vantage points, you can enjoy the beauty of the Whitewater River winding through the valley.

Dakota Trail is also a great hike. No matter which trail you choose, you and your dog are sure to enjoy spending a day at Whitewater State Park.

For those interested in visiting both of these state parks, they are located within a few miles of each other. The diagram below is also from Whitewater State Park’s brochure/map and shows the location of both state parks. In addition, this part of the brochure offers a good guide to the variety of Whitewater’s hiking trails.

Other Dog-Friendly Hikes in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin

Finished exploring the dog-friendly hiking trails in Rochester? Consider traveling to enjoy some of the other great dog-friendly hiking trails within a few hours drive.

If you want to take 1-90 from Rochester to La Crosse, Wisconsin, check out our post about the 5 Best Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in La Crosse, WI.

Or maybe you want to travel north towards the Twin Cities? Then check out either of our following collections of hiking trail reviews.

And if you know of any other great dog-friendly hiking trails in Rochester, MN, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear about new trails to explore.

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