Looking for some dog-friendly hiking with mildly strenuous bluff hikes and great Mississippi River views. Look no further than Frontenac State Park.
There are a total of three Minnesota State parks on the Mississippi River border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. From north to south, these are Frontenac, John A Latsch, and Great River Bluffs.
Our favorite of the three is Frontenac State Park, which we will discuss in detail in this blog post. John A Latsch is low on our list of favorite State Parks, as it only has one short trail. However, if you are driving along the river, this easy access state park is worth a stop. Great River Bluffs State Park offers lovely views but doesn’t let you get as close to the Mississippi River as Frontenac State Park does.
We will include a few paragraphs on John A Latsch in this blog post, but let’s start by exploring Frontenac State Park. (If you want to read a detailed post about Great River Bluffs State Park, check our blog post dedicated to helping you explore this dog-friendly Minnesota State Park.)
Frontenac State Park
Frontenac State Park is located along the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Lake City. This location offers visitors the chance to explore several diverse habitats within the 2,300 acres of park land: bluffland prairie, floodplain forest, upland hardwood forest, and the river itself.
For those interested in the human history of the region, in the later 1800s, there was a high-quality limestone quarry within these bluffs. In fact, in 1883, limestone from this quarry was used to construct part of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
For those who enjoy birdwatching, Frontenac State Park is a great spot to watch migrating birds in the spring and the fall. The park states that over 260 species of birds have been recorded there. Bald eagles are commonly seen in fall, winter, and spring. And several species of warblers visit every year.
While we love seeing the birds, we come for the hiking and the views. In the summer, Frontenac State Park has over 13 miles of hiking trails. (In the winter, due to groomed ski trails, there are only about 5 miles of hiking trails, although you are allowed to blaze your own trail anywhere in the park.) These trail range from easy to moderately challenging.
The Bluffside Trails
Our favorite trail loop at Frontenac is the Upper and Lower Bluffside Trails. These two trails offer great views and riverside hiking.
The Bluffside Trail descends 425 feet of staircases and switchbacks to the rocky shore of Lake Pepin. The trail starts from either the picnic area or campground and descends to near water level.
During our most recent visit, we started this hike from the picnic area, walking northwest along the upper bluff trail. This area of the trail offers several overlooks and is a relatively easy trail to traverse.
On the north-western end of this 2.7 mile loop, is the In-Yan-Teopa rock. This landmark, which means “rock with opening” in Dakota, is believed to have religious importance to the native people in this area. Make sure you stop here to get a few pictures.
After you pass In-Yan-Teopa rock, the trail begins its descent. This descent was the trickiest part of the trail. In fact, the map displays a caution star, stating that the “trail contains many staircases, rock steps, and steep slopes.”
I hiked this loop on a weekend with two dogs (both Sasha and Glia) and there were a few spots where I had to backtrack a bit in order to let other hikers pass us. Luckily we didn’t run into any other dogs while on the narrow portions of the trail, but keep in mind this might not be the best trail for a reactive dog. Or a dog that pulls strongly, as the rocks were a little slick in some spots.
Once we made it down to the Lower Bluffside Trail, the trail was relatively easy to navigate again. We took a small spur trail to the shores of Lake Pepin (Mississippi River) and the dogs were able to dip their toes in the water.
We took a slightly less strenuous route back up the bluffside, extending our hike to explore more of the hiking club trail, but I could still feel the climb as we powered back up the 425′ of elevation.
While I highly recommend the Bluffside trail loop to most hikers, if you are looking for easier hiking, check out the paved Riverview Trail between the picnic area and the campground.
Winter at Frontenac
We have also visited Frontenac State Park in the winter. Keep in mind that many of the trails are groomed for skiing and that the Bluffside trail loop is not accessible to hikers.
That being said sections of the Hiking Club Trail and the Pine Loop Trail are still open to dogs and hikers. We enjoyed a lovely winter hike on these trails.
The winter hiking trails pass through hardwood forest and prairie. Some great views of Lake Pepin at Eagle Point overlook are still accessible in the winter months.
John A. Latsch State Park
As we promised, here is a quick look at John A. Latsch State Park. Located between Frontenac and Great River Bluffs (near Winona) along the Mississippi River, John A. Latsch is worth a stop if you are driving past.
With just one trail in the 350 park acres, John A Latsch State Park only takes an hour or two to visit. The hike is a bit strenuous and is mostly a series of wooden steps. But although the hike is steep, the views from the top are spectacular.
The trail/stairs are only a half-mile in length and end at the top of Mount Charity.
Unlike Frontenac, which has a full campground, John A. Latsch State Park is day-use only.
Curious about the history of this small Minnesota State Park? This park land was donated to the state in 1925 by John A. Latsch himself. Mr. Latsch was a local businessman. He purchased some of these bluff lands himself and then persuaded an adjacent landowner to donate with him. Latsch was a fisherman who enjoyed the waters below the bluffs of Faith, Hope, and Charity. He also donated land to the state of Wisconsin that was instrumental in the formation of Perrot State Park.
If you are in the area and don’t mind a short climb, this is a great dog-friendly stop.
Minnesota State Parks
There are so many great state parks in the state of Minnesota. And our favorite feature is that they have trails that welcome leashed dogs.
Find out more about the state parks and recreation areas that Minnesota has to offer at the official DNR website.
If you are interested in more of our blog posts about Minnesota State Parks, check out one of the articles listed below.