Hiking with Dogs at William O’Brien State Park

Less than an hour from the Twin Cities, is a beautiful Minnesota State Park along the St. Croix River. William O’Brien State Park is one of our favorite state parks for year round enjoyment. This might have something to do with the fact that it is also the closest state park to our new home. But trust us, even if we didn’t live close, William O’Brien would still make it near the top of our list. 

Are dogs allowed at William O’Brien State Park?

Yes! Dogs are allowed at nearly all Minnesota State Parks. Your dog just needs to be on leash that is 6 foot or shorter in length. And you need to pick up after your pooch. So pack plenty of doggy bags and get out there and hit the trails.

Why do we love William O’Brien?

If you follow along with our blog, you might now this already. We love hiking near water. Rivers, oceans, lakes, waterfalls. There is something special about the beauty of water. And when it comes to river side hiking, the 1.6 mile Riverside Trail at William O’Brien State Park is among the best. This relatively flat trail takes you right along the edge of the St. Croix River, even offering a few opportunities for a dog to wade in and cool off.

Another reason I enjoy taking Glia to this state park is that the patrons of William O’Brien are good about following the leash regulations. Glia and I almost exclusively hike in areas where dogs are supposed to be leashed. But everyone knows that there are many hiking locations where people don’t follow the leash laws. At William O’Brien, we have yet to encounter a loose dog. And since Glia is reactive to strange dogs running up to her, this means that we can hike with more confidence at this state park.

Finally, most of the year this park is a quiet place to hike. Despite its proximity to the Twin Cities, most weekdays in the spring, fall, and winter, we only encounter a few other people and dogs out on the trail. We love the opportunity to hike well maintained trails and still feel like we are all alone in the woods. Summers can be a bit busier when the campground is full. And as with all hiking trails, weekends are usually busier in nice weather.

Best Trail at William O’Brien State Park

In our opinion, the best trail at William O’Brien is the Riverside Trail. This is a 1.5 mile loop that takes you along the banks of the St. Croix River and near the shores of Lake Alice. It is listed as fully accessible and has rest areas, some with benches, located about every 900 feet. Riverside Trail is relatively flat, with a max grade of 7%. The parking lot “trailhead” boasts flush toilets, picnic benches, and trash cans to get rid of your dog’s waste. The pictures above are from Riverside Trail. 

One of the added bonuses of this trail is the width. This trail is between 3 and 10 feet wide, meaning that at most locations there is plenty of space to safely pass other hikers and their dogs.

There are many additional trails at William O’Brien. You won’t find the same type of river views on these trails, but you will find forest land and open prairies. And the rolling terrain adds a little more elevation change compared to the mostly flat Riverside Trail. 

Also, please note that while there are over 12 miles of hiking trails open in the summer, once the snow falls the majority are groomed for skiing. Riverside Trail is one of the only trails that is open to hikers and leashed dogs year round.

Year-Round Dog-Friendly Enjoyment

As we mentioned above, William O’Brien offers a chance for year round enjoyment.

We first visited William O’Brien in the late summer. On this first visit, we enjoyed a lovely walk on the Riverside Trail and then made our way to some of the other trails in the park.

Fall may be my favorite season to visit William O’Brien state park with the dogs. The fall colors were stunning along the St. Croix this year.


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Then, as the ice and snow made its appearance in Minnesota, many of the trails were groomed for cross-country skiing. But the flat Riverside trail was a welcome relief from hiking steeper icy trails this winter.

Spring is a bit muddy, but we love watching the green return to Minnesota.

Some William O’Brien State Park Trivia

William O’Brien State Park is named after a lumber baron. He purchased this land from lumber companies that flourished in the mid 1800s. Once the valley was cleared of white pine, the land was easy to buy. In 1947, William O’Brien’s daughter donated 180 acres to be developed as a state park in his memory. Over the years, other pieces of privately owned land were added to the park. Currently, William O’Brien State park totals 1,653 acres. More information about William O’Brien can be found at the DNR website

Looking for other hiking trails in this area?

Check out our favorite hiking trails in the east metro area of the Twin Cities. Or head over to our Minnesota State Parks page to find other great dog-friendly Minnesota State Parks.


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.

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