Do you and your dog love to hike? Are you the type of hikers that like to explore a variety of trails? Do you enjoy setting goals for your hikes?
If so, the Minnesota State Parks and Trail Hiking Club is perfect for you and your pup.
What is the Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club?
The Hiking Club is run by the Minnesota DNR, the organization that manages the state parks and recreation areas. The goal of the Hiking Club is to help Minnesotan’s get outside and explore new destinations within the state.
The Hiking Club will take you to 68 trails at state parks and recreation areas throughout Minnesota. You’ll go past waterfalls, through woods and prairie, discover wildflowers, and maybe even spot wildlife.https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/clubs.html
Designated Hiking Club Trails
While there are 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, only 68 of them have a designated hiking club trail. The hiking club trails are designated on each state park’s (or recreation area’s) trail map. They are typically well-labeled on the trail itself also.
The trails cover a wide range of difficulty and length. Some are wheelchair accessible, like the one at Big Bog State Recreation Area. Others, like the trail at Goerge H. Crosby-Manitou State Park, offer an alternate trail due to the strenuous nature of the hiking club trail.
The shortest trails are those at Grand Portage and Monson Lake State Park – both are 1.0 mile in length. But if you go to Grand Portage, hike past the hiking club trail. The Middle Falls Trail is spectacular.
The longest hiking club trails are 6.2 miles in length. These longer hiking club trails are located at Beaver Creek Valley, Blue Mounds, Maplewood, and Myre -Big Island State Parks.
Recording Your Hikes/Finding the Password
When you join the Hiking Club, you receive a booklet with trail descriptions and a hiking club log section. To earn credit for a hike, you must hike the entire hiking club trail and watch for a sign with the password for that hike.
The password signs can be located anywhere along the hiking club trail. They are well labeled and hard to miss.
When you complete a hike, just record the park you hiked at, the password, and the distance you hike. Only hiking club trail miles count.
Hiking Club Rewards
Each member of the hiking club gains awards as miles of hiking club trails are completed.
Patches are awarded for completion of every 25 miles (from 25 to 175 miles). At 100 miles, you also earn a free night of camping. When you have hiked all miles/all 68 hiking club trails, you received a final patch, another free night of camping, and an engraved plaque commemorating your achievement.
How to Join
To join the Hiking Club, you must purchase your hiking club book. Mine was about $15 and we purchased ours at the William O’Brien State Park office. But you can purchase your Hiking Club book at any Nature Store.
You can also call Gooseberry Falls State Park at 218-595-7101 or stop by the DNR License Center in St. Paul.
For more information about joining the Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club, visit the MN DNR website.
All 68 Minnesota Hiking Club Trails
If we haven’t convinced you to join yet, maybe you just need a little more information about the amazing hiking opportunities in Minnesota. Below is a list of all 68 of Minnesota’s Hiking Club Trails.
Glia and I joined the Minnesota Hiking Club in December 2019, so if you are reading this post in 2020, you will see a list of state parks and trail lengths with minimal information about each trail. However, as we complete each trail we will add pictures, our favorite parts of the trail, overall dog-friendliness, and more.
All 68 trails allow dogs, but factors that we consider for dog-friendliness include:
- How wide is the trail? A wider trail makes it easier to pass other hikers and dogs.
- A 1 equals a narrow or steep trail with little ability to avoid directly passing other hikers. A 3 equals a trail that is wide and flat with plenty of space to pull off to the side to allow others to pass.
- How busy was the trail? A busy trail means that your dog will have to stay in heel position for a large part of the hike in order to politely share the trail. Since most dogs love sniffing, I consider a more dog-friendly trail to be a less busy trail. How busy a trail is can change depending on the season/weather and what day of the week you are hiking on.
- Since this factor is so variable, it will be scored in half points. 0 = a very busy trail. 1 = equals we passed several other hikers but still had an opportunity to extend the leash and let the dogs sniff. 2= a quiet trail where we passed less than 3 other groups of hikers.
- How many stairs/steep inclines are there? It isn’t always the easiest to hike up and down steps with a leashed dog. It is especially difficult if there are other users on the stairs.
- A score of zero = the trail was over 50% stairs. A score of 1 = there were a few easy to navigate stairs. A score of 2= no stairs or steep difficult to navigate portions of the trail.
- How was the trail terrain?
- If the surface is rocky, rough or likely to inure paw pads, the trail will score a zero here. Soft surfaces will gain 1 point here.
- Are there any places to cool off? In the winter this isn’t a big deal, but in the summer it can be nice to hike a trail with shade or water sources to help a dog cool off. Dogs can overheat easily, so regardless of the trail you hike, make sure to carry plenty of water. If you don’t have a dog hiking water bowl yet, check out this blog post to help you choose the best dog hiking water bowl for you and your dog.
- In this section 0 = no significant shade or water sources. 1 = well shaded or offers water sources. 2= shade and water available (when water is not frozen).
For easier navigation of this blog post, state parks and recreation areas are in alphabetical order. If you want to skip to a specific park, use the table below to help you figure out what page of this post to jump to.
|Afton – Buffalo River||Page 1|
|Camden – Great River Bluffs||Page 2|
|Hayes – Maplewood||Page 3|
|McCarthy – Schoolcraft||Page 4|
|Sibley – Zippel Bay||Page 5|
So without further ado, here are the trails.
Minnesota Hiking Club Trails
Afton State Park: 2.5 miles
A popular state park located on the St. Croix River at the eastern edge of the Twin Cities metro area, Afton State Park offers several miles of hiking trails. We recommended waiting to visit this state park until the spring, as portions of this hiking club trail are groomed for skiing in the winter.
Afton is included in our 5 Dog-Friendly MN State Park Hikes along the St. Croix River post.
Banning State Park: 2.6 miles
Banning State Park is one of my favorite state parks in Minnesota. The hiking club trail offers beautiful views of the wild Kettle River. If you want to read more about this park, follow one of the links below:
- Bring Your Dog to Banning State Park: the Perfect Day Hike
- A Dog-Friendly Guice to Banning State Park: Winter Edition
- Visit the official DNR Park Website for Banning
The hiking club trail at Banning starts at the main parking lot and first heads away from the Kettle River. When Glia and I visited on a warm winter day, the snow was slushy and wet and the first part of the trail was lightly trafficked. This meant that the snow wasn’t packed down well. Luckily the trail was relatively flat and soon we emerged on the heavier use portion of the hiking club trail.
The next part of the hiking club trail follows the Quarry Loop Trail which takes you down into the site of the old Banning Quarry. This is a lovely part of the trail, offering views of scenic rocky quarry walls and interesting historical buildings. In the winter, the ice on the quarry walls look like frozen waterfalls.
Once you turn to head back to the parking lot, the trail nears the banks of the Kettle River. For me, this is where the real beauty starts. Take your time and stop at overlooks as you head back to the parking lot.
We did not hike to Wolf Creek Falls at this visit, but we recommend that you do. The falls in the town of Sandstone is also lovely and typically there are very few other hikers at that location.
Banning State Park Hiking Club Trail Dog-friendly Score
- Trail width: 2
- Trail Business: 1
- Stairs/Steep Inclines: 1
- Trail Terrain: 1
- Shade/water: 1
- Total Score: 6/10
Bear Head Lake State Park: 3.0 miles
The Bear Head Lake State Park hiking trail passes through 100-year-old white and red pine stands, past Norberg Lake, and to views of Bear Head Lake. The hiking club manual notes that this is a rugged trail in the North Woods with exposed rocks and tree roots.
Beaver Creek Valley State Park: 6.2 miles
Beaver Creek Valley State Park is located in the bluff lands of southeastern Minnesota and is known for its clear spring-fed trout streams. A brief review of this park is included in our 5 Great Dog-Friendly State Parks in Southeastern Minnesota post.
Big Bog State Recreation Area: 2.0 miles
Big Bog State Recreation Area is located in northern Minnesota. This hiking trail leads to many of the bog’s most fascinating features. This trail is one of the few handicap accessible hiking club trails.
Big Stone Lake State Park: 2.2 miles
One the western border of Minnesota, Big Stone Lake State Park follows along the shore of Big Stone Lake. It passes over spring-fed creeks and even travels past a small waterfall. The trail is reported to provide great views of the lake and South Dakota’s rolling hills.
Blue Mounds State Park: 6.2 miles
In the far southwestern corner of the state, Blue Mounds State Park offers one of the longer hiking club trails. From a bison viewing area to Sioux quartzite formations and areas of preserved prairie, there is plenty to see at this state park.
Buffalo River State Park: 2.5 miles
Another western Minnesota State Park, the hiking club trail at Buffalo River State Park provides both riverside and prairie hiking.