While the rest of the country is busy driving around trying to find the best hiking, climbing, camping, and stargazing destinations, residents of Minnesota are met with endless recreational opportunities around every corner. Best known for the state’s 10,000 plus lakes and stunning waterways, the North Star State is also home to hundreds of miles of family hiking trails and endless camping destinations.
No trip into the wilds of Minnesota is complete without first stopping at Minneapolis’s Midwest Mountaineering. The locally-owned shop started back in 1970 when owner Rod Johnson, then 21, hitchhiked to California on a quest for great gear. He brought back as much gear as he could, and sold it out of his kitchen to friends and other outdoor enthusiasts. As demand for more gear increased, the kitchen was abandoned and a store was created.
Today, Midwest Mountaineering is a local cornerstone for adventurers of all skill levels and interests. The staff sells all kinds of gear from Osprey packs to kayaks and PFDs with the same love and zeal as Rod did back in the day. They are knowledgeable and experienced, and you can even schedule a guided, personal shopping appointment with one of them. The shop also gives back to nature by donating 10% of their profits to wilderness groups each year.
After bouldering around in the store’s climbing cave and talking to the staff about the best places to spend a night under the stars, you will surely be inspired to explore every outdoor corner of the state.
After you get hooked up with your Osprey backpack and have loaded it full of the gear you will need to have a stellar day, it’s time to head out to one of the hundreds of amazing destinations around the region. For starters, make the drive to Interstate Park, about an hour from Midwest Mountaineering. Located along the St. Croix River, the Taylor Falls area of Interstate Park is an excellent spot to enjoy a beautiful picnic and have access to quick hikes and rock climbing.
Interstate Park has four miles of rugged hiking trails that lead to breathtaking vistas, as well as two self-guided trails that showcase the history of the region. These trails are perfect if you are looking for fun family hikes or are just getting the littlest in your crew out for the first time. Try the Osprey Kestrel or Kyte, both of which are perfect for carrying the whole family’s snacks. If you have little ones big enough to carry their own pack, the Jet and Moki packs are great for kids and can hold a 1.5 liter reservoir, snacks and an extra layer in case the weather changes.
The best part of the park is that it makes it very easy to extend a day into a weekend here. It has plenty of camping for all styles, and offers amenities like showers and flush toilets.
Another incredible state park for day hiking, camping, and family-friendly nature exploration is Gooseberry Falls State Park, three hours from Minneapolis. Yes, it might be a little crowded in the summer months, but for good reason. The park is gorgeous and it’s a great way to inspire younger generations to explore the great outdoors. There are 20 miles of trails that lead to breathtaking overlooks and stunning waterfalls, and it’s accessible year round.
Yet another area perfect area for family adventuring is Tettegouche State Park along the shores of Lake Superior. Located on the North Shore, the park has more than 9,300 acres of land and 23 miles of trails to bike, hike, paddle and explore. If you are looking for the best place to see Lake Superior’s beaches, rivers, waterfalls, inland lakes, forests, and rocky terrain, the North Shore is where it’s at.
The camping here is excellent; there are cabins available if you want to hike in or you can stay at the more easily accessible, albeit very popular, campground.
Finally, if you are looking for a true backpacking adventure with more mileage, the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is for you. Working its way from the Canadian Border to Duluth, the SHT is a 310-mile masterpiece of a trail.
The best part is that it gives backpackers, campers, and day hikers options no matter their level or age. There are trailhead parking lots every 5-10 miles, which allows you to easily section hike or thru-hike the trail.
Whether you head out for a week with your Osprey Atmos, or take a short stroll with your kids, you’ll find great views, wonderful forests, and a sense of adventure.