Tag Archives: Park

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

On our way back to the cities from the Soudan Mine we decided to stop at Banning State Park and it was not a disappointment.  This park used to be a quarry along the Kettle River.

The high path is the nature path

There is a high trail and a lower trail.  The lower one is where all of the action is along the river.  If you don’t think you will walk all the way to the waterfall than take the lower path.  If you want to see as much of the park and as many of the paths as possible, take the higher path.  We of course, to the higher path down to the waterfall and the lower path on the way back.

Waterfall at the end of the path

This waterfall is interesting as it isn’t very tall.  The water behind it is very shallow.  When we arrived there was a family playing in the stream that leads to the fall.

Kettle River

It took me a while to figure this out, but this river runs brown, and reminds me of root beer.  The reason for this is the iron that is coloring the water.

I didn’t capture the cutting in the rock walls that surround the lake, but if you go you can see where they placed the explosives.  The quarry sliced away at the rock and left it scared, but beautiful at the same time.

Take the journey along the river and read the historical information along the way.  I liked this park with its waterfall and the nice stroll along the river.  The high path is a take it or leave it path.

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

I am glad I didn’t see any bears while visiting Bear Head Lake State Park.  Of course, it would be a black bear, which are small and easily scared off.  Just don’t come between them and their cubs.

We ate lunch at Bear Head Lake State Park.  There was this building which had a fireplace inside and a fire pit outside.  There was running water and a microwave.  It was all very nice.  Once we heated our food we sat out on the picnic tables next to the swimming beach.

Picnic table and swimming area at Bear Head Lake State Park

There were two paths around the lake and let me tell you there was one path less traveled.  On that path we came across this little guy.  This turtle was scary.  He watched us intensely as we kindly made our way around him.

Scary Turtle

The lake was really pretty, and look, stairs!  I love stairs.  No, really, they mean you can climb or descend a path without the Earth crumbling beneath you.

Stairs down to the lake

Just look at that still water.  The next day was a little windier and sunnier.  I loved looking at the reflections on the still day and the brilliance of the lake on the sunny day.

Trees reflecting on the lake
Look at those trees trying to hide that beautiful lake

Overall I would call this a great nature park.  You have the swimming area if you enjoy that.  The building with the fireplace and microwave was very convenient.  The hiking was beautiful and allowed us to see that prehistoric turtle.  That guy looked like he was straight out of history.  If you are looking for hiking or swimming I would say this is a good park for you.  It also made a nice place to eat a meal.

Split Rock Lighthouse, Two Harbors, MN

Split Rock Lighthouse, 3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Split Rock Lighthouse is a historical site and part of the Minnesota Historical Society.  As a site that is part of the Minnesota Historical Society there is a fee to see the lighthouse even if you have a pass for all of the state parks.

You drive in, park your car and enter the visitor center.  There are plenty of things to see in the center and purchase.  One of the items you will need to purchase is a pass to go through the doors that lead out to the lighthouse itself.  It is worth taking a look.

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The lighthouse is right behind the visitor center and there isn’t any scary walks along a long and narrow path like many lighthouses.  It is a rather beautiful lighthouse.

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You can walk around the building next to the lighthouse or wonder through the other area with all of the other buildings.  There is information inside the building next to the lighthouse.  Cover your ears when the fog horns go off.

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Stand back and take in the lighthouse itself.  It is a pretty amazing sight to see.  The best part is that you can go inside and climb to the top.

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The lower part of the lighthouse is rather neat.  There is a stove and a desk for the caretaker to use.  They have people dressed up as caretakers walking around.  I believe there is also a tour that you can take.

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The mechanics of the lighthouse itself are really incredible.  It truly is a beautiful work of art.  The fact that it has a functional aspect as well is just a bonus.

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Climb the staircase to the top and take in the view.  It is rare that you get to climb a lighthouse so that fact that they let you go up into this one makes it very exciting.

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The light at the top of the lighthouse spins around so that boats can see it.

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The view is also quite spectacular from the lighthouse.  Here are a few shots of what you might see when you visit here.

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If you get a chance to visit Split Rock Lighthouse it is completely worth the fee.  The lighthouse is beautiful and  the fact that they let you go inside makes it very exciting.  It is also very accessible from the standpoint that you do not need to take a scary walk to get to it.  There are stairs to get up to it so keep that in mind.

I highly suggest putting Split Rock Lighthouse on your list of things to do if you are in the Twin Harbors, MN area.

After you view the lighthouse you can take a hiking trip into the park itself.  We were just passing through so we skipped the hike, but it looked like it would be fun.


High Falls, Tettegouche State Park, MN

High Falls, 5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614

Along 61 in Silver Bay, MN there is this gigantic rest stop that doubles as an information center the Tettegouche State Park.  There are tons of trails in this area.  The woman at the center directed us to High Falls.

We drove down the road just a little bit to the parking area for the trail.  You will need a state park pass to park here, or you can keep your car at the rest stop and walk a little further.  The trail to High Falls is 1.5 miles.

The trail starts out by going under 61 and has a decent view of the river.  I think it use to go over 61, but the underpass is a lot safer.

June 2016 306 Tettegouche State Park High Falls

There are a couple of places that you can walk down to the river along this trail, but the best one is near the falls itself so just keep walking.  It had just rained when we went so the trail was muddy.  Some parts of the trail have wooden boards to walk on which was nice.  Some parts of the trail where just wooden stairs.  Other parts of the trail were just mud so wear appropriate shoes.

June 2016 335 Tettegouche State Park High Falls

The water fall itself is amazing.  You can feel the mist from the falls from about the distance that we took most of our pictures.  The sound of the falls is what got me.  The rushing water sounded so powerful.

June 2016 391 Tettegouche State Park High Falls

If you continue on the trail you can see the falls from the top and you can even cross over the suspension bridge and see it from the other side.

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June 2016 bridge Tettegouche State Park High Falls

There is even a campsite on the other side.  We didn’t walk to it, but it was pretty close, less than a mile.

The overall hike isn’t bad as long as you do not slip in the mud.  The water fall is completely worth seeing.  Even going over the suspension bridge was okay once I got the courage.

If you have a chance you should definitely take this little journey to high falls.

Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, MN

Lebanon Hill Regional Park, 860 Cliff Road, Eagan, MN 55123

I have found 3 entrances to this park.  The first is straight down (south) Lexington Avenue, you can’t miss it.  Literally, it is the end the Lexington Avenue.  The next is along Pilot Knob just south of Cliff road.  The 3rd is along Cliff road past Lexington Avenue.

Lebenon Hills visitor center

I like the 3rd entrance.  It is near the visitor center which is nice.  The roof is interesting.  I have seen people swimming in the lake near the visitor center.  I do not think there is a life guard, but have a great time.

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In the city of Eagan Lebanon Hills is the best park for trail walking or riding.  You can hike.  You can ride bikes.  You can ride horses.  There are even winter activities is you are that sort.

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It can get a bit muddy at times, but overall these trails are pretty nice.  You might find a friendly frog along the way.  There is plenty of water to view..  You might stop at one of the picnic tables along the trail.  These trails are also the best marked trails in Minnesota as far as I can tell.

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If you need to get in a couple of miles or even longer this is the park for you.  The is plenty to do next to edges as well.  I often see people fishing, both ice fishing and regular fishing.  Personally I just like to watch the ducks.

Lebanon Hills 2014 (10)

Devil’s Tower

Devil’s Tower – Wyoming WY-110, Devils Tower, WY 82714

The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is a bit off the interstate, but absolutely worth the drive.  I have made a point of stopping 3 times to take a stroll around this big boy or at least snap a few shots.

Take advantage of this natural oddity, and the first national monument in the United States.  How did it come into being?  The legend is 6 or 7 little girls depending on the tribe were out and saw a bear or bears.  The ground rose up lifting the girls away from the bear(s).  The bear(s) tried the climb the tower, but could not reach the girls and clawed the sides.

The tower is amazing from a distance, but once you get close to it you will see the true awe.  There are 2 trails around the tower and you can climb the side of it.  It is really climbing and you need to check in before you start your climb.

2006 devil's tower rock climbers
The white dots are people.

You can just walk up and take a few snap shots without walking around this tower at all.  The best views of the tower are from the entrance.  It shows the scratched sides the best.  The boulders around the front are pretty interesting as well.

2006 devil's tower front view

The inner trail is of course shorter at about 1.3 miles.  The front and and the right side have the best views and pictures so if you can only do part of the trail do this section, counter clockwise.  You can also get a great view of the climbers in this area.  Some of the rocks around the base of the tower are huge.  Don’t fall into one of the cracks.  As long as you stay on the trail you will be fine.

2006 devil's tower inner circle

The outer trail is a bit longer, but has some other amazing views at 2.8 miles.  This trail heads away from the tower and gives you an outer view of this enormous structure.  We took this one to the left, clockwise.  devil's tower 2015 outter circle 59You will walk part of this in the grassy area and part of red soil.  You will find yourself stopping ever couple of steps just to snap another shot.

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The views around the back away from the tower are fairly spectacular as well.

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This trail gives you both some close views and some distant views of the tower.  It is worth the trek around nature.  You may even get to see a few deer like we did.  Just check yourself for ticks when you leave.  The trail brushes by a few pine trees and it is easy to pick those little bugs up as you pass by.

I cannot quite express how amazing Devil’s Tower is to view.  If you get a chance to see this national monument make sure you take advantage of it.

Big Horn Mountains

Big Horn Mountains – Wyoming via highway 14 or highway 16.

The route through 16 is the easiest one to pass.  Only a small portion of it is twisty and winding.  That portion is pretty neat and not too scary.  We usually take this route as we pass through.

Bighorn Mountain sky

The route through 14 is more scenic and I believe there are hiking trails on one of the offshoots.  Honestly there are a million trails in this area, but we found an easy one along the river on one of our trips through here.

Big Horns River along trail

I have seen bikers (cycling) traveling through the Big Horns.  I cannot imagine taking a bike up or down this mountain.

The views are amazing.  Stop as often as you can to take in those big skies and beautiful canyons.

Big Horn scenic view

Enjoy your trip through the Big Horns.  There are some neat little towns along the way.  You can make a trip out of traveling through the Big Horns, but more than likely you will be on your way to Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, or Harney Peak in the Black Hills.  Happy travels.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park – northern corner of Wyoming.

Sure Yellowstone National Park is just a huge volcano, but really who doesn’t enjoy risking their own lives walking on the crust of a giant volcano.  No risk, no reward and let me tell you the sights inside Yellowstone National Park are worth every moment of risk.

Bring your sunscreen!  I cannot stress this enough.  You will be outside walking around near pools of water all day.  Oh, and how incredibly beautiful these pools of water are, and dangerous.  A pool of water in Yellowstone National ParkThe water is so hot and deadly that if you fall in you are dead.  The microbes that live in the water are nothing to be messed with either.  They are what gives the water its beautiful coloration.

Beautiful light blue pool in Yellowstone

Let’s walk you through the park.

The first thing you need to know is do not try to get near the wildlife!  The locals take bets on whether the first tourist injured will be eaten by a bear or gourd by a buffalo.  DO NOT BE THAT GUY!  You can get out of your vehicle if the animal is far away, but not if they are close.  Do not get closer in an attempt to take a selfie with the nice buffalo.  They may look peaceful, but they are a huge destructive force of nature.

OK, now I can take you through the park.  You could easily spend a week in this park taking everything in.  There is both food and lodging in the park, but get a reservation for the lodging.

I will take you in through the East entrance.  The first thing you will come across is the fishing bridge, which you cannot fish at ironically enough.  Park, get our, and walk across it.  Take a photo, get back in your car.

Yellowstone Lake

Now you have a choice.  You can travel north to the mud volcano and Uncle Tom’s Trail or south to Old Faithful.  I would go north first.  Stop at the mud volcano.  It sticks of sulfur so prepare yourself for that.   Once you have your fill of the bubbles move north.

You are heading to Canyon Village and upper and lower falls.  This is where you will find Uncle Tom’s trail.  328 steps down to the bottom.  I hope you are in shape.  Really I have done this trail twice and the second time nearly killed me.  On the other hand I have seen a 60 year old make it all the way down and back up with less trouble than I had.  I tend to overheat and it was just too hot for me that day.  The upper falls are easier to get to if you want a short walk.  This hike is something to brag about so try it.

I am  not a huge fan of the northern loop.  If you have time check it out.  The mammoth hot springs are kind of neat.  Lots of animals along the road.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

OK, now get yourself down to the main attraction, Old Faithful.  You can tell your friends to what you on the webcam.  Wave and smile.  Wait for Old Faithful to go off so that you can say that you saw her.  OK, now for the cool geysers.  What?  Yeah, behind Old Faithful is a trail that walks past some of the coolest geysers out there.  Sure Old Faithful is big and regular so you know you will see her go off, but some of the ones on the trail are amazing.  It takes some luck and timing to see these guys in all of their glory, but there are many smaller ones to see as well.  Sunscreen, I must reiterate, have sunscreen for this walk.

No this isn’t everything.  There are so many things to see in this park you really do need about a week to see it all properly.  If you are short on time hit the big attractions:  Old Faithful and basically any place along the lower circle.  These will be your must sees.  Check out the lake.  Stop and walk around whatever looks interesting to you.  Maybe take a quick pass through the top half and check out the mammoth hot springs.  I feel like you see more animals in the top half and more water attractions in the bottom half.

A bridge and steam in Yellowstone

Stay on the trails at all times.  Bring a camera.  Enjoy yourself.

*Camera tip:  to get your camera to focus in steam include a railing or something that it can focus on and the rest will magically become clear.

mist and a wooden walkway

Afton State Park

Afton State Park is fantastic for hiking and outdoor activities.  Website

Afton State Park has some of the best and most challenging hiking trails around the twin cities area.  They have wooded areas, prairie areas, riverside, and some paved.

The park is huge.  It will take you more than one day to walk the entire park.  Granted most people do not take advantage of the long trails away from the riverside trail, but for those of you adventurous enough to explore these trails have a lot to offer.

Trail map of Afton State Park

You will need a pass to get into the park.  If you plan on going more than a couple of times to any state parks in Minnesota get the yearly pass.

At the entrance there is a ton of parking.  There are picnic tables and open areas that you can put down a blanket and enjoy the day.  picnic tables at Afton Park

I have seen weddings held at this park, or at least the pictures.  The background is beautiful.  If you adventure down the steps (there is a handicap trail too I think) you can see a bridge and past that leads to the riverside eating area.

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A little bit further you can walk the trail that runs along the river.  To the right (north) the trail ends eventually.  To the right (south) the trail eventually goes up a very large hill and circles back around to the main area.  Most people just turn around at the bottom of the hill, but if you can walk up it the sights are nice.

The hill that leads up to the backpack camping is a brutal.  At the top past the camping area is a little building and some old farm equipment.

Shelter in Afton AlpsIf you head past that there is a single person trail through a heavily wooded area.  It is a bit precarious when the leaves have fallen.  it makes the downhill walk slick and hides rocks on the trail.  This leads back to the picnic area near the river.

Afton Park leaf covered trail

The trails in the Northwest section can be rather intense.  Both in difficulty and distance.  Although Prairie Loop trail is really easy and a little boring the trails off of it are the ones to watch out for and take the time to hike.  The northern portion of prairie loop that is just hiking is really fun.  It gets down to single person trails in this area.  I would say it is good hiking without being too intense.

Trout Brook Loop is a beast.  There are parts of it where they put in steps.  This might be my favorite hiking area in all of Afton State Park and the most likely to kill me.  The climb/walk up is intense.  The big hill down seems like it will go on forever.  When you get out you can stop and rest at the picnic table and stare at the last hill you will need to climb to get back.  Challenging, but rewarding in my book.

The hill that leads away from Trout Loop

There are some simple trails in the southern area.  You can avoid walking up the giant hill at the end of the river trail by approaching it from this direction.  Bench in Afton ParkYou will walk down instead of up and there is a bench at the bottom as your reward.  Then you can walk along the river trail and the only difficult part is the end with the steps to get back to the main area, but you can walk up some, rest and walk up the remaining ones.

Deer Valley Loop in the southwest part of the park is a real hiking trail.  It is a lot of single file hiking, but there are a lot of neat things to see in that area.  I suggest making sure you can handle this one before you try your hand at Trout Brook Loop.  On separate days of course.

A bridge in Afton State Park

Not sure how you take the tractor ride, but I did see some people on one when we finally made it out of Deer Valley Loop.

tractor giving a trail ride

The park also offers camping, cabins, and yurts to stay in so that you can get the full experience.  It is also nice to be able to just get up and go hiking.

Afton State Park campsite

In the winter there is snow shoe trails.  There are also horse trails for you equestrians.  Did I mention the birds.  Plenty of wildlife to see here.  Pretty blue birds and the occasional deer.  Afton State Park is definitely a place to check out if you want to experience the outdoors.

Afton State Park Lodging

Afton State Park – a great place to stay if you like camping, cabins, or yurts – website and information

If you are looking for an outdoor adventure Afton State Park has something to offer you.  Sometimes you want to take advantage of both the trails and just sitting around with friends.  That is where staying at a campsite or renting a cabin or yurt comes into play.

Afton State park has both individual campsites for yourself or you and a friend and group sites in case you want to bring the whole family or multiple friends.  Each site is out of the way enough that you don’t feel like someone else will stumble into it (I only stumbled into a group campsite once I swear).  Most of the individual campsites are up the hill where a lot of the 200 yarders dare not tread.  They are out of the way yet close to the main section of Afton alps.

Afton State Park campsite

The cabins are all along the same little road and located a bit further south.  Only other cabin renters and yurt renters should venture into the area.  You get a parking spot or two right by the cabin so if you do not want to walk too far you can always drive from the cabin to the main area.

There are a couple of yurts just past the cabins.  They are setback and you will need to walk a short distance from your vehicle, but there is a little red wagon black wagon for transporting items to the yurt(ok it’s black) at the yurt for you to use.
What is a yurt you ask?  A yurt is a round building made of wood and covered in a canvas.  At the top there is a skylight which allows a ton of light into the yurt during the day.  The skylight of the yurtWhen the sun is out there is no place to hide; I mean it allows a ton of natural light into the room brightening up your day.
There is also a wood stove in the yurt to keep you warm, but you will need to add fire to it often as it is small.  Something to keep in mind if renting in the winter.

Wood burning stove in yurt

The yurts can hold a ton of people.  They come with 2 bunk beds and a futon bed.  There is even a kitchen table in the middle.  Bring your own bedding and pillow.

Futon and bunk in the yurt

Bunk beds in yurt

You can have a campfire.  Make sure you put it out completely before you leave.  Minnesota has some strange rule against alcohol in parks.  If you plan on drinking understand you cannot be rowdy, you cannot be obvious, and you may need to hide it and act sober like a teenager at a kegger.  The bathrooms are outhouses, but they are clean.  There are also places to get drinking water from a spigot.  What they do not have are showers.  I considered sitting under the spigot, but decided against it.  The best part about staying at Afton State Park is being able to get up and go straight out for a nice long hike.

Deer Run Trail wooded area

If you are looking for a place to setup camp and sleep close to nature I would highly suggest Afton State Park.  More for the close assess to great hiking trails than anything else, but also because the accommodations are well maintained.