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7 Minnesota Natural Wonders: A Guide to State Parks and Outdoor Adventures

Many natural wonders have formed in Minnesota over the last 15,000 years. A state once home to glaciers has transformed into unique scenery and landscaping. Several Minnesota natural wonders exist within state parks, so you can enjoy them among other outdoor activities.

This post will help you plan your Minnesota state park tour to some of the coolest natural wonders in the United States! We’ll also share some fun outdoor activities to do while you’re at each park and some fun facts.

Minnesota Natural Wonders

Northern Minnesota Natural Wonders at State Parks

1. Mississippi River Headquarters at Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park in Park Rapids is historically known as the headquarters of the Mississippi River. Every year, travelers come to enjoy this Minnesota natural wonder. The river flows 694 miles throughout Minnesota,

Activities to enjoy:

  • Fishing
  • Tubing
  • Wading and swimming
  • Walking around the trails
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, venture south in a canoe and try to reach the Gulf of Mexico over 2,318 miles away.

The warm underground spring water keeps the area over the rocks thawed in the winter. No matter what time of year you visit, don’t forget to snap your picture next to the well-known headquarters post!

If you aren’t able to make the trip to Itasca State Park to see the headquarters in person, you can always watch the Mississippi River Headquarters livestream and feel like you’re there from the comfort of your home.

2. The Saint Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park

The Saint Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton flows over ancient, exposed rock. A historic swinging bridge goes over the river, offering sightseers a stunning view of the swift river below.

Activities to enjoy:

  • Walk the bridge
  • Take the Grand Portage Trail, which was once used by voyageurs to get around the rocks and rapids of the Saint Louis River
  • Hike to the Oldenburg Overlook and see the view of spectacular Minnesota natural wonders of the Saint Louis River Valley
  • Visit the Interpretive Center to learn more about the park

One of the most beautiful times to visit is in autumn when the trees show their fall colors.

The park is also a popular winter destination, with 32 miles of cross-country skiing trails and 12 miles of snowmobile trails. It’s a great place to camp in the winter. The park plows 15-20 sites, including some electrical sites.

Minnesota Natural Wonders

Central Minnesota Natural Wonders at State Parks

3. Mount Tom Overlook at Sibley State Park

Sibley State Park in New London is best known for its glacier-formed features and popular Mount Tom Overlook. The hike is 3.5 miles roundtrip and a must-do if you’re visiting the park. This overlook will give you a view of Minnesota’s natural wonders at Sibley State Park and the surrounding areas.

Activities to enjoy:

  • Hiking and sightseeing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Bird watching
  • Photography, especially at the 360-degree view from the observation tower
  • Swim in Lake Andrew after the hike to cool off

The Mount Tom Overlook is the highest elevation point within 50 miles of it. This beautiful west-central Minnesota state park is a great place to enjoy nature and see a wide variety of wildlife while enjoying the natural wonders of Minnesota.

4. Glacial Pothole Area at Interstate State Park

Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls is known for its Glacial Pothole Area, a Minnesota natural wonder that was drilled by the powerful waters of the St. Croix River 10,000 years ago. Where water and sand swirled together, potholes were formed.

Activities to enjoy:

  • Follow the half-mile trails around the pothole areas to admire them
  • Walk to Angel Rock for a breathtaking view of the St. Croix River
  • Visit Devils Parlor, which was once a series of smaller potholes
  • See the inside of a pothole at the Bake Oven Pothole
  • Rock climb on Tourist Rock
  • Spend a day boating on the river

Interstate State Park was the first park to be managed by two states in the United States (Minnesota and Wisconsin). This unique East-Central Minnesota park is a must-visit.

Minnesota Natural Wonders

Southern Minnesota Natural Wonders at State Parks

5. Mystery Cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Fillmore County is famous for Mystery Cave, a Minnesota natural wonder you have to see. Mystery Cave is the longest cave in Minnesota, at over 13 miles. You won’t want to rely on your GPS to direct you to Mystery Cave, though, because it’s not accurate!

Activities to enjoy:

  • Mystery Cave tours
  • Horseback riding
  • Historic Forestville tours
  • Camping in a camper cabin (available year-round)

The caves are 48 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.

Many types of cave tours are available. Each one takes visitors through different sections of the cave. Reservations are recommended.

6. The Bluffs at Great River Bluffs State Park

Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona County, as its name suggests, is famous for its one-of-a-kind blufftop views. Visit in autumn to maximize the appearance of this Minnesota natural wonder.

Activities to enjoy:

  • Hiking and biking the trails through the bluffs
  • Admiring the goat prairies
  • Birdwatching and observing the wildlife
  • Photoshoots

Great River Bluffs State Park is a beautiful place to camp during the warmer months to maximize your enjoyment of the Minnesota natural wonders within the park. However, camping is not permitted during the winter.

7. Waterfalls at Minneopa State Park

The twin waterfalls at Minneopa State Park in Mankato are a gorgeous sight to see. These Minnesota natural wonders inspired the name Minneopa, which means waterfalls falling twice. The park was established in 1905 as the third state park in Minnesota.

Activities to enjoy:

  • Picnic and enjoy the view near the Upper Waterfall
  • Walk the limestone stairway down to the gorge that surrounds the falls
  • Admire the 39-foot Lower Falls
  • Visit during the winter to see the frozen waterfalls

The twin waterfalls have moved around a mile and a half over the last 10,000 years due to erosion. It’s no surprise that the waterfalls are the primary attraction at Minneopa State Park. These Minnesota natural wonders make for awe-inspiring photographs.

Minnesota Natural Wonders

Your Adventure Begins!

It may not be a mystery as to why these Minnesota natural wonders exist, but they sure are wondrous. If you’re looking to learn more about what to do in Minnesota state parks, read about the Best State Parks in Minnesota.