The 10 best (most easy) hikes in the state
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6. Mazomani Trail
The Mazomani Trail, named for a 19th-century Dakota leader, circles through the lowlands along the Minnesota River near Jordan. For much of the loop, the trail skirts the edge of a large wetland complex known as Louisville Swamp, an admittedly baffling name for a feature in Minnesota. Mixed in, however, are uplands and a few rocky outcrops. The wetlands are rich in wildlife such as raccoons, beavers, mink, songbirds, raptors, wading birds, and waterfowl. Along the way, take notice of two old homesteads, the tumbledown ruins of the Ehmiller home and the restored buildings of the Jabs farm.
Distance: 5.6-mile round trip
Time: 2.5 hours
Elevation change: 60 feet. Much of the trail runs through lowlands with little change in elevation.
Trailhead: 4.5 miles south of Shakopee. Exit Highway 169 onto 145th Street West. The Louisville parking lot is on the left.
Contact: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 952-854-5900
7. Kings Bluff
Kings Bluff Interpretive Trail wanders the highlands overlooking the Mississippi River near Winona in Great River Bluffs State Park. Sure, there are sweeping fields of prairie plants, oak-lined valleys, and the prospect of glimpsing soaring raptors and bounding white-tailed deer. But this hike is all about the opportunity to see far. The trail to Kings Bluff provides opportunities to look down into the deeply dissected creek valleys that slice through the parkland. Then, after ascending the summit of the bluff, take in the scene: the broad Mississippi 500 feet below, the delta of the Black River in Wisconsin, and a tangle of channels and backwaters. The long valley stretches upstream and down, with folded hills like rumpled blankets guarding the river.
Distance: 3.6-mile loop, including the hike out to Kings Bluff overlook. Other loops and overlooks are possible.
Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation change: Less than 100 feet. Despite terrific overlooks, the trails follow the contours and bluff top.
Trailhead: Parking lot just past the entrance of the park, or the picnic grounds. Ask for directions at the park office.
Contact: Great River Bluffs State Park, 507-643-6849
8. Quarry Loop Trail
Quarry Loop Trail in Banning State Park, near Sandstone, is an easy hike with spectacular sights. One side of the loop follows the Kettle River past sandstone cliffs and the violent white water for which the stream is known—rapids named Blueberry Slide, Mother’s Delight, and Dragon’s Tooth. Then hikers come to the eerie walls of the abandoned buildings that once housed the powerhouse and crusher for the sandstone quarry that operated here more than a century ago and gave rise to the once prosperous town of Banning.
Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation change: 40 feet, nearly level
Trailhead: Parking lot and boat access at the head of rapids in Banning State Park. Ask for directions at the park office.
Contact: Banning State Park, 320-245-2668
Upper Cliffline Trail
Upper Cliffline Trail through Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne reveals some surprises in Minnesota’s most spectacular prairie park. The trail follows the upper edge of a long, abrupt cliff of Sioux quartzite, the color of raw steak. On top of the bluff grows a native prairie of waving grasses, colorful flowers that bloom throughout the warm season, and even prickly pear cactus. A bit back from the ridgeline roams a small herd of bison, descendants of the animals that once dominated the plains. And from almost any point along the ridge, you’ll find views that extend into Iowa and South Dakota.
Distance: 5.3-mile loop, including return on either Mound Trail or Lower Cliffline Trail. Cutoffs make shorter loops possible.
Time: 3 hours
Elevation change: 200 feet, a gradual climb and descent
Trailhead: Parking lot just past the entrance of the park. Ask for directions at the park office.
Contact: Blue Mounds State Park, 507-283-1307
10. Kadunce River Canyon
The Kadunce River canyon is surely one of the most unusual hikes in Minnesota. It is possible only when the water of this North Shore freshet is low, usually during the middle of summer (but not after a heavy rain!). Park at the highway parking lot at the river’s mouth on Lake Superior. Slip on a pair of shoes with good traction. Then begin hiking right up the stream, wading through the water where you must. As you hike upstream, you’ll scramble over progressively higher waterfalls, some well over 10 feet high, until you enter a narrow slot in the rock, where the walls are so close together the sky is nearly lost from view. In your enthusiasm to scale each new falls, realize you might have to climb down to get out. Otherwise, it is possible to scramble over one last large falls and then, near a footbridge for the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, climb out of the canyon. Hike back down to the highway on a footpath along the east side of the river.
Distance: 2 miles round-trip
Time: 2 hours
Elevation change: 260 feet rise through the canyon
Trailhead: Kadunce River (often spelled Kodonce) State Wayside, 9 miles east of Grand Marais on State Highway 61.
Contact: Cascade River State Park, 218-387-3053. Know before you call, however, that hiking the canyon is unorthodox and a bit risky. No one at the park is going to encourage you to do it.