My Favorite Minnesota State Parks

The Baptism River at Tettegouche State Park

Photo by AMB-MD Photography/fotolia

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs, permission to bike to the corner superette with birthday money burning a hole in your pocket was a rite of passage not earned lightly. (We relished the thrill of freedom as much as the Nerds and candy cigarettes waiting in the racks.) But when my family made its annual trip to Sibley State Park, our parents let us kids roam free. Dawn to dusk, we explored the “wild” terrain: pedaling the forest trails, making sandcastles at the beach, catching salamanders. 

As an adult, I’ve made innumerable camping trips to Minnesota’s state parks with different permutations of various friend groups. Among my favorite memories: the time we straddled a log and rode the Baptism River’s rapids, the time we skinny dipped in Bear Creek, the time mice invaded our gear, the time we got lost and skied by moonlight for hours, the time one of us forgot his sleeping bag…in January. But mostly the trips all blur together into one epic adventure of scenic beauty and jovial camaraderie, wrapped in foil and cooked over a fire.

When the United States established the National Park Service a century ago this year, it was a radical concept. Preserving land in its native state for everyone’s enjoyment has proved a prescient decision, especially as we increasingly spend more time in virtual worlds than the physical one. Rain-soaked hiking boots, tick removal, and other inevitable discomforts are worth the meditative tranquility that comes from breathing fresh air and marveling at the wonder of a vast canyon or a tiny, gurgling stream.  

If it’s been awhile since you’ve taken advantage of the region’s state and national parks—from the whitewater of Jay Cooke to the striking strata of South Dakota’s Badlands—I hope this month’s cover feature offers inspiration for a trip.

Photo by Erika Ludwig. Hair and makeup by Margo Gordon.