This Saturday, June 12, is National Get Outdoors Day. One thing we’re not short of here in Minnesota is ways to get outdoors, but in honor of the day, one of the best ways is even better on Saturday: the Minnesota DNR is waiving admission fees to its wonderful system of state parks. (This on the heels of the news that the state has sealed the deal to create a new, 3000-acre state park around Lake Vermilion!).

Whether or not you can get out on Saturday, consider exploring some state parks this summer. You have more than 70 to choose from statewide.

Where To Stay

There are campgrounds galore, although you should always double-check availability, especially on holiday weekends. If you’d like to stay at a park and would prefer a cabin to tenting yourself, you have several options across the state. The DNR has been adding camper cabins that can accommodate up to six people (or five, in the handicapped-accessible cabins) in cozy log surroundings. The cabins have bunk beds (bring your own bedding). Many of the cabins have screen porches, indoor and outdoor picnic tables, and fire rings. The camper cabins are not equipped to cook inside, nor do they have running water or indoor bathrooms (but they’re located close to public facilities). To get a glimpse of what these cabins have to offer, take a look at the report WCCO-TV did in 2008.

Some of the parks offering the new camper cabins include:

Banning State Park outside of Sandstone

Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely

Big Bog State Park near Waskish

Glacial Lakes State Park near Starbuck

Finding Minnesota Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton (check out WCCO’s report on the park’s swinging bridge)

Lake Maria State Park near Monticello

Myre-Big Island State Park near Albert Lea

Wild River State Park near Center City

Sibley State Park near Willmar

What To Do

Possibly one of the best-known destinations is Itasca State Park near Park Rapids, home to the Mississippi Headwaters, where you can literally walk across the Mississippi. Hard to believe that little trickle becomes the mighty river as it flows south.

At the opposite end of the state is Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. Here you can have two very different experiences: you can be an adventurous explorer by taking one of the caving tours (if you’re really adventurous, you can take the Wild Caving Tour, which lasts four hours and involves crawling and squeezing through tight underground spaces), as well as learning more about Minnesota’s past at Forestville, the remnants of a once-bustling pioneer community.

If history interests you, not far from Ely is the Soudan Underground Mine, where you can travel underground, this time to learn about Minnesota’s mining history.

Another famous and popular park is Split Rock Lighthouse, northeast of Two Harbors, celebrating its centennial this year. Not far away is Gooseberry Falls, home to the beautiful waterfalls and extensive hiking trails.

If you really want to get away from it all and enjoy some serious peace and quiet—and some topnotch fishing—take a drive to the Canadian border and explore Zippel Bay. Lake of the Woods is a remote, beautiful place, and whether you want to catch fish or simply watch for birds, this is your place.

This isn’t all our state parks have to offer. Be sure to check out the Minnesota DNR website for full details.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.


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