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Best Summer Backpacking Trips Near Minnesota

A backpacking expedition is a favorite way to enjoy summer. Minnesota has many regional state parks, national forests, lakes and wildlife sanctuaries. You can motor along through the wilderness. You can bike along highways and designated trails. How about canoeing and portaging your way miles into the wild?

Afton State Park
(credit: Minnesota DNR)

Afton State Park
6959 Peller Ave. S.
Hastings, MN 55033
(651) 436-5391

Full of trees and trails, Afton State Park has places to swim, fish, picnic, camp, hike and cross country ski. Backpackers love climbing the bluffs and ridges that overlook the St. Croix River. The park has backpack campsites, recreational facilities and a visitor center. The park provides frequent updates on trail and weather conditions. Beginning in May, visitors can reserve campsites and picnic grounds. They can also reserve free GPS units for use during their visit. To get to the park, the best starting point is St. Paul. Getting there by bike during the summer is the most scenic way to go. Grocery stores and dining are within 10 miles of the town of Afton. The park has a small gift shop where you can buy souvenirs, caps, sweatshirts and tee shirts. The outdoor activities and events are year-round attractions.

Fall Colors Superior National Forest
(credit: Stacy Huberty/Hastings)

Superior National Forest
8901 Grand Ave. Place
Duluth, MN 55808
(218) 626-4300

Superior National Forest is one of Duluth's major attractions. At first glance, this vast pristine wilderness can seem intimidating. But all year there are plenty of recreational activities to enjoy along designated trails and sites. You can bike, hike, boat, swim, backpack, fish, camp, horseback ride, canoe or simply enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. There are several locations for boating, camping, hunting, picnicking, swimming, fishing and hiking. The historic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), managed by the U.S. Forest Service, draws nearly one million visitors each year. Adjacent to two large historic Canadian parks, BWCAW has multiple canoe routes and acres of designated campgrounds. It's best to select a recreational designation that fits your outdoor experience. Some forest areas are secluded and better suited to supervised touring.

Goodhue Pioneer State Trail
Redwing, MN 55066
(507) 206-2847

An intricate multiuse trail, the northern section of Goodhue Pioneer State Trail is still under development in Minnesota's southern region. The trail's southern section is popular with summer hikers and winter snowmobilers. Passing through tall grass prairies and scenic wooded forests, the state trail is a hiker and backpacker paradise. Wildlife enthusiasts are often on the lookout for deer, fox, wild turkeys, beavers, partridge, pheasant and possums. Bald Eagle nests can be seen on the trails nearest the Mississippi River.

Related: Best Campgrounds In Minnesota

Jay Cooke Bridge
(credit: CBS)

Jay Cooke State Park
780 E. Highway 210
Carlton, MN 55718
(218) 384-4610

This park is said to be a must-see, perfect for backpackers and hikers. Wildflowers bloom in the spring. In the fall, the park fills with brilliant autumn colors. If undaunted by heights, take a walk on the high suspension bridge that swings above the St. Louis River. The walk can be a little on the wild side. When you reach Thomson Dam, look at the gorge below and stroll through a historic cemetery. If you don't have a GPS, you can contact the park and reserve a GPS unit for use during your visit.

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge
35704 County Highway 26
Rochert, MN 56578
(218) 847-2641

You can easily throw on a backpack and wander through this conservation area, created for endangered birds and animals. Established in 1938, the wildlife refuge has successfully recovered many endangered species such as the trumpeter swan, gold-winged warbler and the once powerful gray wolf. This is the place to explore forests, marshes and wetlands. Visitors looking to take refuge from the fast pace of urban living come to Tamarac to rediscover a rich wildlife heritage.

Related: Best Summer Backpacking Trips In Minnesota

Linda Cameron has written home design, home improvement and lifestyle articles for The Boston Globe and City Shopper Magazine. She has related interests in the building industry, travel, real estate and financing. She is a contributor to Examiner, House Spot, Techsling and Behance, covering topics on career, people, businesses, education and technology.


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