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The Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club

Why my family is making our way through every Minnesota State Park.

In 2009 I met a boy. Our first date was a hike through Jay Cooke State Park. We got a bit lost and meandered five hours and eleven miles through backcountry trails. It was lovely. Nearly fifteen years later, we continue the tradition, regularly getting lost in the woods.

I am obsessed with state and national parks, they are one of the best ideas humans have come up with and maintained. I get this wonderfully fulfilling feeling that I'm accomplishing something with each step I take through the forest. So, when that boy I met introduced me to the Hiking Club, I literally jumped up and down. What an incredible way to interact with all of Minnesota's beautiful state parks.

The Hiking Club is a booklet you buy online or at any state park Nature Store. For $14.95, my family and I have been inspired to adventure all over our state. Husband and I began the journey fourteen years ago, took a decade-long break while juggling some challenges, but got back on the trails three years ago.

Each park has a Password Club trail. Most club trails are around two or three miles long, and the longest is 6.2 miles. Roughly mid-way you'll discover a sign with the Password written on it. Once you find the word, you write it in your booklet, and at mile marks 25, 50, 75, and 100 you receive a patch and stamp from the park office. At 100 miles, you earn a free night of camping! Some of my favorite family memories are the road trips, camping, and park explorations these password hikes offer us.

As of today, my family has been to thirty-two of Minnesota's sixty-eight state parks. We are six miles from our 100-mile patch and free night of camping, which I plan to use at Zippel Bay State Park next summer!

I cannot pick a favorite park because each has its beauty and amazing new sights and things to explore, but here are my top picks:

  • Park I'd like to go back to most - Afton.

  • Park I most often recommend - Itasca.

  • Most visited - Jay Cooke

  • Most memorable - Forestville/Mystery Cave

  • Notable mentions: Banning, McCarthy, Scenic, Judge C.R. Magney... oh and Gooseberry, Cascade, St. Croix, and Grand Portage... I could just go on and on.

If you like a good hike and appreciate state parks, I recommend giving this a try.

A quick hike through Jay Cooke State Park's Greely Trail.

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