Visit these Epic National Parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota

Are you planning a trip to the National Parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota?

If you're craving an adventure far from the city's hustle and bustle, the national parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota are your ultimate escape. Plan a fall midwest road trip and add these sites to your stops!

These two states boast some of North America's most awe-inspiring and diverse natural landscapes, from towering forests to crystal-clear lakes and everything in between.

Whether you're a passionate hiker, a birdwatcher, or someone who revels in the beauty of nature, these states offer something extraordinary to discover and explore.

One of the most unique things about the national parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota is their diversity. There is a lot of driving between the sites – consider having some road trip games and road trip snacks ready for your adventure!

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Technically, only one park has a “National Park” designation. There are a few other National Park Service sites in these states.

Wisconsin's St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is known for its pristine waterways and scenic beauty.

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in Minnesota offers a unique urban park experience along the Mississippi River.

A view of the Mississippi River featuring a dam with water cascading over it, and a multi-arched concrete bridge in the background. High-rise buildings and power lines are visible, indicating an urban setting.

Wisconsin's parks offer a plethora of unique experiences. At Apostle Islands, you can embark on a journey to explore the stunning archipelago of 22 islands in Lake Superior.

Or, you can traverse the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It leads you through some of the state's most picturesque glacial landscapes, offering a unique and inspiring adventure.

In Minnesota, you can visit parks like Voyageurs National Park, which is not just a haven for nature lovers but also offers some of the best fishing in the region.

You can also explore the North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches over 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota and offers a variety of landscapes and experiences along the way.

I've checked off these parks on my National Park Service Sites bucket list. My visit to the Apostle Islands was a challenge – read about it below in the Apostle Islands section!

A serene view of the Apostle Islands showcasing a lush green forest with a variety of trees growing on rocky cliffs that descend into the clear blue waters below, under a bright blue sky.

National Parks in Wisconsin

Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Wisconsin has diverse landscapes and a rich cultural heritage.

From the shores of the Great Lakes to the serene beauty of its forests and the rolling hills of its countryside, the Badger state has stunning scenery for explorers and nature lovers.

The state is home to vibrant cities and charming small towns. It boasts an array of national parks, state parks, and scenic trails that capture the essence of Wisconsin's natural beauty.

Wisconsin's parks and recreational areas are not just about natural beauty; they are a gateway to the state's rich history.

As you hike through ancient forests, kayak along pristine waterways, or explore historic sites, you'll be in a unique blend of adventure, history, and natural beauty that is quintessentially Wisconsin.

Two people in Kayak in aqua blue waters against rock cliff

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a mesmerizing collection of 21 islands in Lake Superior, is known for its rugged landscapes, sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. 

This pristine archipelago offers many outdoor adventures, historical exploration, and educational insights into the region's natural and cultural heritage. Madeline Island is the only island in this collection not part of the National Lakeshore.

Kayaking around the sea caves, hiking scenic trails, and exploring historic lighthouses are just a few of the park's recreational opportunities.

The rocky shoreline and sea caves of the Apostle Islands, with clear blue-green water crashing against the reddish-brown rock formations. Dense greenery and trees cover the top of the cliffs, creating a contrast between the vibrant foliage and the rugged coastal landscape. The scene highlights the natural beauty and geological features of the Apostle Islands.

In winter, the islands transform and offer a magical ice cave experience (unfortunately, the lake ice hasn't been stable enough for ice cave exploration in recent years).

Spectacular ice formations adorn the caves during this time. For a similar ice cave experience, consider heading to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan for a winter adventure.

This park has multiple visitor centers, but many are only open during the summer. These centers provide information about the park's history, geology, and wildlife, as well as maps and guides for hiking and other activities.

Restrooms and picnic areas are also available for visitors, making it a convenient and comfortable place to spend the day.

One of the highlights of visiting the Apostle Islands is taking the boat tour cruise I mentioned earlier. These tours offer a unique vantage point of the islands' beauty, taking visitors along the crystal-clear waters of Lake Superior.

You'll see majestic sea caves, historic lighthouses, and remote beaches from the comfort of a tour boat. Guides provide rich narratives about the islands' geology, history, and ecosystems, making it an informative and breathtaking journey.

A charming lighthouse with a white exterior and red roof, located on a grassy hill overlooking the water in the Apostle Islands. The surrounding area is lush with green trees, and the rocky shoreline adds to the picturesque setting. The lighthouse stands out as a historic and scenic landmark, emphasizing the beauty of the coastal landscape.

Funny / no-so-funny story: On our first attempt at taking a boat tour, our boat had to turn around because of a motor issue!

There were two boats to pick from, and we chose the older one, which was the wrong choice for touring the islands that day. We did return a few years later and had a lovely tour.

A scenic view of the "Superior Princess," a boat from Apostle Islands Cruises, docked at a marina with several sailboats nearby. The boat is filled with passengers enjoying a clear day on the water. The background includes a calm body of water and distant shoreline, highlighting the tranquil and picturesque setting of the Apostle Islands.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers an extraordinary journey through time, tracing the contours of Wisconsin's glacially sculpted landscape.

This trail stretches over 1,200 miles and invites you to explore the diverse terrains and rich histories shaped by the last Ice Age.

As you travel the state, you'll encounter dense forests, open prairies, and sprawling wetlands, each telling a story of geological transformations.

Hikers, bikers, and, in the winter months, skiers can embark on segments of the trail that vary in difficulty and scenery, offering something for every level of outdoor enthusiast. 

The Ice Age Trail is also wheelchair-accessible in some sections, making it inclusive for all visitors.

Whether you're looking for a leisurely day hike, a challenging backpacking trip, or a ski excursion, it provides a unique backdrop for your adventures.

You'll also step into the past as you journey along the trail. Historic sites dot the path and offer glimpses into the region's heritage, from ancient Native American burial mounds to remnants of early European settlements.

These sites add depth to the trail's natural beauty and provide opportunities for reflection and learning about the people who have lived on and shaped this land for thousands of years.

The Ice Age Trail is more than just a path through the wilderness; it's a community-supported endeavor that brings together volunteers, nature enthusiasts, and conservationists dedicated to preserving this unique geological and cultural treasure. 

The trail provides a platform for outdoor activities and supports local businesses and communities, contributing to the region's economic growth and social well-being.

National Parks in Minnesota

Minnesota, known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” is a collection of natural beauty and cultural richness.

This northern state, with its prairies, dense forests, and sparkling lakes, is a testament to nature's beauty and resilience, offering a captivating and intriguing landscape for exploration. 

Minnesota's geographical diversity provides a playground for outdoor activities, from canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to hiking the rugged trails of the North Shore.

These areas are also home to diverse wildlife, including moose, wolves, and bald eagles, making them a paradise for nature lovers.

Native American heritage and European settlement create the state's history, leaving a mark on the land and its people.

Minnesota's parks and historical sites provide a window into this past, inviting you to explore the natural settings that have shaped and been shaped by human history. 

Whether it's the solemn beauty of Pipestone National Monument or the adventurous trails of Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota captures the spirit of exploration and the depth of tradition.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park, a sprawling wilderness of over 218,000 acres in northern Minnesota, is a testament to the adventurous spirit of the French-Canadian fur traders who navigated these waters in the 18th century. 

The park includes several lakes, including Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake, creating a haven for water-based exploration and many outdoor activities.

While visiting the park, consider fishing, boating, canoeing, and hiking. The extensive network of lakes and rivers provides perfect conditions for these activities, offering serene landscapes and abundant wildlife. 

This image captures a small, tree-covered island in Voyageurs National Park, surrounded by calm, blue water under a partly cloudy sky. The island features tall pine trees and rocky outcrops, creating a peaceful and scenic natural setting. The distant shoreline and additional trees enhance the tranquil, untouched beauty of the park.

In winter, the park transforms into a snowy playground, with snowmobiling and ice fishing drawing enthusiasts from near and far.

Boat Tour Options and Houseboat Rentals are popular ways to experience the vastness of Voyageurs National Park. Guided tours navigate the intricate waterways, showcasing the park's scenic beauty, wildlife, and historical sites. 

For a more personal and leisurely exploration, renting a houseboat is popular among visitors. Houseboats offer a unique opportunity to stay on the water, allowing for an intimate connection with the wilderness and the freedom to explore the lakes at your own pace.

Voyageurs National Park has several visitor centers, each providing valuable resources. These centers offer educational programs, exhibits, and insights into the park's ecosystems, wildlife, and voyageurs' history. 

We stopped at the Rainy Day Visitor Center when we visited the park and took the boat tour. While on the boat, we saw many beautiful sites and eagles.

This image shows a boat named "Voyageur" docked at a pier in Voyageurs National Park. The boat has a sleek design with an upper observation deck and large windows, ideal for sightseeing. The calm water and distant shoreline under a partly cloudy sky provide a serene and picturesque setting, highlighting the boat as a means to explore the natural beauty of the park.

Visitors can learn about the park's natural history, the conservation efforts to protect its unique environment, and the diverse species that call it home, including moose, wolves, beavers, and bald eagles.

Whether navigating the lakes by canoe, trekking through the forested trails, enjoying the tranquility of a houseboat, or learning about the area's rich heritage at a visitor center, Voyageurs National Park offers a deep and enriching connection with the natural world. 

It's a place where the legacy of the voyageurs continues to inspire exploration and appreciation of this extraordinary wilderness area.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Spanning a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River through the vibrant Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area serves as a sprawling urban oasis.

This unique park offers many activities to explore the Mississippi River corridor's natural beauty and historical richness.

As you wander through the park, you can engage in a variety of outdoor activities. Hiking and biking trails wind through lush landscapes alongside the mighty river, offering peaceful escapes and breathtaking vistas. 

The St. Anthony Lock and Dam in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The lock is visible in the foreground with its concrete structures and metal railings, while the background features arched bridges spanning the river. The sky is partly cloudy, adding depth to the urban landscape. The scene highlights the integration of infrastructure and natural waterways within the city.

For water enthusiasts, paddling the river provides a unique perspective of the area and opportunities to explore quiet backwaters and vibrant urban sections.

Scenic overlooks are dotted throughout the park, offering spectacular views of the river's beauty and the surrounding cityscapes.

History buffs will appreciate the numerous historic sites that reveal the river's pivotal role in shaping the region's economy, culture, and environment.

The Mississippi River Visitor Center is open year-round near the Science Museum of Minnesota lobby.

The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam Visitor Center is open in the summer – a parking lot is nearby. Try to plan your visit in the summer so you can learn how the locks work. 

The historic Stone Arch Bridge in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area near St. Anthony Falls. The bridge's arched stone structure spans the river, with an industrial background featuring smokestacks and various buildings. The foreground includes a modern viewing platform, providing a juxtaposition of historical and contemporary elements in the urban landscape.

Grand Portage National Monument

Nestled along the shores of Lake Superior, Grand Portage National Monument stands as a vibrant testament to the rich history of the fur trade and the enduring legacy of the Ojibwe people who have inhabited this land for centuries. 

This historical site offers a window into the past. Visitors can step back in time to explore the intertwining stories of commerce, culture, and community.

At the heart of the monument is a meticulously reconstructed fur trading post, where costumed interpreters bring history to life, demonstrating traditional skills and sharing stories of the men and women who traversed these lands in search of furs. 

A historic site at Grand Portage National Monument, featuring two log buildings under restoration. Scaffolding surrounds one of the structures, indicating ongoing preservation efforts. The scene is set against a backdrop of green grass, trees, and distant hills under a partly cloudy sky.

The site also features the Grand Portage trail, a 17-mile historical path crucial to fur traders and Ojibwe people, offering a connection to the journeys undertaken by countless feet over generations.

The surrounding area's natural beauty is breathtaking, with lush forests, rugged shorelines, and the expansive waters of Lake Superior providing a stunning backdrop to this historic site. 

The park's diverse ecosystems are home to many types of wildlife, including black bears, wolves, and moose, offering guests the chance to experience the region's wild inhabitants in their natural habitat.

A scene from Grand Portage National Monument, featuring two traditional Native American wigwams made of wooden poles and bark. A person dressed in period clothing stands near one of the structures. The background includes lush green trees and a wooden building, capturing the historical and cultural essence of the site.

Whether you're traversing the historic trail, engaging with the past at the trading post, or simply soaking in the serene beauty of Lake Superior's shores, Grand Portage National Monument offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural splendor that captures the essence of this significant chapter in America's story.

The entire North Shore area of Minnesota is a popular destination and a great place to visit! We had a great stay at the Cliff Dweller Hotel on our most recent visit. We camped at one of the many state parks on our prior visit.

Regardless of where you decide to stay, the area has many great sites that make the visit worth the drive. 

Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone National Monument is a site of profound spiritual and cultural significance.

Numerous Native American tribes hold it sacred for its quarries of red pipestone, which has been used for thousands of years to craft ceremonial pipes, integral to the spiritual practices and traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Plains.

Nestled in the prairies of southwestern Minnesota, the monument offers visitors a chance to delve into the pipestone quarries' rich history and continuing cultural significance.

A scenic waterfall at Pipestone National Monument. The water cascades over rocks, surrounded by lush greenery and trees. The sunlight filters through the leaves, adding a vibrant, natural glow to the scene.

Through educational programs and exhibits, guests can explore the spiritual importance of the pipestone and ceremonial pipes and learn about their role in Native American culture and rituals.

One of the highlights is the opportunity to witness Native American artisans in action.

These skilled craftsmen demonstrate the traditional methods of quarrying the pipestone and meticulously carving it into pipes, sharing their knowledge and techniques passed down through generations.

The site is a cultural treasure and a natural wonder, with serene prairies, whispering winds, and a gentle creek that meanders through the quarries.

The Circle Trail, a scenic path, leads visitors through the prairies to the quarries and past several points of interest, including a waterfall and native prairie grasses and flowers, offering a peaceful escape into nature.

The entrance sign for Pipestone National Monument. The sign is made of stone and wood, with the monument's name prominently displayed along with the National Park Service logo. The background shows a grassy field with some trees.

There is a decent amount of wildlife, and the prairies and skies are alive with birds, offering a serene backdrop to the monument's cultural landscape. During our visit, we saw a fawn nestled in the brush just a few feet off the trail!

The Pipestone National Monument bridges past and present, inviting visitors to reflect on the deep spiritual connections to the land shared by Native American tribes while appreciating this sacred site's natural beauty and tranquility.

​The red stone carvings are so pretty – be sure to check them out in the visitor center!

The image showcases a collection of handmade carvings from Pipestone National Monument. The carvings include several turtle figurines of various sizes, small cups, and rectangular objects, all made from the distinctive red pipestone. The objects are displayed on a green and black surface.

Shared National Parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota

North Country National Scenic Trail

The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) spans 4,600 miles across seven states from North Dakota to Vermont. It is one of the longest continuous trails in the United States. This trail offers a fantastic journey through the nation's most varied landscapes, connecting diverse ecosystems, historical sites, and communities.

As it winds through the heart of America's scenic North, the NCT traverses a rich tapestry of environments—from the rugged badlands of North Dakota, through the dense forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin, across the Great Lakes region, and into the rolling Appalachian hills. 

Each segment of the trail offers its unique beauty and challenges, inviting hikers to experience the tranquility of nature, the thrill of exploration, and the satisfaction of long-distance trekking.

The trail serves as a pathway through America's natural wonders and a corridor through history. Along the way, hikers can discover historical landmarks that recount the stories of early settlers, Native American tribes, and the evolving American landscape. 

The North Country National Scenic Trail is more than just a path through the wilderness; it's a journey that connects people with the heart of America's natural beauty and historical legacy. 

It is a trail that challenges, inspires, and transforms those who undertake it, offering endless opportunities for discovery and connection with the natural world.

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway offers an idyllic escape into the heart of the Midwest's stunning natural landscapes. It stretches over 250 miles and forms the picturesque border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

This federally protected area is celebrated for its clear-flowing water, lush forested banks, and biodiversity, providing a serene backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

A concrete marker at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway features an engraved image of a person paddling a canoe, with the text "St. Croix National Scenic Riverway" above it. The marker is bordered by a blue outline, representing the riverway's course.

Canoeing and kayaking along the gentle currents of the St. Croix River offer peaceful yet exhilarating ways to explore the river's beauty.

Paddlers experience a range of scenic vistas, from towering cliffs to expansive wetlands, with each bend in the river revealing new wonders. 

The river's clean waters make it a prime spot for fishing, with anglers finding many fish species, including bass, walleye, and northern pike.

Beyond fishing, the surrounding landscapes offer camping, hiking, and birdwatching opportunities.

The riverway's diverse ecosystems are home to a wide array of wildlife, from majestic bald eagles soaring overhead to playful otters along the riverbanks. 

The Saint Croix Riverway also showcases its rich history, with several sites along its banks offering glimpses into the past.

A serene view of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. A calm river is surrounded by lush greenery, with a bridge partially visible in the background. The scene is tranquil, showcasing the natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere of the riverway.

The Saint Croix Boom Site, a National Historic Landmark, is a testament to the river's pivotal role in the logging industry of the 19th century.

You can learn about the loggers' work and innovative techniques for sorting and transporting logs downstream. This was a crucial part of the region's economic development.

It invites adventurers, families, and history buffs to discover its pristine waters, explore its landscapes, and connect with the past in a setting of tranquil beauty. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best national parks to visit in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has only one national park, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a group of 21 islands in Lake Superior.

The park offers scenic beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and the chance to explore historic lighthouses and shipwrecks.

Which national parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota offer camping facilities?

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota offer camping facilities. Both parks provide drive-in, boat-in, and backcountry campsites.

Renting a houseboat at Voyageurs is also very popular!

Are there any national parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota that allow pets?

Pets are allowed in designated areas of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times and not allowed on park trails or buildings.

A scene from Grand Portage National Monument, featuring two traditional Native American wigwams made of wooden poles and bark. A person dressed in period clothing stands near one of the structures. The background includes lush green trees and a wooden building, capturing the historical and cultural essence of the site.

Final Thoughts: National Parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota

Visiting the national park sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota offers a unique opportunity to connect with some of the most beautiful and diverse natural landscapes in the United States.

From the stunning sea caves of the Apostle Islands to the serene waters of Voyageurs National Park, these parks provide endless opportunities for adventure and reflection.

Whether you're planning a summer kayaking trip or a winter excursion to explore ice caves, each park has its unique charm and set of activities to enjoy.

Check park websites for the latest information on conditions and availability, and remember to respect the natural environments you're exploring by following Leave No Trace principles.

As someone who's checked these parks off my National Park Service Sites bucket list, I can personally attest to their beauty and the unforgettable experiences they offer.

So pack your bags, grab your hiking boots, and set out on an epic adventure to discover the natural wonders of Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

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