20 Breathtaking State Parks Near Rochester, MN

Hiking to the falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is one of the best things to do in Northfield with kids

Looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Rochester and its famous Mayo Clinic? Lucky for you there are 20 excellent state parks near Rochester, MN, and many are less than an hour away.

From stately bluff overlooks to big woods forests, peaceful lakes to wide-open rivers, there is something for everyone! We may be biased, but we think southern Minnesota is home to some of the best Minnesota State Parks.

State Parks Near Rochester – Minnesota

Our list of the best state parks near Rochester, MN is broken down into two categories: Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota is home to a wondeful state park system with a large concentration in the bluffs along the Mississippi River. Rochester is perfectly situated in this ecosystem.

Carley State Park

Approx. 30 minutes away

Carley State Park - one of the top state parks near Rochester, MN
Image: MN DNR

Carley State Park was originally created to protect one of the last groves of old-growth White Pine forests in the state. Today it is home to excellent trout fishing, bluebells and wildflowers, and large populations of white-tailed deer, great-horned owls, great blue heron, and other migratory songbirds.

The park has 20 secluded and wooded drive-in campsites that can fit RVs up to 30 ft long (including tow vehicle). It also has vault toilets, picnic tables, and a hand pump for water. It is the closest park to the City of Rochester.

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Whitewater State Park

Approx. 35 minutes away

View of the bluffs at Whitewater State Park near Rochester, Minnesota
Image: MN DNR

Whitewater State Park is the most popular State Park near Rochester, MN. I remember visiting as a kid on field trips and with the Scouts. Whitewater is best known for its rugged hiking trails, scenic bluff land, and spring-fed Whitewater River.

It offers excellent trout fishing in the summer and winter, year-round interpretive programs, a nice visitor center, and spectacular spring wildflowers. The best part, and least known, is it has noticeably fewer mosquitos than most other parks!

There are 110 drive-in campsites, 8 cart-in sites, and miles of trails.

Read More: Walk Up Camping – 8 Tips for Securing the Best Site

Rice Lake State Park

Approx. 40 minutes away

View of Rice Lake through the trees at Rice Lake State Park near Rochester, MN
Image: MN DNR

Rice Lake State Park holds a special place in our hearts, largely because it is one of the few state parks near Rochester with easy canoe access!

The park is a quiet and serene getaway that is great for birdwatching (songbirds and migratory waterfowl), wildflower viewing, canoeing, and camping. It is named after the shallow lake where American Indians harvested wild rice generations ago.

Rice Lake has 40 drive-in campsites, 5 walk-in rustic campsites, 4 cart-in sites, and our favorite, 5 canoe in campsites! It also has a large parking lot, picnic area, fire pits, and is a short drive from downtown Rochester.

Read More: Why We Love Canoe-in Sites at Bear Head Lake State Park

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Approx. 45 minutes away

People exploring the caves at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
Image: MN DNR

I love Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. My paternal grandparents used to take us on cave tours years ago and those memories are still clear in my mind.

As you can imagine, the park is best known for its Mystery Cave Tours, which is the longest cave in Minnesota with over 13 miles of underground passages! It is also popular for historic Forestville tours, abundant trout streams, camping, wildflowers, and great horesback riding trails.

There are 73 drive-in campsites, 55 Horse Camp sites, and five camper cabins. It is one of the best state parks for families with young children.

Read More: How to Clean Camping Water Containers – 3 Simple Methods

Lake Louise State Park

Approx. 45 minutes away

View of the dam at Lake Louise State Park
Image: MN DNR

Lake Louise State Park is quiet park on the confluence of the Upper Iowa and Little Iowa Rivers. Did you know that it is the site of Minnesota’s oldest, continuous recreation area?

It is popular for its beautiful lake, wonderful beach, and the 20-mile Shooting Star State Bike Trail. It also has 12 miles of hiking trails.

The park has 19 drive-in campsites with showers and other amenities.

Read More: How to Dispose of Camping Gas Canisters – 6 Easy Methods

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Approx. 50 minutes away

Our kids snowshoeing at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, one of the best state parks near Rochester, MN

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is one of the best parks near Rochester for a quick day trip. Hidden Falls Waterfall is a popular spot for families with young kids. My sister-in-law was at one time the park ranger!

This is one of the last remaining Big Woods landscapes. It is so much fun to walk through these enormous trees. The park is also home to endangered Dwarf Trout Lillies.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park has 51 drive-in campsites, 3 walk-in sites, and 6 cart-in sites. Showers and flush toilets are available.

Read More: 25 Fun Things to Do in Northfield, Minnesota

Frontenac State Park

Approx. 50 minutes away

Views of the hiking trails through the prairie at Frontenac State Park in the fall
Image: MN DNR

Frontenac State Park sits on the bluffs overlooking Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River Valley. It is especially popular for viewing the fall colors. You will also find excellent bird-watching, wildflowers galore, great hiking and skiing, and an awesome winter sledding hill.

The park has 58 drive-in sites, six cart-in sites, two backpack sites, and a picnic shelter. We love backpack sites almost as much as we love canoe-in campsites!

Read More: 30 Easy Gluten Free Camping Meals Anyone Can Make

John A. Latsch State Park

Approx. 50 minutes away

View of the bluffs and lock and dam from the top of Mount Charity at John A. Latsch State Park near Rochester, MN
Image: MN DNR

John A. Latsch State Park is your place for a great workout. You will be rewarded with some of the best views of the Mississippi River Valley after a half-mile hike up stairs to the top of Mount Charity! Did you know that Mt. Charity was used by steamboat captains as a navigation aid?

From forest and prairie to migratory birds and towering bluffs, John A. Latsch State Park has it all.

Unfortunately, the park does not offer any camping or other lodging options. As a result, it is best for day trips either from Rochester or from another nearby state park with campsites.

Read More: 27 Best Places to Visit in Winter in Minnesota

Great River Bluffs State Park

Approx. 1 hr away

View of bluffs and goat prairies at Great River Bluffs State Park
Image: MN DNR

Great River Bluffs State Park is home to two Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs), Kind’s and Queen’s Bluff. King’s Bluff trail offers stunning views of the Mississippi River Valley.

In addition to oak-hickory and maple-basswood forests, pine plantations, and field, you’ll also see goat prairies. And no, they are not full of goats! They are spots on the southern side of the bluffs where a unique freeze/thaw cycle that keeps them free of trees!

The park has 31 drive-in sites, four cart-in sites, and five bike-in sites. It is one of very few in MN with bike-in campsites!

Read More: 35 Exciting Things to Do With Kids in La Crosse, WI

Sakatah Lake State Park

Approx. 1 hr away

View of the fishing peer at Sakatah Lake State Park in the summer
Image: MN DNR

Sakatah Lake State Park is located on a natural widening of the Cannon River. It is a popular state park for anglers targeting walleye, largemouth bass, white bass, and northern pike.

Visitors also love biking and in-line skating alonger the 41 mile paved Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.

The park has 62 drive-in sites, 5 bike-in sites, and one camper cabin. There is also a lone wall tent that is available near campsite 44. We sleep in a wall tent on our winter camping trips, so are very curious what this setup looks like!

Read More: 27 Best Places to Visit in Winter in Minnesota

Myre-Big Island State Park

Approx. 1 hr away

View of the prairie grass at lake at Myre-Big Island State Park
Image: MN DNR

Myre-Big Island State Park is a popular park for bird watchers and witnessing the spring and fall migrations. It also hosts great hiking trails, canoeing, and a glacial esker. The park sits on a site that used to be occupied by seasonal and possibly year-round Indian villages.

The park has 93 drive-in sties, 4 backpack sites, and a camper cabin that accommodates 5 people.

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Fort Snelling State Park

Approx. 1 hr 10 min away

The historic buildings at Fort Snelling State Park
Image: MN DNR

Fort Snelling State Park is located in the heart of the Twin Cities at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minesota Rivers. The park is named after historic Fort Snelling, which sits on the bluff above the rivers.

It has miles of hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails. It also has its own swimming beach and tons of historical buildings to explore.

Fort Snelling State Park is a day-use only park, so no camping. You can either stay at a hotel in the cities or over at Afton State Park.

Read More: 40 Best Outdoor Winter Activities in Minneapolis, MN

Afton State Park

Approx 1 hr 20 min away

View of the river at Afton State Park
Image: MN DNR

Afton State Park is another great park that is close to the Twin Cities. It is one of our secret getaways when we need a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of home. The prairie landscape and unique backpack camping sties are our highlights.

It is also well known for fishing, swimming, hiking, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

The park has 28 backpack sites, one canoe-in site, four camper cabins, two seven-person yurts, and one wall tent. It has the most eclectic mix of lodging options!

Beaver Creek Valley State Park

Approx 1 hr 20 min away

Water trickling through a brook at Beaver Creek Valley State Park near Rochester, MN
Image: MN DNR

Beaver Creek Valley State Park is located near Caledonia, MN in a steep, narrow valley that was carved out by the East Beaver Creek. This spring-fed stream is well known for its native brook trout and recently introduced brown trout. Unfortunately it does not have rainbow trout.

In addition to trout fishing, it is also popular for hiking, bird watching, spring woodland flowers, and the “Big Spring,” the source of all the crystal clear waters in the area.

The park has 42 drive-in sites, nine cart-in sties, and one camper cabin.

Minneopa State Park

Approx. 1 hr 30 min away

Our kids watching the bison at Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park is best known for hosting one of the state’s few Bison herds. We love visiting the park and hiking up to the overlook to view the Bison in their natural habitat.

The park also has a historic grist mill, waterfalls, great fishing, and riverside hiking.

It has 61 drive-in sites and one camper cabin.

State Parks Near Rochester – Wisconsin

Many Rochester residents forget that Wisconsin is not that far away and that state also has great state parks! Below are a couple of excellent options that are just on the other side of the river.

Merrick State Park

Approx. 1 hr 10 min away

Merrick State Park is located on the gorgeous backwaters of the Mississippi River. There are three miles of hiking trails, two boat landings, and a ton of great water to explore.

The park also has three campgrounds, including an island campground. Many campsites have great fishing right from the site!

Perrot State Park

Approx. 1 hr 10 min away

Perrot State Park is a 1,200 acre park nestled in the bluffs where the Trempealeau and Mississippi rivers meet. It is best known for hiking and its archaeological and historical resources. The park also sits on the 24 Mile Great River State Trail anda clearly marked canoe trail in Trempealeau Bay.

There are 102 campsites at the family campground with all of the amentities.

Great River State Trail

Approx. 1 hr 10 min away

While not technically a state park, the Great River State Trail is a 24 mile trail that travels through prairies and the backwaters of the upper Mississippi River Valley.

It was build on an abandoned railroad line and has finely crushed limestone surface. Like other unpaved trails in the region, it is great for walking and biking in the summer and snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the winter. It also connects up wiht the La Crosse River State Trail.

Read More: 30 Exciting Things to Do in La Crosse, WI

Coulee Experimental State Forest

Approx. 1 hr 10 min away

Again, while not technically a state park, Coulee Experimental State Forest is a fun experience that is near Rochester. It is used for long-term forest watershed research and offers recreational opportunities for hunting, skiing, hiking, and horseback riding.

Kinnickinnic State Park

Approx. 1 hr 30 min away

Kinnickinnic State Park is the last on our list of state parks near Rochester, MN. It is located where the St. roix and Kinnickinnic rivers meet. Looking for solitude? Hang out in the Kinnickinnick River Valley. Looking for adreneline, head over the the St. Croix River.

There are 10 miles of hiking trails and a large sandy delta at the junction of the rivers. The park does not offer camping.

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We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 

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