The secret is out! What was once dubbed as the best-kept secret, Afton State Park’s proximity to St Paul has become a favorite for hikers, trail runners, fishers and campers. Access to most of the fun amenities like Camping, fishing, and swimming are all done by hike. Silly me, I thought it might deter a few people from going. But really it attracted a whole new group of people. The outdoor enthusiasts who love to hike near St. Paul.
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The Afton State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy but Hilly
Total Miles Hiked: 26 miles
The Afton State Park hiking club trail has guests first entering a restored prairie loop, located near the visitors center. Winding in and out of the trail seeing all kinds of different things, including animal track, flower, and grasses. The grasses do not start popping up for the year until June. But that didn’t stop our excitement. It is a great way to warm up for the hike.
Hike Along the St. Croix River
The most well-traveled part of the hike is along the St. Croix River. It starts off paved and then transitions to stairs. The best part was the amazing views of the river. With the flooding we’ve had over the springtime, it ended up taking out most of the beach. Hopefully, in the next month, there will be a little more room for people to play. But for now, it’s a great stop to fish and get some views of the river.
Being in proximity to the water, we found a trout stream that made for some fun waterfalls throughout the walk.
What goes down…
Whenever you start to walk downhill on a trail, in the back of your mind there is always a voice in the back of your head telling you, “I’m going to have to go back up at some point”. This hike was deceiving in that, yes there were some stairs, but otherwise, any elevation shift was gradual and almost not noticeable. That was until we got the end and had to climb all the way back up. It’s the entire incline of the Ski Hill. But without the ski lift.
Side Notes about the Trail
The best way to find the password is to follow the directional Hiking Club Signs. On the map, it includes arrows with where to start. It’s always been a fear of mine, that I’m going the opposite way, and will walk right by the sign. They take the guesswork out of it.
The Trail also doubles as an equalitarian trail at many points. So keep your eye out for umm… droppings when you walk.
Trail Running is very popular in this area. I’m not sure why but expect to see a couple of people taking advantage. They typically run in the opposite direction of the Hiking Club trail.
Other Fun Things to Do at Afton State Park
This park is filled with people using it in all different ways. What makes Afton State Park so unique is the way people use it. The camping is walk-in only. They also have Yurts available to rent. Beach access, requires you to walk in and so does fishing. This makes the trail along the river very active. For those that do decide to go fishing on the river, as long as you are in the MN State Park borders, have feet on the land or wading in the water, and are a MN resident you don’t need to Fishing License. It’s a great way to give the sport a try.
Camping in Afton State Park
The Campground is a backpack in only. It’s ¾ of a mile away from the lot and is not part of the more forgiving parts of the trail. Early on a Sunday Morning, loads of campers all make the trek back to the car.
One thing that noticed was that a lot of guests were not traditional backpackers, and did not pack light. They brought luxuries with them like guitars and other non-essentials. This backfired them when they had to haul it all back out, up a big hill. Or they were traditional backpackers who figured, “we are close, let’s bring the extras!”. They never would have done something like that camping on the Superior Hiking Trail. Most people had the look of, why did we do this written all over their faces.
Other Hiking Near St. Paul
While there isn’t an official waterfall in Afton State Park, there is Victoria Falls a short 15 minutes drive south in Hastings Minnesota. The nice thing about this falls is that it doesn’t require any additional hiking. You can hear the rushing water right from the parking lot.
You can also visit Shadow Falls in St. Paul. Both waterfalls are part of my list of 8 different waterfalls near Minneapolis. Another good state park to visit an hour north is Interstate State Park. Providing a lot of the similar elevations changes and river views, but with a few more rocks to climb.
Would I go back?
If you have a couple of hours free, I would highly recommend this hike at Afton State Park. For being so close to Saint Paul, I’m not sure why I didn’t make the trip sooner. If you only have an hour, do either the wildlife loop at the top of the hiking club trial or head down the to the beach area and have a picnic.