St Croix River Shoreline at Afton State Park

Afton State Park Hiking Club Trail: Hiking Near St. Paul

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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Afton State Park

Afton State Park is located on the eastern border of Minnesota close to the Twin Cities and offers visitors a scenic natural retreat with over 20 miles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails.

The park has several picturesque valleys, rolling hills, and stunning views of the St. Croix River Valley. Afton State Park also offers amenities such as camping, picnic areas, and a visitor center with educational exhibits about the park’s wildlife and natural history.

The park is a great location for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and nature photography.

Hiking Trails at Afton State Park

Afton State Park has over 20 miles of hiking trails that wind through a variety of terrain, including wooded areas, rolling hills, and scenic valleys.

The park has trails of varying difficulty levels, ranging from easy nature walks to more challenging hikes with steep inclines.

Some of the most popular trails in Afton State Park include the Prairie Loop Trail, the South River Trail, and the Deer Valley Loop Trail.

The park also offers guided hikes and interpretive programs for visitors who want to learn more about the park’s natural history and wildlife.

Afton State Park Hiking Club Trail

Miles: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy but Hilly
Total Miles Hiked: 26 miles

Prairie Walk

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.

The Prairie Walk at Afton State Park

Hike Along the St. Croix River

The most well-traveled part of the hike is along the St Croix River Valley. 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.

Flooded Trees at Afton State Park
The St Croix River
Hiking Near Saint Paul at Afton State Park

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.

Stairs to Trails

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.

Hiking Club Password Afton State Park

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.

Hiking Near St Paul at Afton State Park
Backwaters at Afton State Park

Other Fun Things to Do at Afton State Park

Camping 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 backpack campsites only. No car camping.

The hike-in campsites at Afton State Park are located along the park’s trail system and range from 1 to 5 miles from the parking areas.

These sites are more secluded and offer a more rustic camping experience, with no access to water or electricity. Hike-in campsites require a permit and a hike of varying length, depending on the site chosen.

The group campsites at Afton State Park are designed for larger groups and are available by reservation. These sites can accommodate up to 60 people and have access to picnic tables, fire rings, and shared water and restroom facilities.

The yurts and wall tents at Afton State Park are really cool! The circular yurts have canvas walls, bunk beds, a table, chairs, and a wood stove to keep you warm.

You even get electrical outlets, lighting, and a lockable door. You can hang out outside with a picnic table, fire ring, and water source. They fit up to six people and you can easily book them online.

The wall tents are similar to yurts but have cots instead of bunk beds. You still get a table, chairs, wood stove, electrical outlets, lighting, and a lockable door. Wall tents fit up to five people and can also be reserved online.

You’ll have an amazing camping experience at Afton State Park, with hiking, biking, and fishing, and then you can come back to your yurt or wall tent for a good night’s sleep. It’s like camping, but better!


The beach at Afton State Park is situated on a wide bend of the St Croix River, providing a picturesque setting for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports.

The sandy shore is gently sloping, making it an ideal place for families with young children to play in the water. There are also picnic tables and shelters located nearby, providing a convenient place to enjoy a meal or snack after a day in the sun.


For those that do decide to go fishing on the river, as long as you are in the Minnesota State Parks border, 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.

Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is a popular winter activity at Afton State Park in Minnesota. The park offers over 20 miles of groomed trails, with options for skiers of all skill levels.

You’ll love the rolling hills, scenic overlooks, and peaceful wooded areas. The trails wind through hardwood forests, past prairies and wetlands, and along the banks of the St. Croix River. You can choose from four interconnected loops ranging from 1.5 to 9.5 miles.

The park provides trail maps, trailhead signs, and interpretive signs along the way. You can also enjoy activities like snowshoeing, hiking, and wildlife viewing.

The park offers ski rentals and lessons for all skill levels. Afton State Park is the best spot for a cross county skier in the Twin Cities area.

Beach Access Trail Afton State Park

Are there bears in Afton State Park in Minnesota?

While black bears are found in many parts of Minnesota, including some state parks, there are no resident black bear populations in Afton State Park. However, it is possible that a bear could occasionally wander into the park from surrounding areas.

How much does it cost to get into Afton State Park?

All Minnesota State Parks are free with an annual permit. You can buy them in person or online for $35. If you are planning to visit for the day, expect to pay around $7.

Throughout the year, there are a few free days and other discounts you can check out too.

Camping costs anywhere from $25-35 a night.

Pro Tip: Visit any State Park during one of their free days. Check out Minnesota State Park Pass Hacks, Tips, and Free Days to find all the days

Other Hiking Near St. Paul

While there isn’t an official waterfall in Afton State Park, there is Vermillion 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 12 different waterfalls near Minneapolis. Another good state park to visit an hour north is Interstate State Park.

Providing a lot of similar elevation changes and river views, but with a few more rocks to climb.

Vermilion Falls

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 trail or head down to the beach area and have a picnic.

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