Lake Carlos State Park

Everything You Need to Know About Lake Carlos State Park

Minnesotans are so lucky to have so many great state parks to explore. It’s been my mission to hit them all. This past fall, I got the opportunity to stay at Lake Carlos State Park near Alexandria. We were in town for the Carlos Creek Grape Stomp, but that’s another story altogether.

The downside of camping on an event weekend was that the park was packed with a bunch of wine loving women. Ok, it wasn’t really a downside unless you wanted to take a shower. Otherwise, we had a great time with all the hiking trails and lake fun.

Ground Cover at Lake Carlos State Park

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Hiking Club Trail – Red Oak and Hidden Lake Trails

Miles: 2.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy, with hills
Total Miles Hiked: 7.6 miles

Needing an escape from the confines of the campground, we decided to hit the trail. It was the only place in the park that we were alone.

The Minnesota State Parks hiking club trail is a combination of the Red Oaks Trail and the Hidden Lakes Trail. What I loved was that the trail can complete in three smaller loops.

The loops made the trail look like a snowman, or at least that‘s what I told the kids. As we completed each section, I would tell them what part of the snowman we were on.

Jazzy Hiking on the Trail

The main portion of the snowman takes hikers around the hidden lake. While I wouldn’t describe it as a bog, it was a little marshy and wet in areas, with some tree cover.

If we had any recent rain, I’m sure the bugs would have been killer, and we may have had some muddy feet.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to avoid this section, unless you start backtracking. From an expedition standpoint, it was a lot of fun walking through the marsh with the cattails and other grasses higher than your head.

The two other sections of the “snowman” were deeper into the woods. So much so that we didn’t see a single person on the Lake Carlos Hiking Club Trail.

While the bottom of the snowman may have been flat, the middle section had plenty of hills. Nothing too crazy, but enough to make you work a little harder.

We happened across an animal carcass right in the middle of the trail. That was a fun one to keep my boxer away from.

Thankfully, our pug in the backpack wasn’t too much of trouble with this obstacle. Though he was having just as much fun sniffing around on his adventure.

The Hiking Trail
Marsh and Reeds in Forest

Into the Forest

Being so close to the marsh, the forest was a prime location for spotting mushrooms. We found them of every shape and size. Some were attached to living trees, dead trees laying in the forest, and some sprouted upright from the ground.

My kiddos, on the other hand, seemed to find all the frogs in the forest. There were plenty around.

By the end of our almost three-mile hike, they became experts and found them and then proceeded to show them to me about an inch from my face. Whatever motivates them to keep going along.

Mushroom on Tree

Feeling a little lost

I am grateful that my parents came along on this trip because I think if it were not for my dad, we may have done the top loop a second time.

With all the loops, there is a point a four-point intersection where the two sections meet and all have a sign that says ‘Hiking Club This Way’.

There is even a sign with a map showing you are at a 4-point intersection, but no direction on where you are facing. It’s easy to get turned around. This is the reason my daypack now has a compass in it at all times!

Lake Carlos State Park Hiking Club Sign

Lake Carlos Campground Features

The campground was a lot of fun. The campsites in the Lower Campground are very open. They have tree cover to protect you from the sun but have little in the way of protection from your neighbors.

But when you see the view of the lake, it doesn’t really matter.

One thing I liked about Lake Carlos State Park was that they had a paved road in the campground. Just about every kid in the park took full advantage of this for their biking and scootering needs. They also had a nice shower and bathroom facilities.


For the summer months, the park has a beach. This beach consists of about 10 feet of sand, and a secluded place to park. The beach is a third of a mile walk from the Lower Campground.

For those staying in the Upper Campground, you may want to drive there. Near the beach is a picnic area a bathroom facility too.


One of the best features of Lake Carlos State Park was the lake access. They have a boat launch near the camping location, but instead of bringing your boat in when you are done, you can tie it off right at the pebbly beach area and walk into the campsite.

If you don’t have a boat, it makes a great location to wade into the water and cools off. Or master the art of skipping rocks from a master!

Lake Carlos State Park

The Lake Carlos State Park Campground and Hiking Trails was a fun little place to camp that I would defiantly go back to.

Just as the last note, the campground had tons of mosquitos and in late August there were many bees around too. Make sure you bring a good insect repellent with you.

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