When a State Park doesn’t have a hiking trail, what do you do? In the case of Hill Annex Mine State Park, it’s all about securing one of their tours.
Without a hiking club trail, we were at a loss for what you do at a park like this. With the added concern of covid related closures to many indoor facilities, we weren’t sure what we’d find at the park. Little did we know, it would be one of the best overlooks we’d ever seen.
Hill Annex Mine State Park
Hill Annex Mine State Park has no camping, no trails, and no other features that come with the classification as a ‘State Park’. The park was originally an Open Pit mine, between 1913 and 1978.
It started out as a horse-powered operation, before transitioning to steam and electrical. The land was then sold to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitant Board for $1 and tours started. The state made it an official state park in 1988.
Getting to Hill Anne Mine State Park
The Minnesota State Park is not more than a few miles off of the highway, through a small town that I can assume was built around the mine.
When we first start taking our RV out, the biggest piece of advice we got from the dealer was to know how high your RV is. This way when you see a bridge that had a height restriction, you don’t lose an antenna, or heaven forbid your roof.
I always thought this was funny because in today’s age when would you actually run into low-hanging bridges? That was until I saw the bridge leading to Hill Annexe State Park.
My husband stopped the car dead in the tracks. What do we even do? Find a place to drop off the trailer? Park the car and walk the rest of the way? We decided to check out the other intersections in the small town in hopes that one didn’t have the same bridge going over it. The next block over we could drive right up.
Things to Do At Hill Annex Mine State Park
2021 has been an interesting year for state parks. Tours are hit and miss and it’s hard to plan your summer around, ‘planning on opening…’. As it happened, the park only had its museum open on the weekends. It’s part of the reason we had it last on our list on our Northern Loop Adventure. With our change of plans, we knew it wouldn’t be open.
With no trails to explore, we were afraid of pulling up, the most we could do was peer at it from the gates. But they actually had the gates open and the platform of the Mine Pit Lake open. The stamp was located just outside the gates on the park’s sign.
The only way to explore Hill Annex Mine State Park is with a bus tour. The main tour to do is the Mine Tour. It’s a 90 mine tour on a trolley bus.
A bus takes visitors through the different pits, past old mining equipment, and houses. You’ll go 300 feet down into a pit mine and trace the route miners took. You’ll stop at overlooks and even get the opportunity to climb in a big rig. Tickets are purchased online.
MN State Parks have some great tours. If you’d like to learn more about underground mining, you need to visit the Soudan Underground Mine. The Soudan Underground Mine Tour and Lake Vermillion State Park
Hill Annex Mine State Park fossils from the cretaceous period are still found in this area. Guests on this tour get to climb into a dirt pile and dig around for treasures. Expect to get dirty. The best part is you get to keep what you find.
Fun fact in every other Minnesota State Park, if you find a fossil, you are supposed to return it to the park office. Or better yet, leave it exactly where you found it and bring a park ranger to it.
Make sure to sign up for a tour before you go and also wear something you don’t mind getting dirty in!
Club House Museum
The Club House is where everything starts. Inside you’ll find interpretive displays about the geology and history of the Mesabi Range. At one time the mine produced 63 million tons of iron ore and was the sixth-largest operation in the state.
Pit Mine Lake
When the mining operations stopped, the lake was reclaimed by the land. Before the miners were using pumps to keep the water from accumulating.
Hidden below the water is an old loading facility called ‘A Pocket’, where dump trucks unloaded and the material was transported to the surface. It’s a beautiful feature of the park, with its turquoise-blue waters.
The lake is frequented by osprey, gulls, and loons. There is a viewing platform for visitors.
How much does it cost?
This one’s a little trickier. Because it’s not a standard MN State Park, you didn’t pass through a ranger station requiring a fee. With no trails to maintain, most of their funding comes from the tours. There is no requirement for a parking permit to visit. You’re welcome to park in the lot and walk in and view everything.
When is Hill Annex Mine State Park Open?
The park is open Seasonally. That said, the MN State Park stamp is still available year-round. The park’s official hours of operation and season are May 25 – Sept. 1: Friday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
What to do nearby Mill Annex Mine State Park?
While there aren’t any official hiking trails, the Mesabi Bike Trail runs right in front of the park. I also recommend exploring Scenic State Park and School Craft State Park that are just a short drive away.
Would I go back to Hill Annex Mine State Park?
Thankfully we were able to get our stamp so we could complete our objectives for the Minnesota State Parks Passport Program. With everything close, it gives us a taste of what the park is about and a reason to go back. I would love to go back and explore it in more detail, take the mine tour ride and let the kids dig for fossils.