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Frontenac State Park is a great place for a day of recreation. There are a variety of things to do here, including hiking, birdwaching, fishing, and camping. The park is also home to a number of attractions, including a nature center and a playground.
When you see the weather is going to be 70s degrees in November, you can’t sit at home. It’s like the world is telling you to get out and enjoy the gift we have just been given. So I decided to pack up the family and head out to Frontenac State Park Hiking Trails.
Frontenac State Park
Frontenac State Park is high up on the ridge of the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and Lake Peppin. All along the ridgeline is an incredible breeze.
If you are visiting for the day, there is only one official parking lot at the picnic area. It serves as the trailhead for all of the trails.
The area known as Old Frontenac is what was once the first tourist town in Minnesota. People would travel by riverboat up all the way from New Orleans to spend summers in town.
The town is still running today and can be seen from some of the overlooks.
Frontenac State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 2.6 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 86.2 miles
The hike starts off at the picnic area. The first thing you’ll notice is the incredible view of the River. From there, you’ll see a hiking club sign pointing you in a clockwise direction around the trail.
This isn’t the intended path as most signs were facing this direction. You can do it counterclockwise, but you’ll need to be a little more diligent at crossroads.
The trail starts off on a gradual descent to the first scenic overlook. After this overlook, you’ll make your way below and down some stairs.
One thing I noticed, especially in this section of the trail was how uneven the ground was.
Tripping and falling would most defiantly include hitting a few jagged-looking rocks. Take your time.
This is probably why we saw the ‘Trail Closed’ sign at the beginning of the trail. It was a warning of Mud, Ice, and Snow. I’m guessing this was because of the record-breaking October snowfall we got.
The Hiking Club Trail, as well as the Bluffside trails, are both closed during the winter season for safety.
Do you have your Frontenac State Park Map yet? You can get a free GeoPDF Map from Avenza. This is a great way to always know where you are on the trail as it uses your phone’s GPS. Plus there is no need to have an internet connection while you hike as long as you download the map!
From there, you’ll find yourself on the edge of someone’s farm. It was a nice change of pace as I was no longer concerned about tripping and impaling myself. That was the last of the downhill stretch too.
We were back up into the woods again, which I was thankful for because of the shade it provided. After going up what seemed like a never-ending hill, we finally made it to Eagle Point.
Eagle Point is a spur trail but is part of the Hiking Club Trail. It’s a quick easy walk over to a remote overlook. This is a perfect halfway point to rest; take in the beautiful Lake Peppin.
I’d also keep an eye out for Bald Eagles because this spot is prime for them.
Continuing on the hike
After Eagle Point, it levels off for the most part. There are a few more hills that are gradual. Most notable was the hill by the Cart In Campsites.
These sites were fun to catch a glimpse at. But it kept going through my mind how much of a pain it was going to be to push a cart up that hill.
After the top of the hill, you’ll be back in the grassy prairie. Right after is the road with a quick jaunt over to the parking lot.
One of the best parts of the hike was getting to hang out in the picnic area enjoying the view and taking advantage of the breeze.
How hard is the hiking at Frontenac State Park?
Of the two hikes at Frontenac State Park, the hiking club trail is the easier of the two. The hiking club trail does have some serious elevation changes too just not as dramatic.
If you stay counter-clockwise, you’ll head downstairs and do a couple of switchbacks before getting to the bottom.
After that, it’s a gradual ascent with a few bigger hills along the way. Then it levels off as you make your way back along the road to the car.
If you are like my husband who prefers to do a gradual descent most of the way, then do a big hill, followed up with stairs at the end, counterclockwise may be the way to go. This will be and heated discussion in our household for a while now.
This was also the first Hiking Club Trail I did this year that I didn’t see anyone else on. Before Covid, this was a normal thing.
I had started to think that we stumbled upon a magical park that no one knew about until I ventured onto the Bluffside trail.
Love a challenging bluff hike? Check out the nearby Barn Bluff in Red Wing MN: The Best Hiking Trail with a view
Other things to do at Frontenac State Park
In Yan Teopa Rock & The Bluffside Trails
After completing the Hiking Club Trail you need to visit In Yan Teopa Rock. It is breathtaking. For those camping in the park, there are multiple trails leading from the campsite that lead up to the Bluffside Trail.
The most iconic feature of Frontenac State Park is In Yan Teopa Rock. This limestone rock formation was carved out of week carbonic acids created when rain water combines with the organic materials in the topsoil around the rock.
The Limestone slowly dissolves leaving behind what you see today. The rocky arch has many myths and legends, including having some significance in Native American Religious practices. Nothing has been verified yet.
For people like me, visiting just for the day, then you’ll need to walk along the Upper Bluffside Trail to get there. It’s about a mile from the parking lot. If you decide to do the entire loop, it’s another 2.7 miles. The trail is packed with dirt on the edge of a cliffside, overlooking the Mississippi River.
There are a few overlooks along the way. In Yan Teopa Rock can be viewed from one of the overlooks and there is another overlook at the top of the rock.
But to really see it you’ll need to head partway down the 425 foot Cliffside. The Cliffside descent is a combination of narrow dirt paths and stairs. After a third of the way down, you’ll reach the rock formation.
When people talk about Frontenac State Park, they usually mention the challenge of the stairs. This is where it comes into play.
After seeing In Yan Teopa Rock, you can either complete the loop or if you are like me and running on fumes, have your husband meet you halfway. Ok sure, I missed the lower portion of the trail, but I had hungry kids in the car.
The Old Rock Quarry
Like other state parks in Minnesota, the limestone cliffs made for a desirable place for mining. Remnants of the rock remains are still visitable from the self-guided trail.
It’s mostly loops and anchors in the ground, but keep an eye out.
Below the picnic area, along the self-guided interpretive trail is reminisce of the stone quarry.
The high-quality limestone was chosen to become part of the Cathedral of St. John the Devine in New York City by architects John LaFarge and George L. Heines.
The quarry has been inactive for more than 50 years. Its impact can still be seen today as you hike around the area.
Camping at Frontenac State Park
The State Parks have a couple of different camping options. Traditional tenting pull-up sites, as well as Cart In Sites. This was the first time I was able to get a good look at what carting is like. The hiking club went right through their campsites.
Visitors have a designated parking spot, each with a cart in. Carting into a spot does require a little bit of a walk, mostly through a grass-cut trail, and then down a small hill to the site.
The sites are secluded from other tenters. The only problem is you’ll have people like me, hiking through in front of your site. Thankfully, we aren’t as noisy as cars.
If you’re burnt on all the hiking opportunities, rent a canoe from them. Their canoe area is on the Pleasant Valley lakelet. This is a small lake area near the highway so you won’t have to worry about getting swept away by the Mississippi.
Did you know the Minnesota State Parks offers loaner equipment to visitors? You can pick up a GPS tracker and complete one of their Geocaches.
Or you can get a birding kit that comes with a pair of binoculars and a book about the birds you might see. They have discovery kits for kids or the Junior Naturalist Program they can take part in too.
Make sure to spend some time in Red Wing while you are there. 24 Entertaining Things To Do in Red Wing MN
Winter Skiing and Snowshoe Trails
During winter, the bluff side hiking trails close down for safety reasons. But the rest of the trails open up for Skiing and Hiking. There are two main areas to ski, the upper section is more difficult, and the lower section is the prairie section of the park.
The park also has Snowshoe trails. The trails are ungroomed and go through some of the hillier sections of the park. If you don’t have snowshoes handy, the office rents them.
Sledding in Winter
Something only locals know about is the great sledding hills state parks offer and Frontenac is no exception. Its hilly landscape is perfect for picking up speed. The sledding hill is located near the park office.
Questions about Frontenac State Park
How far is Frontenac State Park from Red Wing?
Frontenac State Park is about 10 miles south of Red Wing. From Red Wing, continue south on Highway 61. From there you’ll see a sign to turn left to the park. You’ll pass through a residential area before your park appears on your left.
Is Frontenac State Park Open?
The park is open year-round. The official hours are daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Camping is available in winter too. They also close portions of the park in the fall during special deer hunts. Check the park’s website for all the latest updates.
Is Frontenac State Park Dog Friendly?
Frontenac State Park is Dog friendly. They can go on all trails but must be kept on a 6ft leash. Do not leave your pets in the camper unattended.
Does the park have WiFi?
Yes, the park now was wi-fi at the ranger’s station.
How much does it cost to camp at Frontenac 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
Would I go back for more Frontenac State Park Hiking?
One thing everyone likes to talk about is the hills at Frontenac State Park. Their hikes are known to be a little more challenging than most and some even used it as a training ground for their Superior Hiking Trail plans.
After coming back from the SHT, I can tell you the hike is good. It has some elevation, but the Hiking Trail really only prepares you for distance.
I think a better example of the SHT conditions is any of the trails at Whitewater State Park. The Riverside trail at Frontenac is a close second.
In case you are wondering, I did make it back to the park a few years later to do the lower bluff trail. The trail is steep and in spring a little muddy. Take it slow. And those stairs they mentioned, are no joke! Made up of a mix of stone steps and traditional wooden steps. So glad I finally completed it!