Prairie at Glacial Lakes State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park in Starbuck Minnesota in 2024

Black Friday is also known as #OptOutside. The day MN State Parks offer free admission to all their parks. I just needed the chance to walk off a little of the Thanksgiving feast. I was a little concerned that #OptOutside would be like #NatlGetOutdoorsDay and parking would be impossible.

The solution, get to Glacial Lakes State Park Hiking Club Trail first thing in the morning. It turns out, National Get Outdoors people are fair-weather hikers. I’d have the entire park to myself.

In the world of password hunting, it is a whole lot easier before the snowfall. That’s because a good percentage of the state parks transition their hiking club trails into cross-country ski trails. Trying to find one that allows snowshoeing or hiking, and is one I haven’t been to yet can be challenging.

I also don’t like driving hours in blizzard conditions for a good hike. Thankfully we’ve had a mild start to winter so I’ve been able to sneak a few extra hikes in.

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Glacial Lake State Park in Minnesota

Glacial Lake State Park was created to help preserve the glacial landscape. It is filled with all kinds of technical glacial features, like Kames, kettles, and glacial erratic’s.

Most people look at them and call them hills and rocks. Glacial Lakes State Parks stunning original Minnesota prairies are why so many people like to walk through.

Only one-tenth of Minnesota’s original prairies are still around and this park is one place where they thrive. During spring and summer, the prairie grass erupts with wildflowers.

With that also comes butterflies and other flying bugs. In fall and winter, the pesky flying bugs disappear but the prairie remains stunning.

I woke my oldest kid up, AKA mini-me up at 6 am to get to Glacial Lakes State Park just after sunrise. We pulled into the park without much difficulty.

Then took a quick ‘emm’ detour to the horse camp area. I’m not sure why I was getting so turned around at parks today.

Immediately after seeing the first rolling hills, I knew I was in for a breathtaking experience. After my quick detour, I got my bearings and found the parking lot.

Unless you really want to see the horse camp, from the park office, stay on the main road to the end of the day-use parking lot.

Morning at Glacial Lakes State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park Hiking Club Trail

Miles: 4.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Miles Hiked: 90.9 miles

The hiking club follows along High Peak Trial and even stops at the Highest Elevation in the park at 1352′. 

If there was ever any doubt about hills in Minnesota, the first thing you do on the Glacial Lakes State Park hiking club trail is go up and into the hardwood forest.

The trail starts in a wooded section and is around Signalness Lake. The first boardwalk we came to was covered in the morning frost.

As we took each step I heard it creaking beneath me. This section of the trail has interpretive signs talking about the plants and trees. It has stunning views of Signalness Lake and runoff water.

mn state parks Hiking Club

Have you joined the Minnesota State Parks hiking club yet? This fun program lets you earn patches and free nights of camping just for hiking! Each state park has a designated hiking club trail to complete, giving you a great reason to visit. Find out more: 75 reasons to join the MN State Parks Passport and MN Hiking Club

Glacial Lakes Hiking Club Trail
Frosted wooded boardwalk
Frozen Runoff
Glacial Lake

Out of the woodlands, the trail drops you out at the Oakridge campground with no sign of the trail in sight. It turns out that the trail picks back up between sites 30 & 31.

If the campground was full, I probably would have walked around like a complete idiot.

Do you have your Glacial Lakes State Park map downloaded yet? The free Avenza GeoPDF map is a great way to track your location as you hike. As an added bonus, if you download it before you leave, you won’t need internet access while you hike!

Rolling Glacial Prairie

The rest of the trail is through the prairie land. One thing I love about walking through a prairie is that its beautiful Spring, Summer, and Fall. Combined with morning sunlight and I’m in complete heaven.

In the summer time there are plenty of Indian grass, goldenrods, prairie clover, coneflowers and tons of great wildflowers.

It also helped that in the sunlight the temperatures warmed up a good 5 to 10 degrees more on a chilly November morning. I can’t believe it was a couple of weeks prior at Frontenac State Park and overheating in 70-degree weather.

Frosted hiking trail at glacial lakes state park
Fall on the prairie
Frosted Leaf

The trail goes up and down most of the way through the hills, all the way to the highest elevation point in Glacial Lake State Park, 1352 feet. Even though it’s another hill, it’s nothing like climbing a mountain.

The view from the top, is spectacular, allowing you to see the entire state park. After finishing getting to the top, the trail loops back to the campground and onto the day-use parking lot.

In addition to the hiking club, there are 16 miles of hiking trails in the park.

The Highest point at Glacail Lakes State Park

Skiing at Glacial Lakes State Park

Officially speaking the hiking club trail remains open for hiking year-round. When the state park doesn’t mark it as an official ski trail on the map, it just means that it’s not a groomed trail. You can use it for anything non-motorized.

The hiking club trail can be skied and is rated as moderately difficult in places for skiers due to the number of hills and trees.

Campsites at Glacial Lakes State Park

The park has many camping at Glacial Lakes State Park. 

Snagging a drive through campsite Oak Ridge Campground, makes things easy. The sites were close together with not much for tree cover. People with bigger travel trailers and RVs will find this ideal.

I recommend staying further away from sites 26-33 or day-use hikers will be coming through often.

If you are looking for something more remote, there is a backpacking site on the hiking club trail.

The best backpacking site is on Kettle Lake. It’s the most remote and has a view of the lake!

Get an equestrian site and bring your horse! This way you can explore the park by horseback riding!!

There are flush toilets open seasonally and vault toilets open year-round.

Signalness Lake

Signalness Lake at Glacial Lakes State Park might be one of the best spots in the summer. It’s a haven for fishing and boating with its crystal clear waters. 

Keep an eye out for beavers along the shoreline. There is also a beach to enjoy the water some more. 

Don’t forget your paddle boards! We keep a set in our camper so we can get on the water as much as possible.

There are many lakes in the park, but the two most notable ones, Kettel Lake and Baby Lake are only accessible on park trails.

Fishing

Glacial Lakes State Park is a popular spot for anglers due to the number of sunfish, panfish, crappies, large-mouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, and walleye in the lake.

Managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), their efforts in fish restocking make sure the lake is healthy.

They have a boat launch and fishing cleaning station on site. Electric Motors are allowed on the lake. There is also a fishing pier near the beach.

Fish For Free in Minnesota State Parks
Did you know if you have a Minnesota driver’s License you can fish for free in Minnesota State Parks? The only expectation is if the body of water requires a trout stamp, or if you are in a Recreation Area. To fish for free you must be:

1. Fishing from shore or wading in water within the state park; or
2. Fishing through the ice, from a boat or a float on a designated lake that is completely encompassed within a Minnesota state park.

Click here for the official statue.

Beach

There is a swimming beach for summer visitors. The beach is clear water. Outside the beach tends to be a little weedier. The park also has Kayaks, Canoes, and Paddle Board rentals.

There are picnic tables nearby. Near the boat launch, there is also a deck with a picnic table with an overlook of the lake.

Snowmobiling

The trails along the south side of Glacial Lakes State Park are multi-use trails, including Hiking, Horses, and Snowmobiles. There are also designated snowmobile trails within the park too.

Events at Glacial Lakes State Park

If you are looking for a new way to enjoy a park, check out the different events held throughout the year.

The Friends of Glacial Lakes State Park was organized to help promote, protect, and preserve the natural beauty and natural resources of this small but unique state park.

They are a great resource to find different events held throughout the park.

One event that is hosted every year is the Leaf Mountain Foot Race. It’s a fun run through the park. The mileage ranges from 6 – 20 miles, following the map and checking in at a specific point.

They don’t put up trail markers so you’ll have to use your map reading skills.

Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway

The park sits next to the Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway. This stretch of highway is 220 miles through lakes, woods, and farmlands.

It represents a part of Minnesota where glaciers once covered and melted, creating lakes and hills. There are several small scenic loops along the Glacial Lakes State Trail.

Within the park boundaries, there are 5 miles of paved bike trails from the park entrance to the city of Starbuck.

Common Questions about Glacial Lakes State Park

Is Glacial Lakes State Park Open?

Yes, Glacial Lakes State Park is open year-round. The park office hours vary in the wintertime, but the gates are open daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. In Fall, check their website to see when hunting happens. Camping is available year-round. Their Camper cabin for heat and electricity.

How much does it cost to visit?

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.

Glacial Lakes State Park Hiking Trail
Hiking Club Password

Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway

The park sits next to the Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway. This stretch of highway is 220 miles through lakes, woods, and farmlands.

It represents a part of Minnesota where glaciers once covered and melted, creating lakes and hills. There are several small scenic loops along the Glacial Lakes State Trail.

Within the park boundaries, there are 5 miles of paved bike trails from the park entrance to the city of Starbuck.

Common Questions about Glacial Lakes State Park

Is Glacial Lakes State Park Open?

Yes, Glacial Lakes State Park is open year-round. The park office hours vary in the wintertime, but the gates are open daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. In Fall, check their website to see when hunting happens. Camping is available year-round. Their Camper cabin for heat and electricity.

How much does it cost to visit?

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 visit Glacial Lakes State Park again?

I loved getting to explore Glacial Lakes State Park Hiking Club Trail. It was a thing of beauty. I would be interested in staying at the remote camping and seeing the lake in the summertime too.

A trip to Glacial Lakes State Park, while shore was a lot of fun. It would be perfect for a family trip.

One thing that is great about hiking this time of year, besides the lack of crowds, but the easy of hiking. Without the heat, I decided to stop at the neighboring Monson Lake State Park only about 30 minutes away, and on the way back home. The trail was only a mile long and easy to do at the same time.

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Hiking at Glacial Lakes State Park in the Fall. DayTrip | Hiking Club

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