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John A Latsch State Park is one of those destinations Minnesota Hikers love to talk about. In the hiking community, the most common statement said is, “I finally climbed it”. The park is a blip on the Minnesota State Park mission list.
Most go right on by it without giving it another thought. There is no camping and only one trail. But what makes the trail so epic is the trail contains 585 steps. If you are thinking about doing the John A Latch State Park Trail, make sure you read this first.
Most of my state park adventures are fueled by the mission to complete the hiking club trails. When there is a park that doesn’t have an official trail, you find new motivation to go.
Getting my passport stamped was one of the reasons, but with so little to do there, you can just buzz the parking lot and claim you’ve been there.
My husband and I have a rule, in order to claim you’ve been there, you have to experience the park. The only way to really experience John A Latsch is to climb the steps.
John A Latsch State Park consists of three bluffs named Mount Faith, Mount Hope, and Mount Charity. The names were given by the steamboat captains and they traveled up the Mississippi River.
Due to its unique landscape, building traditional park features was slow-moving.
In 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps created the trail to the highest of the bluffs, Mount Charity. The state planned on buying up more land in 1963, but the property has yet to be purchased. For now, this little park remains.
The Hike at John A Latsch State Park
Miles: .7 miles
Total Hiking Club Miles Hiked: No Password
This hiking trail started with full water bottles. I’m not going to lie, it is a little intimidating to start. Some people talk about the north shore hikes by the number of stairs.
At one point, I too talked about doing two separate flights of 200 steps as a killer. In retrospect, Tettegouche State Park has nothing on these.
The first hundred steps are when you really start to feel it. Thankfully there is a set of benches waiting for you. Those are the teaser ones.
Sitting there I even speculated, maybe every hundred steps, they have a set of benches. I was living in a fantasy land.
The stairs meandered through the hillside. Some are steeper than others and some are in better shape than others.
Along the way, there are plenty of people to give you a little extra motivation. “You got this!” “You are almost there!”
Then there is the older couple latterly hugging the handrail post while they get the motivation for another couple of steps.
Once you start getting to the top, there are a few outcroppings from the steps that serve as teaser overlooks. They are a perfect point to try and look cool while you keep going.
Whatever you do, do not let someone ‘wait until you go by’ before they continue on. All that does is prevent you from enjoying the view, while they are fully rested on hot on your trail. The peer pressure.
The view from the top
The top of John A Latsch State Park bluff comes out of nowhere. Unless you’ve taken a clicker with you to count, chances are you’ve long forgotten how much further you have.
There is a small break in the step with a dirt trail and then one last push before reaching the summit. It is breathtaking.
I’m not saying that because you are still trying to catch your breath. It is one of the best views I’ve seen. Unlike Garvin Heights Overlook in Winona which you dive to, this one feels like a reward.
And thankfully the hiking god gave us a nice sitting rock, where you can patiently gain your composure before the next group arrives.
Below you’ll be able to see the entire Mississippi River Valley. Off to the right, is Lock and Dam No. 5. Bald eagles hover in the jet stream. And the entirety of southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin is in view.
See Related: Hiking Sugar Loaf Bluff in Winona MN
The Trip Down
Getting to the top was a major accomplishment. Each time you passed someone going down, there was a sense of envy. Going down yourself is amazing. This time you get to watch as people from every walks of life make their way up.
There is a group of young girls racing each other up. They were just trying to save face, because not more than 10 steps past the last of our group, they had found a nice step to rest on. Then there are their parents trying to catch them.
There are the dogs, eagerly racing to the top and their owners are holding on tight behind them. There is the older couple that is taking a rest after every 20 or so steps. They are still inching their way to the top and are so close.
I could not believe the number of people working their way up, and all so supportive.
What took me by surprise was the difficulty of getting down too. The muscles being used are stretching in a new way. It takes all your energy to just keep on your feet.
When you stop, your entire legs shake and there is nothing you can do to stop it. One the way down, do your best to stay in the middle of the step. There are a few wooden steps that are a little wiggly. I think the whole bluff side heard me scream when one shifted on me with my unstable legs.
The entire hike takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete with breaks along the way and time at the top.
Don’t forget to replenish
One of the recurring problems I faced last year hiking was getting depleted of energy and heat exhaustion. I’ve been doing my best to combat it this year. Before or after any hike, I finish it off with a protein bar and a package of electrolytes in my water. This probably isn’t a groundbreaking revelation for anyone else.
If you are like me and HATE Gatorade products, you should try Enhanced Electrolyte Powder. This is a cost-friendly alternative to Nuun or Liquid IV and comes in a bunch of different flavors. I portion size a bunch of servings and throw it in the car. You can make little bags with a FoodSaver and some snack-size Ziplock bags.
I love my Hydroflak water bottles, but if you are looking for a cheaper alternative, check out the Super Sparrow line of insulated water bottles. They are a fraction of the cost and hold the temperatures just the same. The best part is the caps and accessories are interchangeable. The Super Sparrow Water Bottle | The Best Insulated Water Bottle
Other Things to Do At John A Latsch State Park
One thing I often forget about is the option to forage in MN State Parks. In MN State Parks, it’s legal to forage as long as it’s for personal use.
A group of visitors were there specifically with foraging in mind and found a few morel mushrooms. After seeing us complete the journey up the cliffside, they finally had the courage to do it themselves.
Behind the park sign is a single picnic table complete with a fire pit. If you are in the area, it’s an option for lunch. It was very wooded. Unless you are looking to have a fire, take your picnic two miles south to Lock and Dam No. 5 and get a view of the river, and a breeze.
Questions everyone asks about John A Latsche State Park
How much does it cost to Visit John A Latsche 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
How many trails are there at John A Latsche State Park?
There is just one trail at John A Latsche State Park. It’s pretty easy to find when you pull in.
Do you need a map?
Normally this is where I’d tell you to download your free John A Latsche State Park map from Avenza. But in this case, it probably won’t help you much.
Since there is only one trail, and it consists of stairs, there’s really no point. Once you get to the top of the bluff, there is a short loop but it circles so quickly you’ll be back to the start again.
Are there any amenities onsite?
They do have vault toilets and a picnic table. Other than that you are on your own. No park ranger office or anything like that. If you don’t have a permit, you can pay at the box. Otherwise, the passport stamp is over at Whitewater State Park.
Would I go back to John A Latsch State Park?
John A Latsch State Park is only a day-use facility. But I would love to challenge myself and do it all again. Maybe next time for the fall colors. I would only do this in the Spring and Fall with the cooler weather. I also think it would be fun to take my puppy with me.
If you are looking for a booty-burning trip, you’ll be feeling it the next day, this is the one. It’s also a great park to pair up with Great Rivers Bluffs State Park or Clarey State Park. Whitewater State Park is also stunning.
I recommend pairing it with the Trout Run Creek trail or the Meadow Trail there unless you want some more stairs. You can also stop into Winona a few miles down and soak in all the Fun Things to Do.