Fort Snelling State Park is a day-use-only park that is a little slice of heaven for outdoor enthusiasts in Minneapolis and St Paul. The park has hiking, and fishing plus a couple well know rivers!
It was a running joke in my family, the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club Trail closest to home is the hardest to get. Not because of its location, hidden hiking club sign, or timing, but because mother nature keeps getting in the way.
After 3 failed attempts and two years of trying, I finally completed the Hiking Club Trail at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul.
The failed attempts at finding the password
Attempt 1: We found the island and the trail! But got halfway along the island and succumb to the bugs and heat to keep going.
The trail has a few cross-sections if you don’t want to do the full island. It didn’t help that there were little kids that were having trouble keeping up.
Attempt 2: Cooler day, but the place was completely flooded. This was the status quo for the next 2 years. Whenever we had a free weekend, it would be too flooded to go.
I wasn’t sure of the extent, so we decided to try it anyway. When they say it’s flooded, it’s flooded! Trust the park website. Instead, we ended up taking a trail behind the old Fort Snelling. It was actually pretty cool seeing that side of the park.
Attempt 3: Winter hiking. According to the map, it was going to follow the hiking club trail. It may actually cut in a little closer inland. Instead, it cut short about 30 feet from the sign. It was fully obstructed from view.
Attempt 4: Success! I got the news that the hiking club trail was no longer flooded. It usually floods somewhat in the in Spring.
I saw on the MN State Parks website that the trail flooded again I thought we were going to have to wait until Fall.
On a Hiking in Minnesota Facebook Group people were saying it was open again. I jumped at the chance and went out in the middle of the week.
Getting to Fort Snelling State Park
Construction…. There is always something. Seriously. They are repaving the stretch of road in front of the park on Highway 5.
From 494, the only way to get there is by driving in front of Terminal 2 and taking east on Post Road past Terminal 1 and straight into Fort Snelling.
We visited during the Stay At Home Orders. I gotta say it was eerie to see so many planes on the ground, and not a single taxi waiting in the staging area.
The Hiking Club Trail at Fort Snelling
Miles: 3 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 54.7 miles
The Fort Snelling Hiking Club Trail is located at the end of the parking lot on Pike Island. To get to it, you’ll want to take the paved trail from the parking lot just past the Visitor Center. The trail is shared with bikers so watch out. It quickly veers right towards Pike Island.
After you cross the bridge, you are faced with a bunch of trail options. They aren’t well-defined, even with the map.
After getting really confused both on Attempt 1 and Attempt 3 trying to figure out which trail on the left is the actual one, I found it easier to take the trail furthest on the right. It brings you right onto the hiking club trail. Save yourself the stress!
Pike Island is very unique in that you get to see both the Minnesota River and the Mississippi merge together. The southern part of the island hosts the Minnesota River.
I found it absolutely stunning blue waters. The North Side of the island hosts the Mississippi River.
It could have been situational, but it didn’t have the same impact. The Northside of the island does have a better collection of trees! At the end of the Island, there is a nice beach where boats like to pull up.
Need a map? The Fort Snelling State Park Map is free on Avenaza Maps and downloads right to your phone. I absolutely love these maps because it uses your phone’s GPS to track your location as you hike. Plus its the one that’s printed out in the state parks.
Post Flood at Fort Snelling State Park
The recent flooding has caused a lot of downed trees and uneven ground. It looked as though a park vehicle had driven down the soft ground on the south side, to clear the trail of debris.
It created ruts and other uneven terrains that hardened. We also noticed a few down trees coming up from the roots.
Timing is everything
Fort Snelling is popular on a normal weekend. Add in the Stay at Home orders and people are filling every available parking spot. They even had to post signs along the side of roads for no parking.
While I’m thrilled to see this many people enjoying our State Parks and hiking trail, it makes it a little trickier to get to these great parks close to the cities, like Fort Snelling State Park.
On weekdays, I’d like to say I had the place to myself. It actually felt like normal weekend traffic patterns.
Other Things to do at the Park
Fort Snelling has a beautiful swimming beach. This is also a great spot to watch airplanes flying overhead. They have a great grassy area and a huge parking lot to enjoy a picnic. Or take your food over to Picnic Island for a different view.
People love to fish at Fort Snelling State Parks Snelling Lake. There is a great pier with ample parking in front of it. If you don’t have a fishing pole, Fort Snelling has you covered. They rent them for free to guests. The only thing you need to bring is live bait.
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.
Historic Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling State Park is known for its Historic Fort. They do such a good job of staying in character they seem oblivious as airplanes fly right over their heads.
The Historic Fort Snelling is where you can see what life was like in the 1800s for those that lived there and you’ll also hear stories about what it was like.
The Historic Fort Snelling was built in 1819 by Zebulon Pike with the promise of a future trading post. After its completion is became a lucrative place for trade that drove British traders to the area.
During the Civil War the fort became a training location for volunteers and continued on in that way for other conflicts.
During the US Dakota Conflict, the fort was used to hold Native American prisoners.
When a highway construction project threatened it, the state of Minnesota declared it the first National Landmark in Minnesota in 1960. It is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society.
They are a common stop for field trips and other activities, but everyone can come and see it. It is run by the MN Historical Society and is not actually part of the State Park.
The historic Sibley House is where the start of Minnesota formed. Henry Sibley was the regional manager for the American Fur Country trading with the ‘Sioux Outfit’. When trading started to dwindle, he used his power and influence to lobby for Minnesota’s own territory.
When Minnesota finally adopted its first constitution, Henry Sibley became the first Governor of Minnesota. His home office became the governor’s residence. Today you can visit it with tours with the Minnesota Historical Society.
Wokiksuy K’a Yoyuonihan Dakota Memorial
The Wokiksuye K’a Yoyuonihan Dakota Memorial was placed near the Visitors Center to honor the sixteen hundred Dakota people who were imprisoned by at Fort Snelling after the US. Dakota conflict ended.
At least 130 died during their captivity due to malnutrition and exposure. In the center of the memorial is a piece pipe placed by Amos Owen of the Prairie Island Indian Community during a ceremony in 1987.
The park has many paved trails, including the Minnehaha Trail a five-mile paved trail that runs through the park and connects to the popular Minnehaha Falls. The trail connects to the Grand Grounds Scenic Bikeway.
There are also mountain biking trails all along the Minnesota River Valley. Staring out by the Sibley House, follow the dirt trail along the river through some densely wooded trails to the southernmost part of the park.
This is the only MN State Park with access to the Nice Ride Bike Rental program by Lift. Visitors can rent a bike for single use, or daily use. The program is closed in the winter.
Spend some time on the water in a Canoe or Kayak. The park rents canoe out to visitors for a half-day or full-day increments. Explore some of the many lakes and ponds within the park. Portage your canoe to Gun Club Lake.
Other Questions about Fort Snelling State Park
How much does it cost to go to Fort Snelling 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.
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.
Are dogs allowed at Fort Snelling State Park?
Yes, dogs are allowed at all MN State Parks. The only requirement is that they stay on a 6ft leash.
Can you camp in Fort Snelling State Park?
No, there is no camping in Fort Snelling State Park. They are a day-use-only facility open daily from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Would I Go Back to Fort Snelling State Park?
With all the attempts at finding the hiking club sign, I found a love and appreciation of the Fort Snelling State Park each time I was there.
I got to visit it during the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer and still consider it a fun adventure. I’d gladly do the hike again, or even take the bikes there and check out the other trails. If you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.