Fall Hiking at William O'Brien State Park

The William O’Brien State Park Hiking Club Trail in Autumn

There are a few MN State Park Hiking Club Trails that can be a little more intimidating. Most people start off in the 1-2 mile range and work their way up. When I saw that William O’Brien State Park Hiking Club Trail was 5.6 I was a little apprehensive, to say the least.

I even hiked it in Wintertime first because they have an alternative hiking club trail to do that’s only a mile. But when I found it, winter actually became more of a challenge.

Fall Colors at William O'Brien State Park

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The William O’Brien Hiking Club Trail

Miles: 6
Difficulty: Easy but long
Total Miles Hiked: 86

Next to Afton State Park, William O’Brien State Park is a favorite for people in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For this reason, I recommend you show up early.

William O’Brien has one of the largest parking lots of any Minnesota State Park, so it was a problem finding a spot, but the trail was very busy.

Starting at the visitor center, the trail goes through the Oak Savanna, on a six-mile loop. On a fall day, we walked and walked without breaking a sweat.

The flat wooded hills through the fall foliage made for an easygoing day. That was the surprising part of the adventure.

The only portion with rolling hills was the Prairie Overlook trail. It is a 1.4-mile loop and worth every bit of it. There is a little lake nestled inside the loop, along with a beautiful overlook of the valley.

Hiking Club Trail
Grassy Section of Hiking Club Trail with Bathrooms

The William O’Brien State Park Hiking Club Trail felt more like a city park than a State Park because of its wide, grassy areas. It was wide enough for the park vehicles to travel down it.

The other interesting thing about the Hiking Club Trail was that it had bathrooms every mile or so on the trail. I had never seen that before.

Its flat conditions and well-traveled path made the trail stroller friendly. I would recommend a running stroller or something with bigger wheels.

During winter, the Hiking Club Trail transitions into a Cross Country Ski trail. After walking the trail, I understand why it makes for a perfect skiing area.

Need a William O’Brien State Park Map. Download a free GeoPDF map from Avenza to keep track of where you are on the trail.

Wide Trail
Hiking Club Password
The Hiking Club Password is viewable from both directions!

For Extra Hiking

As far as hiking trails go, the star at William O’Brien State Park is the Riverside Trail. It’s not part of the hiking club trail, but if you have the energy, I highly recommend the hiking trail.

It gives some stunning views of the Saint Croix River. This trail transitioned into the bonus winter hiking club trail.

They have a huge picnic area to start a fire or do a BBQ in the area, as well as group camping. On a beautiful day, the place is packed with everyone enjoying the river views.

William O'Brien State Park
St Croix River
River Trail
Lake Alice in Fall at William O'Brien State Park

Other Things to do At William O’Brien State Park

Camping at William O’Brien State Park

William O’Brien State Park campground is a hot spot in summer. They have 114 drive in sites, 71 electric, and 4 camper cabins to rent. It’s perfect for those looking to camp and still be close to St Paul.

Float Down on the St. Croix

Float down the pristine St. Croix River on a Canoe or Kayak. If you don’t have a canoe yourself, rentals are available at the park office. Pick up your watercraft near the boat launch. Weekends shuttles are available.

Canoes are the only way to get to Greenleaf Island. The island is a secluded wildlife refuge. Visitors have spotted great blue herons, otters, and beavers.

Interpretive Programs

William O’Brien State Park offers many different cultural programs for visitors. They have hikes, demonstrations, bike tours, and other special events.

Start at the visitors center to learn about the cultural features of the park and find out when Interpretive programs are going on.

Visitors Center

Restrooms, displays, and information can be found at the visitor center. Check the bulletin boards for programs and activities going on in the park.

Through interactive displays, learn about the animals and landscapes that make up William O’Brien State Park.

Oak Savanna Restoration

Oak Savanna once covered ten percent of Minnesota. Due to farming from European Settlers, the Oak Savanna’s all but disappeared. Today the State Park has helped to bring this important transition between the prairie and woodlands back. You can visit many of the trails along the south side of the park.

Swimming Beach

The sand bottom beach at William O’Brien State Park has been cooling off guests for years. This beach has a sandy beach area, a roped-off swimming section, and picnic tables. Swimming is not allowed in the St Croix River because of the strong currents.

Nearby are plenty of picnic tables and grills for everyone in the park.

Cross Country Skiing

During winter all the trails on the west side of highway 95 turn into cross-country ski trails. The rolling meadow makes for excellent conditions for intermediate and expert skiers. Weekends on warm sunny days become packed with people on the trail.

Questions about William O’Brien State Park

How much does it cost to cot camp at William O’Brien 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

Are dogs allowed at William O’Brien State Park?

Yes, Wiliam O’Brien State Park is dog friendly. As one of the more popular parks, make sure you have your dog on a 6ft leash at all times.

Would I Go Back to William O’Brien State Park Hiking Club Trail?

This was actually my second time visiting William O’Brien State Park in Washington County. The first time was in winter. I loved getting to visit it during autumn as well, the only complaint I had was the number of people on the trail.

There were a large number of trail droppings left behind too, like hats, blankets, and other things. I also noticed more dogs than I’ve ever seen on a trail. I recommend getting there early in the morning for a more private experience.

Hiking at William O'Brien State Park

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