Some MN State Parks get all the attention. That’s because of all the things they have to offer. Banning State Park has a little bit of everything; Hiking, Waterfront Trails, Rapids, Bouldering, Climbing, Waterfalls, and Ruins. Who wouldn’t want to visit?
No matter what time of year it is, people are continuously showing off their amazing pictures of the park. I had to check the things to do at Banning State Park myself.
Banning State Park Highlights
Banning State Park has found the perfect blend of activities and scenic north woods that Minnesotans have come to love. The biggest draws to the park are the ruins of the Quarry Loop and the whitewater rapids. I only got to spend one day along the Kettel river, but I fell in love with the sandstone rock formations instantly.
Things to do in Banning State Park
The Banning State Park Hiking Club State Trail
Miles: 2.6 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 62.6 miles
Some of the most fun I had hiking in a long time has been at Banning State Park. I kept telling my husband how much I wanted to go there, but he didn’t fully understand why until we hit the trail.
Starting early on a Friday morning we found out exactly why everyone loves it so much.
The first thing we did was go right to the river for some early overlooks. The Kettel River is amazing. And thankfully the hiking trail gives you plenty of opportunities to enjoy it. Some overlooks do require a little bit of balance and navigation over rocky areas.
The Hiking Club Trail takes visitors on the Quarry Loop Trail. This covers the best places to visit in the park.
Make sure you download a free Banning State Park Map from Avenza before you leave. They have GeoPDF maps that use your smart phones GPS to track your location for you.
The best part of hiking along the Kettle River in Banning State Park is getting to watch the people Kayaking on the River.
The section that flows through the park has some of the best rapids, with names like Blueberry Slide, Mother’s Delight, Dragon’s Tooth, and Hell’s Gate. All of them are along the hiking club trail, with the exception of Hell’s Gate. It’s a short detour.
We visited in early summer and the water was high. So much so, Hell’s Gate was a bit anti-climactic. But they did have a cool beach.
Just below the water, we could see what makes Hell’s Gates so challenging during different seasons.
The ruins are all that remain of a historic Sandstone Quarry that employed more than 500 workers during the 1890s. Sandstone was a popular building material for its beautiful coloring.
Above the quarry, a small town was built to support nearly 300 inhabitants. It stood until 1905 when the need for sandstone diminished as steel was becoming a popular building material. Today, the ruins are all that remains of the quarry.
These ruins are fascinating. They are found all over the Quarry Loop, which makes up 60-70% of the entire Hiking Club Trail. The ruins come in all sizes, from leveled rocky areas to full-blown buildings.
Banning State Parks has an incredible rock face all along the Quarry Loop facing the Kettle River. Between the Blueberry Slide Rapids and a little after Dragon’s Tooth Rapids is designated climbing areas.
There is an additional climbing in the Eldon Climbing Area near Robinson Park on the opposite side of the river. There are multiple runs to try and even bouldering.
Other Things to Do At Banning State Park
Wolf Creek Waterfall
The Wolf Creek Waterfall is a short way off from the Banning State Park Hiking Club Trail along the High Bluffs and Wolf Creek Trail. If you add it to the Hiking Club Trail, you’re looking at closer to 5 miles total.
The waterfall trail has you climbing boulders to get there. The waterfall can be viewed from multiple vantage points. I highly recommend you check them all out.
Many of the people visiting the falls were coming from the campground. We found a lot of casual hikers there.
Banning State Park campground has 33 Drive-in Sites, 11 Electric, and my personal favorite 5 Canoe Sites. Canoe-in campsites are first come first serve.
Due to the limited number of sites, and popularity, I recommend making your reservations for this park early in the season.
The Kettle River is a good place to fish too. The park has a boat launch just north of the rapids.
The most popular fish in the Kettle River are Smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and channel catfish. There are actually over 32 different species of fish found in the river.
Banning State Park offers loaner fishing equipment if you want to try out the sport!
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.
Robinson Park Ice Cave
One mile south of Banning State Park is Robinson Park. Each January they attract thousands of people to the Sandstone Ice Festival.
Enthusiast climb to the top of the falls. They teach beginners how to climb. It’s a lot of fun. during the summer, it’s another great waterfall.
There is also a Robinson Ice Cave on the grounds. The Robinson Ice Cave is 200 feet deep cave in the bluffs between Wolf Creek Falls and Sandstone.
The cave got its name from the stalagmites that form on the floor of the cave that gives it an appearance of Ice. The cave’s interior is not accessible to people, but its home to little brown bats, big brown bats, and the Keen’s Myoiis bats.
Because the cave is home to many bats hibernating over the winter, it is closed to the public.
Willard Munger State Trail
A few miles to the west of the park, in the town of Finlayson is the Willard Munger State Trail.
The 70-mile trail connects Hinkley and Duluth, offering hiking, bicycling, inline skating and snowmobiling through the rich history of East Central Minnesota.
Get there early. If at all possible, visit during a weekday. We arrived at 9am on Friday. There were just a handful of cars there already. By the time we left around noon, the parking lot was full, and people were searching for spots in the overflow lot. I can’t imagine what it looks like on a Saturday.
Banning State Park is located off i-35 making it convent to visit Banning.
The park is open daily.
I also recommend bringing a daypack with you. There was a lot of climbing involved and you want your hands to be free.
Other questions about Banning State Park
Are there bears in Banning State Park?
The park is home to black bears, white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, beavers and raccoons. Make sure to follow common bear safety rules when camping overnight, like not leaving food in your tent.
Can you Swim at Banning State Park?
There is no official swimming at Banning State Park. The Kettel River has strong currents and it’s not advisable to swim in it. Some have been known to stick their toes in near the bay area if the river is calm enough, but I don’t recommend swimming.
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 go back?
Yes, Banning State Park is everything I love in a State Park. I would love to visit later in the season and really see the rapids. I’d go back just to enjoy the trails next to the river. It’s stunning!
Bring your camper and reserve a campsite in advance. Spend some time looking for glacial potholes or come back in the winter and explore the ski trails and or pack your snowshoes. There is so much to see and do on your visit to Banning.