6 Things to do at Father Hennepin State Park
Looking for a State Park that meets the needs of a big group? Father Hennepin was perfect for us.
Every few years, my old neighborhood gets together to re-do our camping trips from when I was a kid. Three generations come together to reminisce. I had been looking forward to this trip for over a year now. Thankfully Father Hennepin State Park was the perfect place to connect with plenty of things to do.
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First Impressions of Father Hennepin State Park
The first thing I noticed about Father Hennepin State park was its size. It’s located on a small island of Lake Mille Lacs, making it isolated from the surrounding community. It also limits how big it can get. Being so isolated detours the bears that call the neighboring Mille Lacs Kathio Park home.
The park is named after a priest called Father Louis Hennepin that visited the area with a French expedition team. He was the first person to write extensively about the Mille Lacs area and had his writings published. It’s not the exact location he was at, but when the park was developed, they named it after him in his honor.
Things to Do at Father Hennepin State Park
Father Hennepin State Park has a bunch of things to do for its guest. From camping to swimming to fishing its a great getaway from the city.
Hiking Club Trail at Father Hennepin State Park
Miles: 2 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 74.6 miles
This is the first hiking club trail that I’ve done where I felt like I saw the whole park. The hike was a short two-mile loop on flat terrain. It crossed through all the highlights of the park, including the beach, fishing pier, and campground.
Things were clearly marked throughout. I did get a little turned around because we took the path clockwise. I think their intent is for visitors to go counter-clockwise based on where signs were placed. I’m not sure why.
I also noticed a few hiking trails that were not marked on either my printed map or the map I downloaded on Avanza Maps. I didn’t have any trouble finding my way home, but I would love to have known where they went.
As someone camping there, it was nice to have the trail pick up and drop off at the campground. If you were day-tripping there, I could see how it would be a little awkward to walk through the campground you aren’t staying at.
The best place to park for those not camping is at the beach. Take the path by the bathrooms and you’ll get right on the trail.
Do you have your Avenza Map for Father Hennepin State Park yet? They are completely free and make things so much easier to hike with than a paper map. Plus, they use the Minnesota State Parks Maps you are used to!
Cooling off at the Beach
One of the few public sandy beaches on Lake Mille Lacs is found at Father Hennepin State Park. The adjacent picnic area also has a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, playground equipment and an open picnic shelter.
There is the perfect mix of the swimming beach, along with shaded picnic tables in the grass.
The sandy beach is over a quarter mile long with plenty of room to tie up your boat. Many bring their own watercraft and enjoy the calm waters.
The beach is so popular during summer months, visitors opt to drive from Mille Lacs Kathio State Park to use their beach.
Father Hennepin State Park has showers to clear the sand from your feet and bathroom facilities. It was perfect on a hot summer day. We spend a couple of days in the water. It was the highlight of the trip for us!
Camping at Father Hennepin State Park
The campground host over 100 different sites and is very open. This took me as a surprise considering we had just come from the very secluded woods of Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. It’s similar to many RV Parks in that way.
The nice thing is it allows for a breeze to get through and also keeps better visibility on our kids. We went with a few other families and it gave a community feel.
None of the campsites had a lake view, and even the tenting sites were closer to the water. But there was a trail close by to get to the rocky shoreline.
Wheelchair Accessible Fishing Piers
There are two different fishing piers at the park. The one close to the beach is along the short asphalt trail, making it wheelchair accessible. The second pier along county road 34.
Northern pike, walleye, bluegills, sunfish, and bass swim around the lake.
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.
Home to Albino Deer
The park is home to a small herd of Albino Deer. 1 in 100,000 deer is born with the genetic defect that turns them, albino. They have white fur and blue eyes. This makes it harder for them to camouflage. This is very rare to see a herd of them but they think because of inbreeding, more are prevalent.
The state park gets sightings of these deer every year. Be on the lookout.
Mille Lacs Soo Line Trail is an 11 mile paved trail connecting Father Hennepin State Park to Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. To connect to the trail, you’ll need to venture out of the park on low-traffic roads. The easiest point of entry is in the town of Ilsa or via, 40th ave south.
Other Questions about Father Hennepin State Park
How much does it cost to Camp at Father Hennepin 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 Father Hennepin State Park?
Yes, dogs are allowed at all Minnesota State Parks, including Father Hennepin State Park. They must be kept on a 6ft leash at all times and never be left unattended in a camper. They are not allowed at the beach, but there is another shoreline they can swim at.
Are there bears at Father Hennepin State Park?
There are reports of Bears at Father Hennepin State Park. In 2020 there were multiple reports of bears around the area getting into dumpsters at the neighboring Mille Lacs State Park. That said, when we visit both parks in the same weekend, they were only warning visitors at Mille Lacs.
Would I go back to Father Hennepin State Park?
To swim, definitely. To camp and hike, maybe. It depends on the experience I’m looking for. I like my hikes to be more diverse and the camping to have some more wood.
The Father Hennepin State Park campground was very RV friendly and we noticed a lot more big rigs there. I like a few more trees when I camp. I also think I’ve seen it all. You only need a few days at the park to do everything.