Things to do at Red River State Park

Things to do at Red River State Recreation Area, an Urban Adventure

Red River State Recreation Area is one of the most misunderstood parks in the Minnesota State Park system. Dreamed up as a unique greenway, created after a horrific flood, the park has a bit of an identity crisis.

Is it a state park? Or is it an RV park? Once you learn more about its origins, you’ll see that this park is an incredible feat of engineering.

There are many things to do at Red River State Recreation Area in East Grand Forks.

This was our second stop on our Northern Minnesota Loop. In some ways, this was the park that I was least looking forward to. I heard that the hike was like walking through a city park.

At some point, you end up walking through a neighborhood. What I didn’t realize until I got there was how fascinating the park would be.

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Mother Nature at work

Heading up to the park, we got some warning on our phone about air quality. It seems that the fires in Canada were blowing smoke in our direction.

We could even see the cloud of smoke in the distance as we approached. By the time we arrived, we were right in the middle of it all.

I jumped out of the car, excited to get my passport stamped, and confirmed the best place to park the car and travel trailer while we did our quick stop at the park. In case you are wondering, it’s fine at the back of the movie theatre lot.

After chatting with the Ranger at the park office, I opened the door again to the smoke and got lightheaded. This was going to be a different adventure for sure.

We all had our face masks in the car and decided to wear them, even though it was hot and sticky outside.

History of Red River State Recreation Area

A devastating flood in 1997 that destroyed East Grand Forks is the first city in the United States to install an invisible flood wall. Soon after the flood, the Army Core of Engineers and the State of Minnesota developed a new levee system that included a flood plain.

All the homes in the area were bought. Natural hills were created, and flood walls were added where natural structures were not usable.

Instead of leaving the newly constructed Greenway vacant, the state has created a State Recreation Area in its place. On the North Dakota side, they have a levee and park that mirrors Minnesota’s.

Walking through the area, you forget that this was once where people’s homes once stood. Most people lost everything in the floods.

What’s exciting to hear is the stories about homeowners that come back to check on how some of their stuff is doing.

By Walk-in Site one, you will observe the beautiful Apple Trees and shrubs that have been carefully planted. Some were generational plants, received from their grandparents. Others come back to check on the tree that they got engaged in front of and carved their initials into.

Everything in the area has a history that’s so easily overlooked. When you visit, make sure to check in at the office and get some of the details. As more and more residents come back, these stories continue to get shared.

Red River State Recreation Area
Sap on Trees

Things to do at Red River State Recreation Area

Red River State Recreation Area Hiking Club Trail

Miles: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Miles Hiked: 122.2 miles

The hiking club trail gives the best overview of the entire park. Starting at the Park Office, we passed by the first set of flood walls and into the park. The entire trail is along a paved trail. It’s a popular biking trail in the area.

If you want to give your legs a break for hiking, it would be an easy bike too. The trail continues through the campground and past all the walk-in sights.

If you are interested in the history of the area and want to see the evidence of some of the old homes, take the spur trail past the walk-in sites.

Red River State Recreation Area
Red River Floodwalls
Highway Bridge

Once out of the campground you’ll pass by the highway 2 bridge and on to the green space. It feels like a city park before you eventually turn and head back.

On the way back you’ll turn into the neighborhood briefly and into a tunnel. At this point, you’ll get to the only hilly area of the hike. It’s the natural barrier to flooding.

Tunnel at Red River State Park
Red River State Recreation Area Tunnel

On the other side of the park is the Sherlock Park Playground. This playground is epic. If you have kids, and you are not worried about the smoke in the area, let them go loose.

If you are staying at the campground, the park is very close. After the park, you’ll head back down to the beginning of the loop.

Sherwood Park

Camping at Red River State Recreation Area

Since the park is designed to flood every year, at the end of the season they pull all amenities at the campground up. Tables and hookups are removed.

It’s not until May of the following year after they are confident that it won’t flood that season before they open back up. This is the only park in the Minnesota State Parks system that offers full hookups for RVers.

The park has around 113 campsites. Everything is very open making it feel more like an RV park. Its openness in an urban area makes it a great addition to the Minnesota State Parks system.

Other things to do near Red River State Recreation Area

One of the things that makes Red River State Recreation Area unique is that it located in the middle of downtown.

It is within walking distance to great restaurants, a movie theater, and downtown shopping. You can even walk to a Cabella’s in case you forgot any outdoor gear.

Hiking club sign at Red River State Recreation Area

Would I go back to Red River State Recreation Area?

This was one park I would have loved to spend more time at if the weather was more favorable. When we got to the end of the hike, we all wanted to be in some fresh air, and remove our masks to cool off a little.

It was suffocating. Camping would be fun if you had a big rig. While there were some beautiful older trees in the area, the space was still open. I was disappointed in the lack of river views.

You could find them if you wanted to stray off the trail. I consider Red River State Recreation Area as one of the more underrated parks in the State Park system.

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