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The first camping trip of the season and we didn’t have nearly enough time at the park. We arrived at St Croix State Park right at check-in time on Friday and left on Sunday.
In that time, we managed to do a hiking club trail, climb a fire tower, canoed a river, and fish. There was still so much more to do there, like bike and swim. We barely scratched the surface.
What is so shocking about the park was its size. It took us almost 10 minutes to get from the Park Entrance to the Visitor Center and Park Office.
If you wanted to carve out an isolated spot for yourself, you could. Most people were staying in the comfort of the campground, which was a shame if you saw what was out there.
Things to do at St Croix State Park
Hiking Club Trail and Other Trails
Miles: 4 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 69.5 miles
The Hiking Club Trail was first on our priority list for the trip. My mom and I have been competing for hiking club miles for some time now. She couldn’t cream me anytime she wanted to since she’s retired, but I still like to brag each time I get a new password.
The last time we were camping with her and went on a password hunt at Jay Cooke State Park, it took until 11 before we got moving.
The trail was so hot, it was hard to enjoy it. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. She already got this password, so there was no need to make a group adventure out of it.
We headed out first thing in the morning and it may have been a big mistake.
The hiking club trail starts at the interpretive center at the campground and runs the entire length of the campground. Then into transitions into a grassy area above the St. Croix River all the way to the Yellowbanks CCC Camp.
Side note, the Yellowbanks CCC camp is considered one of the historic places in the park. You’ll take the paved path back that also doubles as a bike trail.
Before heading out, make sure you download the free St Croix State Park Map from Avenza. They have GeoPDFs maps that will track your location as you hike. It’s a game-changer.
The bugs at Saint Croix State Park are like nothing I’d ever seen. Around the campground, not too bad. But anywhere close to the woods and river, OMG.
Last weekend we soaked a set of clothing in Permethrin. It paralyzes any bug that lands on your clothing and worked wonders. But every place that wasn’t covered was fair game to the mosquitos. They didn’t seem to care that we were dripping in DEET bug spray either.
For this reason, we flew through it the Hiking Club Trail. It was not as epic as I had hoped, because of the tree line covering the entire river. If you are looking for cool views, I recommend taking the River Trail that follows alongside the whole river. So much better.
The biggest surprise of the trip was canoeing. It wasn’t our intention to canoe when we got there. We didn’t even know they were renting canoes yet.
We stumbled upon a group that was going to go canoeing when we were exploring the park.
The outfitter rents canoes right by the camp store! The cost is around $50 a canoe depending on the number rented. They have 2 or 4-hour trips. The 2hr trip takes off from the campground, while the 4hr trip starts further upriver.
The trip includes transportation back to camp. I jumped at the opportunity and wrangled the kids for this. If you’re looking for more river tubing opportunities, check out 7 of The Best River Tubing in MN for a Summer of Fun
If oyu have your own Kayak or watercraft, you could do this trip yourself. Or bring an inflatable paddleboard and float down the river!
I love my Goosehille Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard. It’s a great budget-friendly board that travels so easily! Goosehill Sailor Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle Board Review: Best iSUP
Heading down the St Croix River
The nice thing about the canoe trip was you really didn’t have to do anything unless you wanted to. The river floats boats down. If you decide to paddle, you’ll be done in less than two hours.
In addition, there were tons of shallow areas’ where you can get out if you want.
After seeing one group enjoying the sandbar, I thought it would be fun to let the kids do it too. It was all good until we got back in the boats. There was a miscommunication, the footing was lost and before I knew it, my butt was on the bottom of the river.
It was very refreshing and gave everyone a good laugh. In case anyone’s counting, that is the second time I’ve fallen in, in the last two times I’ve canoed.
A lot of people renting canoes took fishing equipment with them. One of the most unexpected and probably coolest things I’ve ever seen was watching a snake cross the river.
It was 6-8ft long and headed right at the canoe behind us. They may not have thought it was too cool, but how often do you see something like that?
See Related: Tips for an Epic trip in the BWCA with Kids
The biggest downside to the trip was the canoe landing. It had so many mosquitos it was unbearable. After getting the canoe up, and standing at the landing for 10 seconds, my legs were covered in 25 bloodsuckers. Moving and swatting was the best defense.
I almost decided to put the canoe back in and take the boat upstream. Either that or leave it there and start walking back. Please, please bring bug spray with you. Even then, you may need full-body coverage with clothing.
In addition to canoes, they also rent tubes and kayaks. If you are looking for a good tubing river, you should really check out the best Tubing Rivers in MN. With motorboats and other activities on the river, I would not be comfortable tubing here.
Fishing the St Croix
If you want to know a good spot to fish, I’d say everywhere. The campground sits on the edge of the St Croix River.
All along the campground, there are stairs leading down to the riverbank, each with access to a fishing spot/beach.
There is a mix of both fishing and swimming/wading going on stirring things up. For that reason, I didn’t see anyone catch a fish.
My husband, on the other hand, caught his very first mussel. It opened up its mouth and took the leach my husband was using.
If you want to fish, I recommend getting there before the kids get up or finding a trail away from the park.
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.
Whenever you get the chance to have a birds-eye view of something, you kinda gotta try it out. The Fire Tower is way off the beaten track. From the campground, it was about a 15-20 minute drive through some of the most beautiful woods I’ve ever seen.
There is multiple single-lane wooden bridges to go over, making it even more stunning. Without all the park’s navigational signs, it’s easy to get lost.
The Fire Tower was supposed to be closed according to the St Croix State Parks website. But we had some time to kill before the rest of the campground woke up so we decided to see the view from the ground.
We were pleasantly surprised to see the gate wide open.
I’m not sure of the official number of people that can be on there, but I wouldn’t want to climb the tower with any more than the four people in a group.
My husband and I both managed a kid and made the ascent. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
My son made it above the tree line before freezing up. Then my husband and I took turns at the top. Even though it made my knees a little weak, it felt very safe. I’m glad we did it!
The campsites went up into the 200’s. When you register for a spot, the MN State Parks site breaks down them all into different campgrounds.
At St Croix State Park, is row, upon row, upon row of sites. The “campgrounds” are not in different areas. With all the space, it was one of my only complaints.
They only had one water fill-up and sewer dump spot. A busy weekend, at peak time, means long lines! Those with trailers may want to bring their own water to avoid long fill up lines.
The Interpretive Center is one of the things that makes St Croix State Park unique. They do a lot of different things to make the adventure learning experiences.
This includes an Interpretive center with touch and feels displays, as well as ranger talks.
This experience was another victim of COVID 19 and their social distancing practices. I completely support their decision to close it; it’s another reason I’m headed back to the park in a few more years.
We saw black squirrels, grey squirrels, chipmunks, deer, fish, clams, and snakes. The part that threw us off was the warning about bears, foxes, raccoons, and skunks.
They have signs posted up at the bathrooms reminding everyone to have their food locked in their cars.
They even warned guests what to do if a bear came to join you for dinner. In case you are wondering, you make a lot of noise and start throwing stuff. It was enough to make me extra cautious the entire time we were there.
We learned an important lesson at the Bear Sanctuary last summer, just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
We never saw one up there, but my sister was there last summer and saw a few. It’s just something to be mindful of.
Mountain biking through St Croix State Park provides a great opportunity to see the park’s wildlife and wooded forests.
Beginning at the Trail Center, at the five corners intersection, turn left onto the Munger Boundary Trail. Follow the trail 10.8 miles ending at MN-48, or continue on the full 25 miles of the trail.
Lake Clayton Beach
At the end of the five-mile bike path is the Lake Clayton picnic area, The beach is shallow. Nearby is a playground, horseshoe pit, and sand volleyball, or you can play Frisbee on the large lawn.
Grills and picnic tables are all around perfect for a picnic lunch. Restrooms, and a picnic shelter that groups can rent. For those that don’t want to bike there, it beach is accessible by car.
The most scenic site in the park is the Kettle River Highbanks. A nine-mile drive down a winding gravel road and a quarter-mile hike bring you to an observation deck overlooking the Kettle River.
Some of the park’s best hiking trails follow the river through this point.
Other Questions about St Croix State Park
Are there wolves in St Croix State Park?
Surprisingly yes, Eastern timber wolves are found in St Croix State Park but are not commonly seen. The chances of a bear sighting are greater.
What is the Largest MN State Park?
St Croix State Park is the largest Minnesota State Park. It covers 31,775 acres. The second largest is Itasca State Park at 30,553.
How much does it cost to visit St Croix 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
Would I go back to St Croix State Park?
Yes. this was such a memorable trip to the Park. I only scratched the surface on what we could do there. We needed another solid day to explore the area. If you are going, I recommend planning to stay at least 3 nights.
The park has so many different ways to explore. They have multiple parking lots for those that want to fish for trout running through the park.
There are plenty of bike paths and even a swimming beach. If you are thinking you only need a weekend at St Croix State Park, you’d be wrong. I was impressed with the number of things we got done, we barely scratched the surface.