13 FUN Things To Do At Wild River State Park in Minnesota
The Wild River State Park is one of Minnesota’s favorite destinations. It’s located 10 miles north of Taylors Falls and enjoys some of the best views of the St. Croix River. It’s just close enough to the Twin Cities to make for a great day trip, but just far enough away to not be as crazy as some of the other parks. One thing is for sure, you’ll want to see the fun things to do at Wild River State Park and its amazing Hiking Club Trail.
DayTripper is supported by it’s audience. When you purchase though links on our site, we may earn a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything additional. I never promote things I haven’t vetted myself.
The Wild River State Park Highlights
The park got its name “Wild River” from the St. Croix River because it was one of the original eight rivers protected by the U.S. Congress through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Not to be confused with White Water State Park.
While both are great parks, neither of them has white water rafting. If you want that, you’ll need to head to Jay Cooke State Park.
Wild River State Park has almost 35 miles of trails used all year round. In addition to many Naturalist Programs, the park is one of the best of all the Minnesota State parks located near Minneapolis and St. Paul, because of its epic overlooks.
It’s just outside of a lot of people’s bubbles, that it doesn’t see some of the crowding the closer parks see.
Things to do at Wild River State Park
The Wild River State Park Hiking Club State Trail
Miles: 3.3 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 57.4 miles
The Wild River State Park hike was a beautiful escape from Minneapolis. The park is located alongside the St. Croix River giving you stunning views. The Hiking Club Trail takes advantage of the beautiful landscape. Half the trail is a traditional dirt hiking trail along the beautiful St Croix River and hardwood forest, while the other half follows a paved bike trail.
The trail is part old superior military road. The Bike Trail, while nice, did take us out of the adventure a little but still an enjoyable trip. The trail is fairly flat but does have hills between the river portion of the trail and the bike path.
The St Croix River
The best part about hiking the river trail is the section of the hike along the St. Croix River. With plenty of overlooks along the way, it was hard to not be in love. From the first time you see the St. Croix River, you’ll want to stay there for the entire trip. People were taking advantage of opportunities to fish along with this picturesque setting.
The park reminded me a lot of St Croix State Park with its riverfront views and amazing hiking. St Croix is just a little bigger in size.
Nevers Dam Overlook
The Nevers Dam Overlook was the site where the Nevers Dam once resided. The Dam was built in 1890 to help control the log jams that kept building up. The worst one was in 1883 which lasted over 57 days, containing 150 million feet of logs. The logjam caused a sawmill near Stillwater to go out of business waiting for more lumber.
To prevent a dam was built to control the stream of logs downstream. Gates were opened at two-week intervals. When the park’s lumber was gone, Northern States Power bought the land and dam and transformed it into a hydroelectric dam.
In 1954 severe floodwaters damaged the Nevers Dam and it had to be torn down. While the dam is no longer there, you can see the stunning overlook where the dam once stood.
Today this overlook is a reminder of our past. All remnants of the bridge are gone. But it does provide a great opportunity to enjoy the river from above. Just below the overlook platform is a short trail to a beach.
The St Croix River has a strong current so it’s not advised to swim at the park.
At the end of this historic Log Jam, it actually put out business in Stillwater, Marine on St Croix, and even impacted the St Croix Boom Site. I recommend stopping in those towns to explore more about the industry on your way home.
39 Fun Things To Do in Stillwater Minnesota
Exploring the St Croix Boom Site in Stillwater MN + Hidden Waterfall
Things to do in Marine on St Croix Great Day Trip from the Twin Cities
Because Wild River State Park isn’t as well-traveled as its southern counterparts, it has more opportunities for wildlife viewing. We were there right after a dragonfly hatch. They were very prevalent everywhere.
The most entertaining was seeing a whitetail deer we found walking on the trail. She stopped right in front of us, waited for us to stop, then walked a little more on the path towards us before turning off. It was spectacular to witness.
The park lies on the St. Croix MN State Canoe Route. The canoe or kayak is 18 miles of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway that runs alongside Wild River State Park. The riverway is 200 miles of clean water that rushes along the forested border of Minnesota and Wisconsin before it meets with the Mississippi River.
Nearby you can rent canoes from local companies like Eric’s Canoe & Kayak Rental with Shuttle Service. Wild River State Park also rents canoes and on weekends, they offer a shuttle service back.
Wild River State Park has 94 Drive-in Sites, 34 Electric, 7 backpack in sites, camper cabins and my personal favorite 4 Canoe Sites. As part of the St Croix National Scenic Riverway, they play host to lots of paddlers.
The close proximity to the Twin Cities and the River makes getting a campsite a little challenging in the Summer. Make sure to plan ahead on this one.
Looking for a few more things to do nearby? Check out Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours | Cruising the St Croix River
Wild River State Park has extensive geocaching opportunities. Their caches range from single-stage to multi-stage caches, all at varying levels of difficulty. If there was ever a State Park to try it in, it’s this one. You can pick up a loaner Geocaching unit at the park office for free.
While there isn’t an official Bike Trail that goes through the park, there are 1.7 miles of paved trails located between the trail center and the main campground. The Old Logging Trail is 1.1 miles connecting the Upper campground to the Visitors Center.
There is also a secondary trail, .6 miles connecting the Trail Center to the Old Logging Trail. There were plenty of people enjoying these paths and exploring the park that way.
Coming into the park, we noticed streams of horse trailers, all splintering off to the Horse Campground and horseback riding trail. These are further away from the river, but very popular at Wild River State Park. They have a large section specifically for camping.
The park is home to multiple different Fur Trading sites. Tom Connor’s post is just north of where Goose Creek joins with the St. Croix. The is near the northernmost canoe on the site. Maurice Sammuels’ post is one-half mile south of where the Sunrise and St. Croix rivers meet at the beginning of the sunrise loop trail.
The Point Douglas to Superior Military Road was built in the 1850s alongside the St. Croix River and crossed through the park. The highway was intended for troop movements but attracted civilian and commercial traffic.
When Minnesota became a state in 1858, they were put in charge of funding it. Without the funds, the road remained incomplete. When the railroads built the track north, the Military Road was abandoned.
McElroy Visitor Center
When the park took ownership of the land, evidence of its existence was still there. The park decided to preserve it and make it part of its hiking trails.
The McElroy Visitors Center is a great spot to learn more about the St. Croix River, the riverside, and the forest. Inside you see many interactive displays. Most notable is the wood deck behind the visitor’s center that overlooks the St. Croix River.
Winter Time at Wild River State Park
In winter, the trails transition to cross country skiing trails and snowshoe trails. Wild River State Park rents both types of equipment. Most of the cross-country trails are considered beginner trails.
The park sits alongside 18 miles of the St. Croix River. The river is a great location for freshwater fishing. Common species found in the river are large and small mouth bass, carp, catfish, drum, panfish, perch, pike and walleye. There are many opportunities to find some shoreline at overlooks and beach. There is also a boat launch site.
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.
Before hiking, make sure you have the Avenza Maps app downloaded to your phone and the Wild River State Park map downloaded. This app takes the Official State Parks Map and shows you your GPS coordinates on top of it, so it is really hard to get lost.
The best part is, it doesn’t use your data after the map is downloaded. Avenza Maps has free maps available from National Geographic and the Forest Service, including all the State Park Trails. I don’t normally use GPS when hiking, but after succumbing to peer pressure on the MN River Valley Hike, sometimes it’s nice to have it.
Other Questions About Wild River State Park
Are Dogs Allowed at Wild River State Park?
Yes, Dogs are allowed at all MN State Parks. They must remain on a 6ft leash at all times and do not leave them unattended in a camper.
Are there Wolves at Wild River State Park?
Wolves are a rare sighting in Wild River State Park. They live in Northern Minnesota. When wolves are spotted they are young timber wolves looking for new territories.
Can you hunt Wild River State Park?
Hunting is not allowed at Wild River State Park. Sometimes MN State Parks will close for a week to allow hunting to control animal populations. This will not happen in 2022.
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 to Wild River State Park?
Yes, there are so many fun things to do at Wild River State Park in Minnesota. It is so beautiful. It’s also close to one of my favorite MN Day Trip locations, Taylors Falls, but has a fraction of the crowds as Interstate State State Park. After we were done hiking, we took the scenic route back to Taylors Falls for lunch. You have to check it out!