Only about 30 minutes outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul is the small town of Afton, MN which has a state park that is also named Afton State Park. Signs for the park are all along the 94 Interstate and appears to have several different ways to get there. My favorite way is to head down towards the border and jump on the St. Croix Trail Scenic Byway. The road offers many twists and turns through small towns, open fields and rolling hills through the trees. Not a very busy road but one that is enjoyed to get away from the city for a few hours.
As the road continues it twists and turns it finally opens up and endless views can be seen beyond the hills and then there is the sign to Afton State Park pointing to the left.
At the four-way stop, you are greeted by another sign that says Afton Alps. As you continue on toward the state park you will see a sign that welcomes everyone regardless of the season. Golfers during the spring and summer and skiers during the winter.
A very clean and well-kept area welcomes visitors to all three points, and even though there isn't any snow you are still able to follow the road down to the ski slopes and view what they have to offer in the winter.
On the right is Afton State Park that greets you will an open field and groomed landscape as the road curves and ahead can be seen the ranger station. Here is where information and fees can be paid if you hold a year pass, continue on into the park.
Once away from the station the road begins to curve and drop down into the valley and hills that make up the area. There is a paved path that is laid out next to the street and along the tree line.
Large trees encompass the road and not much can be seen beyond what is around you. The hills are steep and some curves are sharp, use caution and be aware of any hikers that maybe out and about. A few twists and turns and you're going back up a short hill and as you gaze to the right you will see the ski slopes and chairlifts that will be used in the upcoming season. The large building next to them is what is currently being used by the golfers as a place to rest and register.
The area will be absolutely beautiful once the leaves are in Fall mode and have all completely changed. The road continues on with signs directing you to the camping areas and the information center as well as the parking ramps, although, not much will lead you elsewhere. Follow the road to the end and you will see several different parking lots, one specifically for buses and trailers, and the others give you access to the many trails the park has to offer.
On this particular trip, Aria and I went to the very end and to the farthest parking lot. I was surprised to see how busy the park was and this is clearly a popular spot for many to come. The park welcomes walkers, hikers, joggers, bikers, dogs on leashes and even horseback riders. There is information about the park and its trails when you first enter the area where picnic tables have been set up.
There are a total of seven trails throughout the entire park; four are at the North end of the visitor center and 3 are at the South end. The shortest trail is .4 miles and the longest is 3 miles. They range from easy to moderate and even though most seem to be paved the ones that aren't have been packed down with dirt making walking easy even after heavy rain. However, even the paved trails are on the uneven ground so caution must be taken at all times.
Camping and campfires are allowed in the park. Off the main trail, there are several paths that lead away, some will lead you to a fire ring that has wood next to it ready to be used and others will lead you down to the water's edge and offer you a small beach area to relax on.
Even these paths offer steps and a clear indication of where it leads, along with maps at various intersections it makes it easy to figure out where you and where you need to go. According to the maps, it appears that eventually all the trails will link up and you walk the entire park without having to go back to your car, however; it is highly recommended to take your time, bring extra water and the proper hiking shoes when you set out on these trails. I was able to meet several people while hiking, some were like me and enjoy a nice stroll through the park and others were more serious with walking poles and large hiking packs.
What I love most about hiking is the people I meet along the way. Everyone is polite and courteous, keeping in mind that not everyone is a dog person I keep Aria close to me, and there is nothing but appreciation from those I meet. A warm smile, a slight nod and an occasional 'hello' have all of us continuing on our way looking forward to seeing what the trail has to offer at the end.
This particular trail that we're on takes us down to a large picnic area that is next to the St. Croix river as well as a beach area to lay about and enjoy the day.
The park has plenty of restroom facilities as well as trash receptacles for hikers to use and they even have a separate receptacle for recycling. Take notice of your surroundings as you may meet a ranger out checking on things in his large pickup, give a wave and a smile and continue your hike. It's rare to see a ranger outside of the station but it is also a comfort to know they are out there checking on things for everyone's safety and assistance if needed.
After taking a few minutes at the beach we begin to head back towards the parking lot and along the way I notice there are several areas for people to sit and catch their breath. A must when you get done hiking back uphill towards the parking lot.
There are bridges above the streams and down closer to the water which also brings about those wonderful mosquitoes this park is definitely requiring repellent if you hike it during the summer.
As Aria and I begin to slow our pace we are greeted by the site of the parking lot, that has few cars than when we left but only for a moment as more people begin to filter in and enjoy a day of hiking. I was happily surprised by this park. I wasn't sure what to make of it when I first saw but I'm glad I took the time to visit it. I look forward to going back again and viewing the rest of the trails as there is one that takes you along what used to be a railroad track. Be safe and enjoy.
You don't have to go far to have fun. Here are a few places I visit when I'm not driving across country or exploring the Rustic Roads.