Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota

Afton State Park

By Jim Umhoefer Close to the Twin Cities metro area, Afton offers a solution for traffic snarls and freeway mania: motorless motion. Bring comfortable walking shoes when you visit Afton State Park because you’ll have to hike in order to picnic, camp or swim here. The park’s trails plunge into deep ravines and climb up to ridge tops where you can overlook the St. Croix River Valley. If you feel out of touch with the natural world because of too much city, Afton State Park will help you mark the seasons. Afton State Park is located 10 miles north of Hastings in Minnesota’s Washington County.

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Trails
Afton’s 20 miles of hiking trails, some of which are challenging, begin from the parking lot near the interpretive center. To reach the backpack sites or the trails in the main body of park land, you’ll have to drop into the ravine, cross Trout Brook near its mouth, and climb the bluffs on the other side of the stream. Some trails follow the 2-mile-long river shoreline in the park, while others twist through the hills and valleys farther inland. The quietest trails are in Afton’s northern and western extremes. A 5-mile-long bridle trail allows horseback riders to enjoy the park’s hilly terrain. A paved bicycle trail parallels the park road and extends along the river, totaling some 4 miles of pedaling for cyclists.
Camping
The 28 wooded open sites in the backpack camping area are on an upland plateau. The secluded primitive sites are spaced along the forested edge of a former pasture and are a favorite of backpackers. A group camp has two sites with room for forty campers each. There’s also a canoe-in campsite near the river. For a less rustic experience try one of four camper cabins or one of the two yurts for an overnight stay.
Birding
The St. Croix River Valley is one of the state’s best birding areas. As the flocks fly overhead, you can hear the collective fluttering of their wings, like a wind urging them on their way. In spring, warblers and bluebirds return to the park, filling the woods with song. You’ll also see many hawks during the migrations and might notice red-tailed hawks circling above the fields, hunting for rabbits or rodents. Eagles are often spotted soaring above the bluffs on their way through the park, but they don’t nest here.
Winter

The interpretive center stays open year-round and is used as a warming house by winter trail users. Weekends draw crowds from the Twin Cities metro area, mostly for the excellent cross-country skiing. The marked and groomed 12-mile trail system at Afton provides challenging skiing for expert and intermediate skiers, but also includes a 2.5-mile beginner loop. Snowshoeing is permitted anywhere in the park, but it can be difficult to navigate in the slippery ravines. The park also maintains four miles of groomed snowshoe trails and six miles of winter hiking trails and visitors can warm up by the wood stove in the visitor center.
More about skiing in the Hastings area

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