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Fort Snelling State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
Historically, Fort Snelling has been a gateway for soldiers, explorers and settlers into the upper Mississippi River Valley. Today this area is still a major gateway, as you’ll discover when you hear the roar of jets from the nearby international airport and the rumble of traffic on Minneapolis-St. Paul freeways. Ignore the background noise as you walk through the front gate, and pretend you’ve just pulled off the dusty trail for a break.
Fort Snelling State Park is located in Saint Paul on the Great River Road Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Hennepin and Dakota counties.

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Historic Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling

A winter walk along the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling State Park

A winter walk along the Minnesota River

Lush river bottom green on Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park

Lush river bottom green on Pike Island

Pike Island Peninsula at Fort Snelling State Park

Pike Island Peninsula

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Trails
On the 18-mile trail systems you’ll pass below lofty, thick-trunked hardwoods as well as the towering Mendota Bridge. One big loop trail swings through the park’s undeveloped land across the Minnesota River.

A winter walk along the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling State Park

A winter walk along the Minnesota River

The Minnesota River Trail at Fort Snelling State Park

The Minnesota River Trail

Cottonwood tree on Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park

Cottonwood tree on Pike Island

The main access for this loop is off Highway 13 near Lone Oak Road. The best river valley overlooks are from Highway 13 and from the trail that leads to the Fort Snelling Historic Site.
A paved 5-mile bicycle trail starts at the park entrance and continues out of the park to Minnehaha Falls and connects to the Grand Rounds Scenic Bikeway and the Big Rivers Regional Trail. This scenic route is also accessible to disabled visitors.

Cottonwoods on Pike Island can dwarf humans at Fort Snelling State Park

Cottonwoods on Pike Island can dwarf humans

Fort Snelling State Park also has 10 miles of mountain bike trails.
The bottomlands, wet meadows and small lakes of the park are best explored by foot.

Camping
The park does not have a campground, but Afton State Park, southeast of the Twin Cities, does.
Historic Site
Built on a strategic bluff above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in the early 1820s, Fort Snelling was the last U.S. outpost in the northwestern wilderness. For over 30 years, the fort was a center of government policy-making and a place of safety for those who sought shelter within its stone walls. It was also the site of Indian internment camps in 1862 and 1863, where several hundred Dakota died.

Historic Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling

Dakota Memorial to remember those who perished in an internment camp here in 1862-1863 at Fort Snelling State Park

Dakota Memorial to remember those who perished in an internment camp here in 1862-1863

Today, Fort Snelling Historical Site is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. The site has interpretive exhibits and costumed guides portray life in a frontier fort in the 1820s.

View of the Minneapolis Skyline from the round stack at Fort Snelling

View of the Minneapolis Skyline from the round stack at Fort Snelling

Visit the blacksmith, shoulder a musket, or bargain with the sutler over the price of tobacco. With more than half of Minnesota’s population living in the seven-county metropolitan area, Fort Snelling State Park and the historic site attract large day-use crowds, especially on weekends.

Fishing/Boating
A drive-in boat landing on Picnic Island provides access for anglers and sightseers to the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.
The canoeing is easy on the rivers, both are designated canoe routes, but commercial barge traffic can be heavy.

At the confluence of the Minnesota River on the left and the Mississippi River on the right at Fort Snelling State Park

At the confluence of the Minnesota River on the left and the Mississippi River on the right

If you don’t want to dodge boats and barges, try canoeing on Gun Club Lake (two bodies of water linked by a stream) or on Snelling Lake. Fishing and wildlife observation occupy canoeists who trace the shorelines of Gun Club Lake. Spring fed Snelling Lake is popular for it’s fishing, swimming and canoeing. No motors are allowed on this lake.

Winter

The 12 miles of cross-country ski trails in the 3,300-acre park are relatively level and snowshoers are free to wander throughout the park with the exception of groomed ski trails. The park maintains six miles of packed multi-use trails and three miles of hiking trails. The interpretive center is open year round and serves as a warming house in the winter.
More about skiing in the Saint Paul area

Trails at Fort Snelling State Park are well marked

Trails at the park are well marked

A winter hike along Snelling Lake at Fort Snelling State Park

A winter hike along Snelling Lake

Fat biking is popular on the multi-use trails at Fort Snelling State Park

Fat biking is popular on the multi-use trails

Skier near the Mendota Bridge at Fort Snelling State Park

Skier near the Mendota Bridge

Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park, except groomed ski trails at Fort Snelling State Park

Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park, except groomed ski trails

Young anglers can try ice fishing on Lake Snelling at Fort Snelling State Park

Young anglers can try ice fishing on Lake Snelling

Waiting for that big one at Fort Snelling State Park

Waiting for that big one

Winter Trails Day is a good day to try out a new sport at Fort Snelling State Park

Winter Trails Day is a good day to try out a new sport

Having some fun on Winter Trails Day at Fort Snelling State Park

Having some fun on Winter Trails Day

 

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