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Frontenac State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
Frontenac State Park has a story that’s as old as the ice age. The sandstone and limestone formations that are today’s bluffs were once sediments that hardened into rock at the bottom of shallow seas. Then, raging glacial rivers carved the broad river valley that we see today. A natural dam formed from material deposited by the Chippewa River as it emptied into the Mississippi created Lake Pepin. The park is a favorite of birdwatchers. Some 260 species of birds have been observed here as they make their way up and down the Mississippi during migration. Frontenac State Park is located 10 miles southeast of Red Wing in Minnesota’s Goodhue County.

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Picnic with a view at Frontenac State Park

Picnic with a view

Along the lower Cliffline Trail at Frontenac State Park

Along the lower Cliffline Trail

View of Lake Pepin from the top of the bluffs at Frontenac State Park

View of Lake Pepin from the top of the bluffs

A walk through the prairie at Frontenac State Park

A walk through the prairie

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Trails
Frontenac State Park’s 13 miles of hiking trails are a combination of open prairie and forest paths. Most of the overlooks are concentrated on top of the lakefront ridges. Some trails drop down the steep, forested slope with serpentine switchbacks to a bottomland path paralleling the lake. One trail leads behind the campground to In Yan Teopa Rock, a giant rock arch perched on the edge of a bluff above Lake Pepin. From the picnic area you can see down Lake Pepin to Lake City and beyond. Daytime observers up here will usually see a flotilla of sailboats and pleasure craft on Lake Pepin.

Heading to the Old Frontenac Overlook at Frontenac State Park

Heading to the Old Frontenac Overlook

Along the lower Cliffline Trail at Frontenac State Park

Maps tell help hikers navigate the trails

Along the lower Cliffline Trail at Frontenac State Park

Steep ascent to the top of the cliff

In Yan Teopa Rock at Frontenac State Park

In Yan Teopa Rock

Along the lower Cliffline Trail at Frontenac State Park

Along the lower Cliffline Trail

Camping/Lodging
The Park’s 58-site campground is on a ridge top with easy access to hiking trails. The primitive group camp is just to the west of the main campground. If you’d like to rough it, you can hike a short distance to the six cart-in campsites or two backpack sites. A group camp area offers room for 35 campers.
History
Frontenac, the scenic river town that the park is named for, was established in the 1850s. Its growth was slowed by the Civil War, but one of its founders, Israel Garrard, returned afterward with southern craftsmen to continue developing the town. By the late 1870s, Frontenac had blossomed into a prosperous community. Because of the town’s charm and the natural beauty of the bluffs and river, Frontenac became a fashionable summer resort for wealthy families from New Orleans, St. Louis and St. Paul who arrived by steamboat to vacation on the shores of Lake Pepin. When the railroads came, Frontenac, like other river towns, declined. The town of Frontenac today is a US Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Winter

Come back to the river country during winter for some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Seven miles of beginner to intermediate trails start from the trail center parking lot and branch off through the bottomlands to Sand Point or climb up to the picnic area. There are two wood-heated shelters along the ski trails. About three miles of trails are designated and groomed for snowshoeing. You can blaze your own trail anywhere in the park, except on groomed ski trails.
More about skiing at Frontenac State Park

More photos
Along the lower Cliffline Trail at Frontenac State Park

Hiking Club Trails

Picnic with a view at Frontenac State Park

Picnic with a view

Visit these trail-friendly sponsors:

Root River Trail
Harmony Chamber
Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota

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