Parks, parks, parks! Minnesota is home to one national park, Voyageurs National Park, along with 75 state parks and a plethora of country & regional parks (approx 330+) and quaint city parks nestled into neighborhoods. Which means it’s quite easy to head out of the hustle of the day and commune with nature. Plus the parks around the state are as diverse as they are in number – from prairie & farmland, to wooded forests and rugged shorelines.
With so many parks to pick from, we picked 5 awesome parks that are perfect for portraits in Minnesota!
(Or at least in the central area of Minnesota haha!)
Theodore Wirth Regional Park, Golden Valley, MN
Nestled right at the urban foot of the Twin Cities Theo Wirth boasts a size of 740.29 acres including 83 acres of water and a 280 acre golf course. Size aside, this park has LOADS of diversity throughout the park – from a sandy beach, to many points of water access, untamed woods, various paths that loop around swampy wooded areas, a big pavillion, and open grassy areas (great for puffy dandelions!). The neatest spot is a little bridge that spans an even smaller creek, both are quite scenic. There is a fair amount of walking around the park to get to the various areas, though the walking is rather easy with small hills and well defined paths.
Drive time from Minneapolis: under 15 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 1 hour 7 mins
- Hidden Falls Regional Park, Saint Paul, MN
This park is old (dating back to 1887) and quite large with a rocky beach (great for sunset pictures!) and boat launch into the Mississippi River, an open grassy picnic area, a primitive woods area and the scenic falls area. You’ll do some solid walking from the parking lot to falls and beach, but the going is rather easy. If you only have a little time, opt for the falls area. The path tucks into the woods and heads upwards slightly, putting you into a secret feeling woods. The path follows the creek as it flows downward through a manmade riverbed. As you make you way up to the falls, you’ll see the wicked moss covered stone stairs heading upward to the street level. Not how many stairs there are, but they are too epic not to include in your images! Continue to the falls and you’ll be delighted by water or a tinkle of water over dark colored rocks that will make your dog look like a wild wolf in the wilderness. If you have more time, stroll to the beach then into the primitive woods for even more great portrait areas.
NOTE: If you are doing portraits in the falls area, you may want to bring a flash for a little extra light as the area tends to be dimly lit especially when you’re working around golden hour.
Drive time from Minneapolis: 25 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 1 hour 26 mins
- Montissippi Regional Park, Monticello, MN
This park encompasses 170 acres of land with walking trails, disc golf course and public water access. The magic of this location is the pines planted in rows upon rows that create awesome leading lines to pose a pup or person in. Beware, this area of the park is known to have pointy wild raspberry branches and poison ivy, just be careful where your pup steps and you kneel or sit. Following the path loops you into a grassy area, through gnarled trees & scattered pines and points you the direction of a more primitive path. There’s a ginormous grassy area by the playground and water access if your pup likes to swim. You’ll walk a bit, but the going is very easy. See what kind of textures you can find to complement your portraits!
Drive time from Minneapolis: 55 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 33 mins
- Bend in the River Regional Park, Rice MN
The favorite spot of photographers in central Minnesota. And who could blame them? There’s a grassy prairie area, a house, barn, and other outbuildings with various textures. A walking trail loops around the park, hops over the road and flows into a great walking path that is much quieter. There’s also a steep path that leads down to the edge of the Mississippi River which puts you in dinosaur era floodplains with wonky trees one way, more trees to a dead end another direction. If you don’t have a ton of time, this park is great because a short walk brings you to all of the different buildings and tons of textures. Be aware that the fall is buzzing with photographers, especially on weekends and golden hour.
Drive time from Minneapolis: 1 hour 28 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 18 mins
- Quarry Park and Nature Preserve, St. Cloud MN.
This park contains 683 acres – the largest in the Stearns County Parks system! A favorite with those wanting to stroll in the woods as well as photographers. You’ll find a floating “bridge” over a marsh, water filled quarries with cool stone sides, ample wooded and grassy prairie areas. You can fish for trout, go scuba diving and rock climbing and even go for a swim in some of the quarries. Due to this, the summer season does get rather busy with people. (Your dog also isn’t allowed in any of the quarries so no swimming for them!). There is some walking from spot to spot, though the routes are easy going. You can also hike into the scientific and natural area, though your dog won’t be able to accompany you. Summer season does tend to be buggy, bring ample bug protection for you and your pup!
NOTE: You will need a parking permit – $5 in the off season, $10 in peak season. Or snag a yearly for $25 if you’re planning on visiting a ton!
Drive time from Minneapolis: 1 hour 14 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 13 mins
- BONUS: Mississippi River County Park, Rice MN
Directly across the river from Bend in the River is Mississippi River County Park. Compared to it’s cross river companion, this park is much quieter with bigger areas of space. There’s a disc golf course that winds through the woods with tons of different stands and pockets of trees. (Blue & I traveled this path this winter, but have not done any photography in this area.) Across the parking lot, towards the river is another path that winds through the woods and runs next to the river. There’s a cool fallen tree and tons of cool trees and bends in the path. This area can become buggy during the spring/summer. Driving away from the main parking lot loops you to the public water access. The trees are tall and quite stunning on this route, especially when you pause at the little parking area just before the boat launch. You’ll find a path that heads into the floodplains area. When I was out with Jack & Lindsey last summer we weren’t able to explore this area much due to the massive amount of mosquitos that attacked. Best strategy for this area would be in the spring before the bugs arrive (beware of water & mud) and later in the summer/fall season when the temps begin to cool.
Drive time from Minneapolis: 1 hour 31 mins
Drive time from St. Cloud: 20 mins
OOOO Fun facts that you didn’t know:
From the Minnesota DNR – Minnesota state parks include:
- 66 state parks
- 9 recreation areas
- 9 waysides
- 4,466 campsites
- 244 horse camp sites
- 104 group camps
- 108 water access sites
- 644 archaeological and historic cemetery sites
- 306 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places
Number of visitors:
- There are an average of 9,857,793 visitors to Minnesota state parks each year
- Most visitors come just for the day
- An average of 1,049,382 visitors camp overnight each year
- Nearly 19 percent of park visitors come from other states and countries
Most visited parks in 2021:
- Gooseberry Falls – 782,125 visitors
- Fort Snelling – 702,351 visitors
- Itasca – 569,835 visitors
- Tettegouche- 564,992 visitors
- Split Rock Lighthouse – 544,327 visitors
Minnesota became the second oldest state park system in the country with the establishment of Itasca State Park on April 20, 1891!
We are the land of lakes, snow and parks! Plus we have the size to host all of these parks and lovely bodies of water – the entire state is 86,943 square miles making it 12th in area among the other 50 US states!
Have you been to any of the 5 awesome parks perfect for portraits in Minnesota? Do you have a favorite park Blue & I should visit?
We’re in a blog ring of dog and pet photographers around the world! Next up Marie Wulfram of Marie Wulfram Photography shares advice on where to take your dog or cat hiking in Washington state.