2 of the Most Scenic Trails at Whitewater State Park

Between Minnesota and Wisconsin, along the St. Croix River and downward, you’ll find great bluffs, resembling small mountains that stand out in the midwestern terrain.  One of the best places to see this landscape is hiking along one Whitewater State Park’s scenic trails.

Don’t let the flat, cornfield plain discourage you as you drive in. The landscape changes to a hardwood forest with outcropping limestone bluffs and a rushing river, offering the perfect weekend trip away for day-hikers, overnighters, anglers, bird watchers, and families.

The park is open all year, too, making it an accessible park to visit within a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities.

When you go, make sure you at least cover these two trails:

The Whitewater River runs behind campsite 66 at Whitewater State Park, near Winona, Minn.
The Whitewater River runs behind campsite 66 at Whitewater State Park, near Winona, Minn.

First, Hike the Coyote Point Trail: 2.7 miles

Fellow camper Mack and I drove into campsite 66 around 3 p.m. Saturday. Behind our campsite, you could hear a fast-flowing river, which ran between the riverbank and a great bluff with numerous carvings engraved in the limestone. Trees hung over the river, edging closer to falling in, with their roots becoming more and more exposed.

The sun was setting quickly, as it does this time of year, but there was still enough time to set up camp and hit the trails.

We had about two hours to hike before it’d be totally dark, so we set up the bear minimum of camp before rushing off. A brief glance at the map told us we should hit the closest trail: Coyote Point Trail.

Starting at the base of these great bluffs, the trail worked its way upward, curving with the slopes and eventually bringing you to a scene that Mack described as “freedom.”

It was a fitting description, as a bald eagle with a broad wingspan let the wind push it upward, ascending toward us, gliding up and over the ridge. For minutes, we watched the eagle soar overhead, before it was carried away by the wind, far out of sight.

Whitewater State Park, near Winona, Minnesota

Luckily, that wasn’t our last encounter with eagles.

Breaking our stare, we continued down the trail, which takes you along the ridge, with numerous points to look out at the expanse of this 2,700-acre park.

Imagine, you’re high on top of the bluffs hiking along a trail that narrows and widens continuously. Bringing your attention upward, you find grand scenes of this region: bear deciduous trees intermixed with pines and protruding white and yellow rock.  

It was a great, yet short, hike through the park. Even in its shorter distance, this trail encompasses much of what the park has to offer, including a transition in landscape from overlooks high atop the bluffs to low points near the river.

It can be strenuous at times however, as you climb higher and come back down again. It’s important the watch for the many roots and rocks that can lie hidden underneath the cover of fallen leaves. The same goes for areas with sand or loose gravel.

This trail is great for the casual hiker up to the more serious backpacker. And, it also intersects with the Dakota Trail, which breaks off and heads westward deeper into the forest.

The Dakota Trail is just under 5 miles long, making it an ideal challenge for a weekend-long trip for more serious hikers.

Whichever trail you choose, you can’t go wrong.

The Chimney Rock Trail offers a great view of the Whitewater River and surrounding bluffs.
The Chimney Rock Trail offers a great view of the Whitewater River and surrounding bluffs.

Next Up: The Chimney Rock Trail, 0.7 Miles

In under a mile, you can climb to a high point of the park to take in one of the best views Minnesota’s state parks has to offer.

This short run up the “Chimney” has an astounding overlook, you’ll find a small blue lake filling with the runoff of the Whitewater River, surrounded by the high bluffs adorned with the oak savanna forest.

As we climbed many of the 100 stairs and beat path, a golden eagle, whose wingspan rivaled that of the bald eagle, took to the skies Sunday morning. We sat and watched it before, just like the bald eagle the day prior, it used the wind to project itself from one side of the ridge to the other.

It was hard to pry myself away from the overlook, but there was more trail to cover. Foot traffic was picking up too.

This trail is friendly for a wide range of hikers. While the trail is steep for most of the stretch, it has a well-maintained mix of wooden steps, making the trail stable.

Similar to the Coyote Point Trail, the Chimney Rock gives visitors a wonderful view of what this park has to offer.

But, again, whichever trail you choose, you can’t go wrong.