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The 10 most-popular Minnesota state parks

Number 3. Itasca State Park: The headwaters of the Mississippi River. Established in 1891, it’s Minnesota’s oldest state park. It’s also the state’s most-popular for camping, with more than 100,000 overnight visits last year.

Of the 10 most-popular state parks, 6 are located in northern Minnesota.

Which Minnesota state parks will you visit this year?

According to 2014 visitor data, these are the state’s 10 most-popular state parks, counting down from number 10.

10. Flandrau State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 242,285

Located on the Cottonwood River in New Ulm, Flandrau State Park features a unique sand-bottom swimming pool. The park also offers views of woods, marshes and grasslands, and for overnight stays, there are bunkhouses and camper cabins.

9. Temperance River State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 249,107

Temperance River State Park, about 50 miles northeast of Two Harbors, covers a stretch of the Temperance River -- including where the water empties into Lake Superior. Visitors can hike along the dramatic river gorge on the Superior Hiking Trail or camp near the Lake Superior shore.

8. Interstate State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 330,645

The St. Croix River cuts through large cliffs at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls. Visitors can kayak through rapids, see unique glacial potholes or climb basalt rock made from lava flows more than a billion years ago. Canoes can be rented for the river’s calmer waters, and people can camp at the park’s 37 sites.

7. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 339,886

Split Rock Lighthouse is the best-known feature of this state park, and visitors can learn about its history during a lighthouse tour. The park also features campsites with dramatic views and several miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Superior Hiking Trail.

6. Whitewater State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 348,093

Visitors can explore limestone bluffs and ravines in Whitewater State Park’s 2,700 acres near Winona. There is also trout fishing in the spring-fed Whitewater River and Trout Run Creek, and camping in a total of 110 campsites.

5. Jay Cooke State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 372,831

The wild waters of the St. Louis River are a highlight of this state park. Visitors can bike, ride horses or use their plain-old feet to traverse the trails of the park, found just southwest of Duluth.

4. Tettegouche State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 382,141

Trails in Tettegouche State Park lead to fantastic views of the Lake Superior shore and Sawtooth Mountains. The park’s tall cliffs attract rock climbers, and visitors interested in waterfalls will want to see the 60-foot falls of the Baptism River.

3. Itasca State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 532,381

To see the headwaters of the Mississippi River, one must pay a visit to Itasca State Park. Located between Bemidji and Park Rapids, the park features more than 32,000 acres and more than 100 lakes. Established in 1891, it’s Minnesota’s oldest state park. It’s also the state’s most-popular for camping, with more than 100,000 overnight visits last year.

2. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 618,477

The cascading waterfalls of the Gooseberry River help make this the most popular state park on the North Shore. About 30 miles northeast of Duluth, the park features miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Superior Hiking Trail. Visitors can also camp near Lake Superior and bike along the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail.

1. Fort Snelling State Park

Estimated 2014 visits: 789,741

Nestled between the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers is the state’s most popular state park. Just minutes from St. Paul or Minneapolis, Fort Snelling State Park offers trails throughout Pike Island, where one can spot white-tailed deer and see the confluence of the two rivers. Visitors can also picnic in the park, swim and fish in Snelling Lake and walk to historic Fort Snelling. Bike trails connect to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

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