Three More Off-The-Beaten-Path Minnesota Day Hikes & Breweries
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
We're on a quest to visit all 66 of Minnesota's state parks! Our hiking day trips typically start with coffee and bagels from our corner spot and then we hit the road to drive to our destination. Once we arrive, we hike or snowshoe and usually eat a picnic lunch. On the way home, it can be fun to grab a beer and celebrate checking another park off the list! We've visited many of the most popular parks already, so we're here to share with you some of the hidden gems (both parks and breweries!) we've discovered that are just off the beaten path.
Lake Maria State Park --> Spilled Grain Brewhouse or Lupulin Brewing
It's an easy hour's drive on I-94 to reach Monticello and Lake Maria State Park from the Twin Cities.
The Big Woods landscape of this park makes it a great place to visit year round, but especially in summer when the shade is welcome! Lake Maria was the first state park we visited with Bert and Ernie, and it's one we have returned to multiple times because it's convenient and fun. We like the Bjorklund Trail (the Hiking Club trail for the park) and the hilly Kettle Kame Trail. Our preference is to hike loop trails rather than out-and-backs because we like the variety, and Lake Maria offers lots of loops! There are about a dozen lakes, ponds, and marshes within the park's bounds and plenty of campsites, including a couple of camper cabins.
For post-hike refreshment, you have two choices that are each about 15 mins in opposite directions. Choose your own beer adventure! Southwest of the park, Spilled Grain Brewhouse sits right along Hwy 55 in Annandale. This cool barn-style brewery offers a number of small batch beers and has scooped up a couple of awards from the Great American Beer Festival (among many others). The taproom is not dog friendly, so keep pups on the patio. We found the outdoor seating to be nicely spaced with plenty of room for big dogs to spread out!
The other brewery near Lake Maria State Park that is worth a stop is Lupulin Brewing in Big Lake. Lupulin is about a 15 minute drive northeast of the park. The brewery has a large patio with lots of seating (and TVs outside!) - dogs are welcome both inside and outside. Grab a "Tropical Fun Pants" beer and make yourself comfortable!
The folks at Lupulin are definitely dog lovers, and they host a few dog-related events throughout the year! Check out their merch area and see if you can find the Lupulin-branded leashes, bowls, and bandanas to fully accessorize.
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park --> Thesis Beer Project
Two hours in the car will get you to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. This park has a couple of key attractions. First up is historic Forestville, an 1800s-era town that is preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society. Visitors can sign up for tours (additional fee) through MHS from roughly May through October or explore the grounds for free when the buildings are closed in the off-season. Another main attraction at this state park is Mystery Cave itself - the longest cave in Minnesota. Mystery Cave is comprised of 13 miles of underground caverns, and it's always a steady 48 degrees, no matter the surface temperature! Tours of various durations are offered May through October (pets not permitted).
Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park is home to three trout streams which wind through limestone bluffs. The varied terrain going up and down the bluffs to the streams makes for a pleasant hike. With lots of maple trees, this park would be beautiful in the fall!
After your hike (or perhaps successful trout angling), drive about 45 minutes north to Rochester, where you'll find Thesis Beer Project. We really loved "Pieces", their peanut butter blonde ale! Thesis hosts a residency program for local musicians who perform on their sizeable taproom stage. Dogs are not allowed in the taproom itself but are welcome on the patio.
Itasca State Park --> Portage Brewing
Itasca State Park is probably not really a day trip destination from the Twin Cities, but we made the ~4 hour drive, hiked, and turned around and drove home in a single day. Hardcore! We'd love to have spent more time at Itasca though because there is so much to see at this large and popular park - we'll be back for a longer visit someday. The coolest thing to see at Itasca State Park is definitely the headwaters of the Mississippi River. As you step across the trickling stream heading out of Lake Itasca, you can't help but marvel that this inches-deep rivulet stretches into the powerful 2,500+ mile-long "mighty Miss." Be sure to get a photo with the iconic headwaters sign - good luck trying to get dogs to pose nicely :)
The headwaters area is near to the large visitor's center and an accessible interpretive trail. We'd recommend a quick stroll on the nearby Schoolcraft Trail along the shoreline of Lake Itasca. At the right time of year, you might see a Lady's Slipper, Minnesota's state flower! The Wilderness Drive that encircles much of the park provides a 10 mile long paved tour through the red and white pine forests.
Walker, MN is about 40 minutes east of the park, and it's home to Portage Brewing. Portage suffered a terrible fire in 2019 and reopened in a brand new building a year later. The gorgeous space has major modern cabin vibes with wood paneled walls, tons of plants, and a huge canoe hanging from the ceiling. There's a large patio overlooking Leech Lake, and pups are welcome both inside and outside here! Portage is definitely worth a stop on your up-north excursion.
For even more hike and brewery ideas, check out this post!