Hiking Banning State Park near Sandstone

minnesota banning state park kettle river 1-1
The rocky Kettle River at Banning State Park.

Banning State Park, near Sandstone, is pretty much right between the Twin Cities and Duluth, not far off I-35. So, it makes either a nice day trip from either city, or a nice stop for some exercise on your way back to the Twin Cites from Duluth, which is how we visited.

It’s an interesting park to hike for a few reasons. First, it’s geology is different that the usual forest or prairie you’ll find in Minnesota. The better part of the site, in fact, sits on a sandstone outcropping that was quarried for several years by the Banning Sandstone Company – hence the name. In the late 1890s, the Banning Sandstone Quarry employed 500 workers who chiseled the rock into massive blocks. The strength and pink color of this sandstone made it very popular for building construction.

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minnesota banning state park rocks
It took us a little bit to find the way over the rocks to the falls.

The hike to the falls at Wolf Creek, just before it empties into the Kettle River, will take you through the quarry sites either before or after the falls, depending on which way you choose to go first. We chose to approach the falls via the Wolf Creek Trail. That trail more or less skirts the quarry sites, but does involve running into some outcroppings that require a little bit of ingenuity and clambering to get over and down to the path that leads to the falls. It took us a few minutes to find a way down the back side of the rocks because, of course, the groomed trail disappears on the rock surface and it requires a bit of scouting from above to find a way down.

minnesota banning state park waterfall
The falls at Wolf Creek. Getting there requires some scrambling over some rocks.

But, once you negotiate your short descent toward the falls, you’re welcomed with this lovely view. You can actually walk out onto the rocks above the falls, if you like. And we did. And then we circled back toward the river to get this view.

minnesota banning state park quarry site
Some of the quarry walls and large stones left behind line the lower Quarry Path.

We returned to our starting point via the High Bluff trail, which gave nice views of the Kettle River. And we took a detour down the mildly challenging Hell’s Gate Trail to get a better look at some of the Kettle’s rapids. In this time of low water levels, though, they didn’t seem all that rapid. And we didn’t see anyone in canoes or kayaks, although that’s a lot of what Banning State Park is known for.

minnesota banning state park rock crushing
The rock crushing house is one of the remnants of the sandstone mining operation.

The High Bluff Trail leads to the lower part of the Quarry Trail, which passes through the actual quarry sites, including some abandoned buildings such as a power house and the former rock crusher.

The pleasant round trip hike from the parking area near Teacher’s Overlook amounted to 5.7 miles and took us about 2.5 hours, including dawdling by the Wolf Creek falls and several stops for photos. It’s a great stretch of the legs to break up a trip home from Duluth. Be sure to pick up the Banning Quarry Self-Guided Trail brochure along with your DNR trail map at the ranger station as you enter the park. It has lots of interesting facts about the quarrying operation and the town that once occupied what is now the park.

More info from MNTrips

See the list of all Minnesota State Parks, including basic permit information. We also have a list of all Minnesota Historical Society sites. We’re adding our commentary for the park and historical sites as we visit them.

When you plan on hiking or biking the Minnesota State Parks, be sure to download the Avenza Maps app to your phone. The app allows you to download the trail maps for almost every state park, and they are invaluable for navigation, especially because many of the parks don’t have as many directional signs as they should.

Also, if you’re planning on camping at Minnesota State Parks, you’ll need a reservation. Here’s the online reservation form.

Check out our recommendations for what to carry in your hiking day pack when you check out the extensive Minnesota State Park and National Park system.

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Tom Bartel
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