How Accessible are Minnesota State Parks for Non-motorists?

After living in Minnesota for four years, I decided last year to focus on getting away from the metro area and exploring greater Minnesota. I also decided to take up camping for the first time since childhood in 2017. As someone who is car-free, accomplishing these goals required some creativity on my part. I purchased camping gear with an eye towards backpacking/bike camping and researched parks (state and local) where I could visit without using a car.

One of my goals was to visit Bemidji, but Bemidji is a 19-hour bicycle trip and I only had a two-and-a-half day weekend available. Over the previous Christmas holiday travel plans went awry so at the last minute I booked a Jefferson Lines bus round-trip to Springfield, Missouri, and as I searched for a way to get to Bemidji, I thought to include Jefferson Lines in my search.

Jefferson Lines does have a stop in Bemidji, so at noon on a Friday in late-July of last summer I boarded a Jefferson Lines bus in Maple Grove and rode north. Once we passed through St. Cloud and began to approach Little Falls I fell in love with Minnesota anew. Staring out the bus window at each passing town–Brainerd, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Walker–my heart leaped with joy and wonder at the landscape. However, as we drew near to Bemidji we encountered a massive thunderstorm and I was not able to see much of the town upon approach due to limited visibility.

Me on the Paul Bunyan Trail in Bemidji, on my way to see Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox

The bus reached Bemidji at 5:30–an hour late due to construction and the thunderstorm and I waited another 45 minutes in the lobby of Holiday Gas Station until the storm subsided enough for safe walking conditions. With daylight waning, I took off under drizzling skies, making the pilgrimage to see Paul Bunyan and Babe before renting a Nice Ride bike in downtown Bemidji. Then I rode through what I dubbed the Canyon of Pines–Paul Bunyan Trail–along the eastern shore of Lake Bemidji until I reached Lake Bemidji State Park.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a twitter conversation about accessibility and Minnesota State Parks–particularly how inaccessible they are to those who choose to live a car-free life. I recounted the above story because I have discovered several non-motorists are not aware of the Jefferson Lines bus option. This conversation sparked the idea to research how many Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas are accessible via bus (for trips originating in downtown Minneapolis). Here are the results of my research:

There are only 13 (out of 75) Minnesota State Parks or Recreation Areas within 10 miles (half-day hike or less) of a Jefferson Lines bus stop.


There is only one Minnesota State Park where traveling via Jefferson Lines on a day-trip is feasible.

  • Myre-Big Island State Park (Albert Lea)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 6:45am
    • Arrival in Albert Lea: 8:30am
    • Walking time/distance to park: 1 hour, 1 minute/3 miles
    • Departure from Albert Lea: 3:10pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:15pm
    • This schedule allows 4.5 hours to explore the park

Overnight trips:

I am listing these by walking distance, nearest to farthest (all of the Minnesota State Parks and Recreational Areas listed here have camping facilities).

  • Red River State Recreation Area (Grand Forks)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 11:35am
    • Arrival in Grand Forks (ND): 7:20pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 12 minutes/0.6 miles
    • Departure from Grand Forks (ND): 8:45pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:10pm
    • While this is the shortest walk, the length of the bus trip means a two-night stay is preferred
  • Moose Lake State Park (Moose Lake)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 6:55am
    • Arrival in Moose Lake: 9:45am
    • Walking time/distance to park: 15 minutes/0.7 miles
    • Departure from Moose Lake: 1:00pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 3:40pm
    • You could technically make Moose Lake a day-trip, but you would spend five and a half hours on a bus for two and a half hours of park time.
  • Cuyuna Country State Park (Crosby)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 11:35am
    • Arrival in Crosby: 2:50pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 43 minutes/2.2 miles
    • Departure from Crosby: 1:25pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:10pm
    • Hike the scenic Cuyuna Lakes State Trail to and from the park
  • Charles A. Lindbergh State Park (Little Falls)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 11:35am
    • Arrival in Little Falls: 1:45pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 1 hour, 6 minutes/3.4 miles
    • Departure from Little Falls: 2:45pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:10pm
  • Jay Cooke State Park (Cloquet)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 6:55am
    • Arrival in Cloquet: 10:00 am
    • Walking time/distance to park: 1 hour, 14 minutes/3.8 miles
    • Departure from Cloquet: 12:35pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 3:40pm
  • Banning State Park (Sandstone)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 6:55am
    • Arrival in Sandstone: 9:20pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 1 hour, 41 minutes/5.1 miles
    • Departure from Sandstone: 1:25pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 3:40pm
  • Lake Bemidji State Park (Bemidji)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 11:35am
    • Arrival in Bemidji: 4:40pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 2 hours, 5 minutes/6.4 miles
    • Departure from Bemidji: 11:30am
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 4:30pm
    • Hike the Paul Bunyan Trail to the park after visiting Paul Bunyan and Babe in downtown Bemidji.
    • Unfortunately, Nice Ride Bemidji is no longer in operation so biking to the campsite is not an option
  • Blue Mounds State Park (Luverne)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 12:01pm
    • Arrival in Luverne: 5:45pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 2 hours, 19 minutes/7 miles
    • Departure from Luverne: 11:05pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:00pm
    • Head to the prairie and see a heard of real American Bison and do rock climbing. There is a recreational path from the north edge of town to the park, a much better alternative to walking along the shoulder of the highway.
  • Upper Sioux Agency State Park (Granite Falls)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 12:01am
    • Arrival in Granite Falls: 3:45pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 2 hours, 32 minutes/7.6 miles
    • Departure from Granite Falls: 1:10pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:00pm
  • Split Rock Creek State Park (Pipestone)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 12:01pm
    • Arrival in Pipestone: 5:15pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 2 hours, 38 minutes/8.1 miles
    • Departure from Pipestone: 11:40am
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:00pm
    • Pipestone National Monument is a 25 minute walk/1.2 miles from the bus stop in Pipestone
  • Rice Lake State Park (Owatonna)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 12:01pm or 6:05pm
    • Arrival in Owatonna: 1:45pm or 7:25pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 3 hours, 17 minutes/10 miles
    • Departure from Owatonna: 9:25am or 3:45pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 11:20am or 5:15pm
  • Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park (Faribault)
    • Departure from Minneapolis: 12:01pm or 6:05pm
    • Arrival in Faribault: 1:20pm or 7:05pm
    • Walking time/distance to park: 3 hours, 19 minutes/10 miles
    • Departure from Faribault: 4:10pm
    • Arrival in Minneapolis: 5:15pm


  • Every one of these trips arrives back in Minneapolis before 5:30pm, allowing you free time in the evening upon your return.
  • Jefferson Lines also passes through Cass Lake (Chippewa National Forest) and Walker (Leech Lake area), where many overnight camping opportunities are within an hour’s walk.
  • Jefferson Lines runs to Duluth several times a day. If you catch the early bus north and the late bus south, you will have around eight hours to spend in Duluth.
  • Purchase your bus tickets early–the best rates are three weeks in advance, but tickets are still cheaper up to eight days before the trip.
  • Jefferson Lines allows fold-able bikes (if in a bag) to be stowed underneath in the luggage compartment. Even a fold-able bike will cut down significantly on travel time between bus stops and state parks.
  • I appreciate that as a white male going on these trips alone can be less daunting than it can be for those who are not white males. If you do not feel safe taking these trips alone, form a group. (And, if you feel comfortable, reach out to me and ask me to join your group–especially if you are headed to Blue Mounds State Park, because it is high on my list of parks to visit next.)

In conclusion, the individual who started the twitter conversation about lack of accessibility to our Minnesota State Parks was correct. The vast majority of Minnesota State Parks are inaccessible to those who do not drive automobiles. While a few of these parks are accessible via bus, Minnesotans (politicians, policy makers, government employees and citizens) need to work together to make more of our beautiful state parks accessible to everyone.



About Tim Brackett

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Tim Brackett (he/him) has been on the board of since 2018, and is currently chair of the Anti-Racism committee. Tim recently graduated from Metro State University, where he studied Advocacy and Political Leadership as a Social Science major. He is committed to engaging communities and working collaboratively to build safe, equitable and sustainable transportation choices for everyone. Tim loves live music, exploring the North Shore, and enjoying tacos and beers at a local taproom with his wife (Kari) and dog (Marla).