We Minnesotans know a thing or two about parks—specifically, what it’s like to have really, really kick-ass parks.
But before you accuse us of showing off, we want to make it clear that we’re not bragging… our parks really are that good! Take it from The Trust for Public Land which ranked Minneapolis and St. Paul number one and two respectively on the national ParkScore list for two years running.
So as you read this list, know that these parks are more than just some of the best in Minnesota, they’re some of the best in the nation. Technically, that makes them the best of the best. Number one. First place. Champions. Okay, so maybe we’re bragging just a little.
Just steps from the new U.S. Bank Stadium (and Super Bowl 52!), The Commons is a four-acre park in the middle of downtown. Perfect for outdoor lunches and mid-afternoon office escapes, The Commons is always bustling with city-dwellers looking to get a bit of fresh air or try their hand at the park’s ping pong table. But the activities here don’t end with the workday. This year, the Commons began hosting an evening farmers market, and on Vikings game days, the park fills up with football fans, food trucks, and pregame festivities.
Highland Park takes full advantage of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons with year-round activities. In the winter months, break out the cross country skis or grab your sled and hit the slopes underneath the park’s Water Tower Hill (because you’re never too old!). Spring and summer mean picnics, playgrounds, swimming, sports, and golf — of either the 9-hole, 18-hole, or disc variety! In the fall season, check out the foliage from the top of the Highland Park water tower or fill up on a hearty bowl of Midwestern delicacy at the park’s Booya Shed.
Half museum, half park, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (and its centerpiece: the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry) is one of the most-recognizable spots in the state. Almost as Instagrammable as it is interesting, the recently renovated park houses 40-some sculptures from the collection of next-door neighbor Walker Art Center. Of course, no summertime visit is complete without a round of artist-designed mini golf featuring 18 holes that are as artsy as they are crafty.
Although it was named for Minneapolis’ flour milling history, Gold Medal Park also lives up to the literal meaning of its name with both skyline and river views. A 7.5-acre grassy oasis just outside of downtown, Gold Medal is the perfect place to hang out after a visit to the nearby Mill City Farmers Market or to unwind with your favorite Izzy’s ice cream flavor. Fitt Tip: The hill in the middle of the park is prime real estate for catching the Fourth of July fireworks show or some rays on a hot summer day.
Come for the waterfall views, stay for a day of taking in all of Minnesota’s natural glory. The 53-foot drop of Minnehaha Falls provides a beautiful backdrop for whatever your day includes, whether that be grabbing a bite at Sea Salt Eatery, taking Fido to the dog park, or adventuring on the park’s 12 miles of biking/hiking trails. Whenever you visit, be prepared to make a return trip — it’s impossible to decide whether the falls are at their best free fallin’ in the summer or frozen solid in the winter.
It just wouldn’t be a list of best parks without a Como shoutout. Seriously, what other park do you know that has a free zoo, an amusement park, both mini and regular-sized golf, a conservatory, a Japanese garden, a lake, and an aquatic center? If that’s not enough to keep you busy, Como also has all of the traditional park amenities you know and love, including over two miles of paved trails, playgrounds, picnic shelters, firepits, and more.
Whether you are boating, grilling, exercising, picnicking, or playgrounding, Boom Island Park is the place to go for your outdoor adventures. Sitting right on the shore of the Mississippi River in Northeast Minneapolis, Boom Island has a mini lighthouse replica, boat docking, canoe and kayak rentals, paved pathways alongside the water, and double tap-worthy views of the sun setting over the skyline.
Looking to unwind after a long day? Head to Nicollet Park for a mini-getaway. Connected by bridges to both downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi riverfront, the park provides a bit of calm in the middle of the city. Visitors can take a break on a riverside park bench, get an up-close view of Saint Anthony Falls, catch live music at the amphitheater, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
From street festivals to outdoor music and movie nights to race finish lines, Father Hennepin Bluff Park is always full of activity (and visitors!) thanks to its location adjacent to Historic Main Street and the Stone Arch Bridge. Looking for a quieter escape? Even in the midst of all the action, park-goers can find a bit of peace and quiet by taking footpaths down to the Mississippi River for a view of the city from the foot of the Stone Arch Bridge.
We’ve already filled you in on where to score the best skyline views of Minneapolis, so it’s only fair we do the same for Saint Paul. Harriet Island is more than just a pretty view, though. It’s also a pickup point for riverboat cruises, the perfect place for a game of pickup soccer or football, and basically an event venue in and of itself, with yearly happenings that include Twin Cities Burger Battle and the Irish Fair.
The sprawling Fort Snelling State Park is a go-to for almost every type of outdoor activity. Just south of the Twin Cities—where the mighty Mississippi meets the Minnesota River—the park has 18 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of ski trails, and five miles of bike trails. Whew! But we’re not done — there are also places to golf, swim, fish, boat, and even dogsled! Now that’s a lot of room for activities.
We know — technically this is a list of the best green spaces, but we couldn’t resist adding Rice Park to our list. It may have more pavement than grass, but that’s easy to look past in the winter months when ground is hidden beneath a layer of snow, the skating rink is open, and the trees are decked out in holiday lights. Come out to celebrate Winter Carnival festivities, make a wish in the park’s giant fountain, or simply take in the sight of downtown St. Paul at its most magical.