Where are the Twin Cities’ Giant Trees?

Sure, our giant trees aren’t anything like those in California…but they’re giant to us! And it’s super cool to bike, hike, ski or paddle by them.

a skier tries to hug a massive cottonwood tree
This granddaddy cottonwood is in Lake Elmo Park Reserve (my daughter, Jamie—try to hug a tree with skis on!)

Ever since I started taking pictures for Twin Cities Outdoors in our local parks, I’ve noticed and photographed the giant trees I see. If a friend or family member is with me, I force them to hug it, for context 🙂

(It just isn’t the same if I’m alone—a selfie does no justice to the size of a tree.)

I just love them!

One of my Bucket List dreams is to get to California to see the redwoods and sequoias. Until I do, I keep loving the giant trees we have right here.

Take a look at our Digital Guide Series

Minnesota’s largest tree is the cottonwood, so you’ll see a few of those in these photos. Our second largest tree is the white pine, although the biggest ones are up north, not here in the Cities. I included one or two others here, too.

(If you know your trees better than I do, feel free to correct me on these!)

NOTE: I’m only listing the giants I’ve come across in our local parks, not on private property or other government land:

Local Cottonwood Giants

Cottonwoods can be a nuisance. I know, we have a huge one in our yard. But I love their deeply-grooved bark, the shade they offer and the massive size they can grow to.

woman hugs a huge cottonwood
A cottonwood on the beach along the St. Croix River in Afton State Park (my friend, Renee)

Cottonwoods love lots of sun and plenty of moisture. There are many huge ones in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul downtown areas along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and Minnehaha Creek.

One of the biggest cottonwoods I’ve seen! Along Minnehaha Creek (my sister, Katy)

Fun Fact: If the cottonwood near you drops sticky seeds and then the fluffy cotton they’re named for (like snow in summer), it’s a female tree. The males don’t seed.

woman hugging a big cottonwood
This biggie is in Islands of Peace Regional Park (my friend, Cheyenne)

I’m not sure that this one is a cottonwood—the bark doesn’t look quite as deep as the others. But, it’s one big tree:

woman inside a huge tree
This giant is on Pike Island, part of Fort Snelling State Park (Katy again—she had to take her skis off for this one)

Local Multi-Trunk Giants

These are different in that they’re multi-trunk trees. Fall color season is a good time to ID some of these trees, especially the maples.

woman standing next to huge maple tree, fall
I’m pretty sure this one is a huge maple, as it was almost all maples in that grove at Elm Creek Park Reserve (Jamie)

Can you imagine the spread of this one below? This beauty is providing a LOT of shade!

woman hugging a huge multi-trunk tree
This massive beauty is in St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park (that’s me, Sharon)

It’s always fun to imagine how much change these giants have lived through. If they could talk, what stories they could tell!

woman hugging massive multi-trunk tree
Here’s an enormous multi-trunk tree in Locke County Park (Jamie again)

Minnesota’s largest butternut tree is in Roseville’s Reservoir Woods Park (thanks to reader Heidi M. for the tip!):

Sharon hugging MN's largest butternut tree
The state’s largest butternut tree, Reservoir Woods Park in Roseville

Local White Pine Giants

Even though our urban white pines aren’t as giant as the ones up north, I have to include a couple of them because it’s one of my favorite trees.

This one technically isn’t in the metro, it’s in Banning State Park, just an hour north of us:

woman hugs a huge white pine next to a river
This towering white pine is in Banning State Park, alongside the scenic Kettle River (my friend, Emilie)

Other than the paper birch, white pine were the first trees I learned to identify in the Boundary Waters back in the day. I think that’s why I love them so much. They stand like sentinels high above everything else with their “furry” needles and tall, straight trunks.

woman next to a large white pine tree in the winter
My friend the white pine (or red pine?) in William O’Brien State Park, along the St. Croix River

If you’re a tree lover, too, you probably have your own set of favorite trees. We’re blessed to live in a state with an abundance of them!

Hiking Guide cover

Twin Cities Hiking & Trail Running Guide

Published in 2020 and updated in 2023, our 48-page digital Hiking & Trail Running Guide is the easiest way to find hiking and running trails in all seven counties of the Twin Cities metro area.

Click here for the details…

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Sharon Brodin
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