Washington County is home to many parks, several of which are very large with extensive hiking trail systems. That’s great news for local hikers and trail runners!
Washington County doesn’t have a ton of information on their website about their regional parks, but they have this parks brochure which covers it much better.
NOTE: You’ll need a Washington County vehicle permit for the regional parks (which is also good for Anoka County regional parks). And you’ll need a Minnesota State Park vehicle permit for the state parks.
Afton State Park (Hastings)
In the southeast corner of Washington County is Afton State Park with 20 miles of natural-surface hiking trails. 6 miles of those are maintained during the winter months.
Afton has a hike-in campground that’s directly connected to the trail system. This is a great way to try backpacking or to introduce it to younger children before heading into more remote destinations.
There’s a wide variety of terrain including next to the river, open prairie and dense, mature forest. Some of the hills rival the mountains for steepness! The park is very popular with trail runners.
Belwin Conservancy (Afton)
Belwin Conservancy is a non-profit organization that owns 1,500 acres in the St. Croix Valley near Afton. They maintain about 10 miles of trails for hiking over various terrain. See this page for details and maps for each section.
During your visit from mid-May to early October, be sure to include the observation platform at Bison Prairie to view the resident Bison herd.
The grounds are open all year, so winter hiking is also an option.
Big Marine Park Reserve (Marine on St. Croix)
There are only 1.5 miles of hiking trails in 1,800-acre Big Marine Park Reserve, as most of it is designated for preservation. Here’s the map. A portion of the trail system is open to winter hikers during the snow season. Here’s Big Marine’s winter trail map.
Brown’s Creek State Trail (Grant to Stillwater)
Lovely 6-mile Brown’s Creek State Trail is a paved trail that’s open to foot and bike traffic. There’s also a horse trail that parallels closely along part of it. Forest, parks, Brown’s Creek and the eastern-most mile along the St. Croix River with gorgeous views. Here’s the Brown’s Creek map.
Winter hikers are welcome on the trail, as well as skiers and snowshoers, but it’s not maintained.
Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park (Cottage Grove)
Winter hiking is open on almost 4 miles of packed multi-use trails. The rest of the trail system is groomed for cross country skiing, off-limits to hikers. Here’s the winter map.
Gateway State Trail (St. Paul, Maplewood, North St. Paul, Oakdale)
During the winter the portion between Cayuga Street (Saint. Paul) and Jamaca Avenue (Grant) is plowed, and winter hikers are welcome. The rest is groomed for cross country skiing.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve (Lake Elmo)
Lake Elmo Park Reserve hosts over 2,000 acres of preserved rolling hills, forest and prairie. There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails here, most of it on natural surfaces.
Some of the trails are for hikers only, and there are several miles for combined hikers, mountain bikers and horses. Here’s the Lake Elmo Park summer map.
Winter hikers are welcome on the 10.5 miles of packed or plowed multi-use trails during the snow season. Please don’t hike on the groomed ski trails! Here’s the Lake Elmo winter map.
Pine Point Regional Park (Stillwater)
Pine Point Regional Park is a peaceful natural area with forest, lakes and marshes. There are 5 miles of multi-use trails here. If you love bird watching this is a great place for you, too! Here’s the Pine Point summer trail map.
About 4 miles of winter hiking is open on multi-use trails during the winter, too. Please don’t hike on the groomed ski trails. Here’s the Pine Point winter map.
St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park (Hastings)
There’s not much for winter hiking here—just a less-than-half-mile loop trail. The rest of the trail system is groomed for cross country skiing, and is off limits to hikers. Here’s the winter map.
William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix)
William O’Brien State Park has 2,200 acres of hills, woods and wetlands. 12 miles of hiking trails plus the paved 1.5-mile Riverside Trail meander through this beautiful park. Here’s the William O’Brien map.
There’s a fair amount of winter hiking at O’Brien, too, just not on the groomed ski trails. Here’s the O’Brien winter trail map.
Twin Cities Hiking & Trail Running Guide
Published in 2020, 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.