Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
The river that slices through the heart of Minneapolis and St. Paul once helped form the cities. Now, it affords them recreational opportunities and, in some places, the kind of tranquil beauty usually associated with more bucolic settings. The 72-mile river park reaches from Dayton and Ramsey, where a section is designated a National Wild and Scenic River, through the Twin Cities, past Fort Snelling and south to Hastings, where the waterway curls around islands and past bluffs. This is a “partnership park” — the National Park Service works with local and state agencies to protect and preserve the river, but owns only 67 of its 54,000 acres. The Mississippi River Visitor Center, in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota, is undergoing remodeling and will reopen Aug. 25, the date of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday. More info: nps.gov/miss; 651-293-0200.
North Country National Scenic Trail
From New York through North Dakota, this developing cross-country footpath traverses a variety of northern landscapes, from swamps and rocky ridgelines to open prairie. In Minnesota, iconic trails — the names of which conjure North Woods wonders and gritty perseverance — make up vast stretches. From the east, those include the Superior Hiking Trail, which follows the North Shore and provides stunning views of Lake Superior; the Border Route Trail, which rims Canada, and the Kekekabic Trail, aka the Kek, a wild, unkempt trek through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. North Country Trail continues westward on a mix of roadways, the Mesabi Trail and North Country trails. A completed 150-mile section runs from Paul Bunyan State Forest through the Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park, White Earth State Forest and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. When finished (there is no date in sight), this will be the longest continuous footpath in the country. More info: nps.gov/noco; 1-616-430-3495.
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
The pristine St. Croix River exists much as it did centuries ago. That’s because it earned a spot as one of eight rivers first designated a National Wild and Scenic River by the federal government in 1968 — in large part because of its beauty. The waterway is dotted with islands and sandbars and, in some places, lined with bluffs. The 164-mile ribbon, which forms much of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, is a popular paddling destination, with rolling waves at the confluence of the Kettle River and wide, gentle expanses in the lower section. The scenic portion of the river runs from St. Croix State Park to Hastings, near where it joins the Mississippi. A deep gorge of basaltic rock known as the St. Croix Dalles, with vertical cliffs and spectacular potholes, wows boaters and visitors to Interstate Park on both sides of the river. More info: nps.gov/sacn; 1-715-483-2274.