Lace up your hiking boots or pull a slot machine lever in this Minnesota playground for indoor and outdoor fun
Midway between Duluth and Minneapolis-St. Paul off Interstate 35, Hinckley, Minnesota, bursts with a full range of outdoor adventures on land, water and snow. Hinckley gives visitors plenty of indoor action, too, thanks to Las Vegas-style games like blackjack, slots and bingo at the town's Grand Casino.
Explore Hinckley Outdoors
In Hinckley, a hiker's motto might as well be "So many trails, so little time." The Willard Munger State Trail, Minnesota's longest paved path way, is a multi-purpose, 72-mile asphalt track that originates in Hinckley and ends in Duluth. The trail stands out historically because it traces the path that railroad engineers followed when they saved 300 residents during the 1894 Great Hinckley Fire that otherwise devastated the area. The Willard Munger Trail serves visitors year round, as it's used by bicyclists, hikers, in-line skaters and snowsports enthusiasts alike. During the snowy season, the white powder-covered trail is groomed for everyone's use by generous local snowmobile clubs.
St. Croix State Park (15 miles east of Hinckley on Highway 48) is the largest state park in Minnesota, encompassing 34,000 acres. St. Croix boasts miles upon miles of riverfront land, forests and islands. The park maintains 127 trails used by hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. The super-scenic point where the St. Croix and Kettle Rivers meet on the Two Rivers Trail is a favorite spot for hikers. An upriver walk on the St. Croix portion of the trail is particularly colorful during leafy autumn months. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are other popular pastimes at St. Croix.
The Kettle River runs through Banning State Park. In fact, it's the very first Minnesota waterway protected under the state's Wild and Scenic River Act. As such, the Kettle is a well-liked destination for whitewater paddlers. There are 80 miles of rapids to paddle, with levels of difficulty ranging from Class 1 through Class 3. The Kettle's five segments include stretches of rapids with descriptive monikers like Blueberry Slide, Mother's Delight, Dragon's Tooth, Little Banning and Hell's Gate.
Get Your Motor Running
In addition to drawing in hikers and water sports lovers, Hinckley and its surrounding vicinity are prime destinations off-road vehicle enthusiasts. St. Croix State Forest (28 miles east of Hinckley), contains challenging trails that are designed for experienced four-wheel riders. Trails in Chengwatana State Forest (southwest of St. Croix) and General Andrews State Forest (20 miles north of Hinckley) are also quite challenging. Gandy Dancer Trail originates in the St. Croix State Forest and is suitable for novice four wheelers. The St. Croix trail system extends 31 miles to Nemadji State Forest. Nemadji's 100-mile network of trails is also appropriate for beginning ATV riders.
Off Interstate 35 near Sandstone, hiking and cross-country skiing routes at Banning State Park afford good views of natural artistry at Wolf Creek Falls, the Log Creek Arches and Robinson's Ice Cave. A little bit west of Sandstone on the eastern side of Grindstone Lake, you can hike and ski at Audubon Center of the North Woods. The center encompasses 535 acres of pine and hardwood forests, wetlands and prairies.
Considering all the water within its boundaries, it's no surprise that Minnesota is tops for fishing. The St. Croix and Kettle Rivers are lucky spots for catching walleye, and Grindstone Lake yields all kinds of trout. Bass fishing is best in Sturgeon and Pine Lakes, and you might hook a muskie in Cross Lake or Pokegama Lake. Local bait shops are well stocked with fishing tackle, live bait, detailed lake maps and practical advice.
Golf, anyone? The PGA-certified Grand National Golf Course is one of Minnesota's best 18-hole championship courses. A variable landscape with ponds, marshes and creeks makes Grand National's layout eye-appealing as well as technically challenging.
Explore Hinckley Indoors
If you want to learn how an 1894 tragedy left an imprint on Hinckley's history, visit the Hinckley Fire Museum on Old Highway 61. Museum exhibits interpret events and heroic efforts surrounding the fire that scorched 480 square miles and claimed the lives of 400 Hinckley citizens.
The museum details the events of that September day, which began as an oppressively hot day with fires surrounding the towns and two major blazes that were burning about five miles to the south. To add to the problem, the temperature inversion that day added to the heat, smoke and gases being held down by the huge layer of cool air above.
The two fires managed to join together to make one large fire with flames that licked through the inversion to find the cool air above. The air came rushing down into the fires to create a vortex that began to move quickly and grew larger and larger, turning into a fierce firestorm. The fire first destroyed the towns of Mission Creek and Brook Park before coming into the town of Hinckley. When it was over, the firestorm had completely destroyed six towns. The firestorm was so devastating that it lasted only four hours but destroyed everything in its path.
At the Grand Casino, you can experience 24-hour Las Vegas-style gaming in eastern Minnesota. Choose your favorite diversions among blackjack and poker tables, video horse racing, 2,400 slot machines and bingo games. The casino features musical performances, and during the summer, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe holds the Annual Grand Celebration Pow Wow of tribal Indian dancing.
Who's ready for a hearty meal? Inside the Grand Casino, Grand Grill Americana is a safe bet for breakfast or lunch, and the Winds Steakhouse is a good choice for an upscale steak or seafood dinner. Just off Highway 48, Cassidy's Restaurant has winning salad, soup and bread.
For More Information:
Hinckley Convention & Visitors Bureau
Explore Minnesota Tourism