Upper and Lower Bluff Trail Loop

Frontenac State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, June 17th, 2017
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 6th, 2022
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 4 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

This hike made me fall in love with Southeastern Minnesota. Unlike the mostly flat Twin Cities, there are many impressive bluffs along the river. Even better, these hills mean there is less standing water and fewer bugs here -- I didn't use bug spray at all during this hike and I wasn't eaten alive! And at only an hour and a half away from the Twin Cities, this state park is the perfect day trip.

From the parking lot, follow the paved trail past the restrooms and towards the campground. Coming up on the right, there will be an overlook at Point-No-Point. At the first intersection, continue onto the unpaved trail. The trail will wind up and down through lovely forest, and you will see many mossy logs covered in fungus like pictured below.

Fungus growing on a fallen tree

Fungus growing on a fallen tree

There will be several more overlooks along the way, and you can capture views like shown in the main picture above and in the picture below.
View of the Mississippi from one of the overlooks

View of the Mississippi from one of the overlooks

Eventually, the trail will end at a T intersection. Turn right, and follow the steep switchbacks down to the Lower Bluff Trail. Be careful here; this portion of trail is often rocky and slippery. On the way, you will see In Yan Teopa Rock (pictured below), an interesting geologic formation with a hole in the middle of it.
Looking at In Yan Teopa Rock from the trail

Looking at In Yan Teopa Rock from the trail

If you want to go down to the river -- a perfect spot for a snack break or lunch in my opinion -- turn left at the bottom of the switchbacks and continue down a VERY steep set of stairs. Seriously, these are even steeper than the stairs to the basement in a house built in the 1900s, just look at the picture below. When you finish, climb those same steps (actually easier than descending) and turn left at the top to return to the Lower Bluff Trail.
The steep stairs down to the Mississippi River

The steep stairs down to the Mississippi River

Continue on the trail for over a mile and a half. I suggest taking the short side trails on the left side to get a different view. In 1.7 miles, you will intersect the Hiking Club Trail. Turn sharply to the left and start climbing upwards towards the parking lot. At the top, there will be a short side trail on the left that goes to the overlook with a bench where I took the picture below. You can see parts of historic Frontenac from that overlook as well. You can follow the Hiking Club Trail back to the parking lot. I hope this hike makes you fall in love with Southeastern Minnesota too!
Overlooking the bluffs of the Mississippi River

Overlooking the bluffs of the Mississippi River

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on a leash. This loop trail is not particularly long, but the steep climbs make it difficult for young kids. There are several overlooks within a short distance from the parking lot if you are looking for a more family friendly option. The Hiking Club Trail is another 2.5 mile loop that would be more suitable for children, but the nature of this park means there will be some uphill on most hikes.


Funnily enough, the fastest route from the Twin Cities actually takes you through Wisconsin. Take Interstate 94 to U.S. Highway 10/61 heading south towards Hastings. Instead of crossing the bridge into Hastings, turn left onto Point Douglas Drive/U.S. Highway 10. After crossing into Wisconsin, turn right on the first street in Prescott, Broad St (Wisconsin Highway 35). Continue on Wisconsin Highway 35 for a while, then turn right onto County Road VV -- if you miss this turn, just continue straight and turn right onto U.S. Highway 63. Turn right onto U.S. Highway 63, then after crossing the bridge back into Minnesota, follow signs for U.S. Highway 61 South. After driving about 15 minutes, watch for signs for Frontenac State Park, then turn left on County 2/Galia Avenue. Turn left once again at the sign for the park onto County 28, then stop at the ranger station.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). There are picnic benches and flush toilets near the parking lot (note for guys: stand back when flushing the urinals or you will get wet).

Nearby Hikes

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The winding trail in the woods of Afton State Park
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External Links