Wolf Creek Falls and Quarry Loop

Banning State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Thursday, June 29th, 2017
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 4 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Banning State Park is expertly positioned as the perfect halfway point on the drive up I-35 between the Twin Cities and Duluth and is so close to the highway that you don't have to go out of your way to visit. Despite the proximity to the interstate, road noise isn't as much of a problem as you'd expect thanks to the roaring rapids of the Kettle River present on most hikes in the park. Like many other Minnesota State Parks (such as Frontenac and Blue Mounds), this area was once the site of a quarry; here you can explore ruins and read informational signs explaining the process of extracting the rock.

Forewarning: the trails in this park can be difficult to navigate. Although there are frequent maps posted on the trail and free park maps available (either for download at the link at the bottom of the page or in paper from the park office), the trails are very close together, have frequent intersections, and travel in similar directions. Pay attention to where you are and take an extra second at each intersection to make sure you go the right direction. It is unlikely you will be alone on these trails, so don't be afraid to ask someone for directions if you need help!

From the parking lot, follow the Quarry Loop Trail heading west rather than south towards the river. You can skip visiting Teacher's Overlook from late spring to early fall because the foliage blocks most of the view during this time period. Continue heading straight at the first intersection, and keep left at the next two intersections to stay on the Quarry Loop Trail. Turn right at the next intersection, then in 0.2 miles, turn right again. In a short distance, turn left onto the Wolf Creek Trail; follow this trail the rest of the way to the falls.

The trails on this hike parallel the turbulent Kettle River

The trails on this hike parallel the turbulent Kettle River

Wolf Creek Falls is quite beautiful, as is Wolf Creek -- see the pictures below. This is an excellent spot to eat lunch with many comfortable rocks and logs to sit on while viewing the falls. I was here on a Thursday afternoon and ate lunch by myself once a young couple left.
You too can eat lunch with this view of Wolf Creek Falls!

You too can eat lunch with this view of Wolf Creek Falls!

Wolf Creek just before the falls

Wolf Creek just before the falls

When you are ready to continue hiking, head back the way you came. Once you reach the top of the hill, turn right at the intersection to take the High Bluff Trail -- this trail runs nearly parallel to the Wolf Creek Trail and provides some variation for your hike. Turn right at the next two intersections to return to the Quarry Loop Trail.
The vertical rock face resulting from quarrying

The vertical rock face resulting from quarrying

Shortly after joining the Quarry Loop Trail, there will be another intersection for the Hell's Gate Trail. The official park map cautions that this trail is not recommended for small children; I interpreted this as "fun and mild danger ahead". If you are interested, take this trail for a short (less than 1 mile) side trip going up and down the sandy riverbank and hopping on large rocks to see the Hell's Gate Rapids. The trail here is steep and more difficult to follow, but is a lot of fun and feels truly adventurous -- one of the most fun trails I've done in Minnesota.

The rest of the Quarry Loop Trail has a series of informational signs explaining the process of extracting rock and remnants of the buildings involved in this process. Some of the buildings are nothing more than a foundation, but some still stand and are ripe for exploration, like the building pictured below. This portion of the hike is especially fun in summer when the buildings are overgrown and you can pretend you are an explorer or archaeologist.
Just one of the remaining buildings from the old quarry

Just one of the remaining buildings from the old quarry

After passing all of the ruins, turn left at the next intersection and then make a quick right to return to the parking lot. If you miss this turn, just turn left at Teacher's Overlook and you will also end at the parking lot.

This truly is an excellent hike and is the perfect addition to any road trip on Interstate 35. There are many other trails in the park, so you can keep coming back again and again without having to do the same hike twice!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash on all trails in this state park. While this entire hike is too long to label family friendly, there are other options within the park for kids to enjoy. As one option, you can skip the hike to the waterfall and do just the Quarry Loop Trail by itself for a 1.7 miles roundtrip (about an hour) hike that is a part of the Hiking Club program -- your kids will definitely enjoy exploring the ruins on this trail. Alternatively, you can drive to the other parking lot at the end of the park road to hike the short Blueberry Slide Trail, which has water access good for fishing and rock hopping (although the rapids aren't safe for swimming).

You can hike here in all seasons since the trails here are ungroomed in winter. As with most waterfall hikes, this is relatively popular trail, so expect to see other people especially on summer weekends.

Directions

This state park is ridiculously easy to get to. From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35 north towards Duluth. Take exit 195 for Minnesota Highway 23 in Sandstone (be sure to take exit 195 -- there is another earlier exit for Minnesota Highway 23 that takes a more roundabout way to the park), then turn right. The entrance for the park is less than a half mile from the interstate on the right side. Pay the entrance fee, then continue down the main park road until it ends at a parking lot.

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). The parking lot has pit toilets.

External Links

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