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Minnesota Destinations: Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park, south of Duluth, is a popular year-round attraction. Naturalist Programs start May 18 and run through August.

Jay Cooke State Park is one of Minnesota's larger parks, offering 8,818 acres of impressive views of forest and water. The rugged St. Louis River cascades over the tilted slate rock formations on its way to Lake Superior. Generations of people have visited the park to view the rapids and cross the river on the park's iconic Swinging Bridge. Unfortunately, heavy rains in June 2012 raised the river to historic levels and caused severe damage to the park. Although closed for several months while damage was repaired, the park has reopened to the public and still maintains the spectacular beauty that has attracted visitors for the past 100 years.

Visitors in 2013 will find a park still repairing itself from the floods of 2012. The Swinging Bridge was severely damaged and will be replaced over the summer. Although the bridge closure will make it more difficult to access the south side of the park, visitors will have a rare opportunity to see a suspension bridge being constructed. On the National Register, the bridge will be rebuilt to reflect its original historic design. The Swinging Bridge is expected to be reopened at the end of summer 2013.

The park is well known for its variety of recreational trails, offering visitors opportunities to hike and bike during the summer or cross-country ski and snowshoe during the winter. Currently, 41 miles out of the original 50 mile trail system are open to the public. Work will continue over the summer to replace missing trail bridges that will reconnect the entire network. The paved Willard Munger State Trail from Thomson to Duluth was also severely damaged during the rain event. Additional work to repair and repave the trail will take place during the summer. Make sure to stop at the park office or check out the website for the most current trail map.

The campground and River Inn Visitor Area managed to escape damage and will be fully open to the public. The campground has 82 drive-in campsites, some with electric hookups. There are also five camper cabins with heat and electricity. Due to the campgrounds popularity, reservations are recommended. The River Inn Visitor Area is the place to stop for a picnic, view the river, ask questions and learn more about the park's history and natural resources. Interpretive programs are scheduled frequently during the summer. Join the Park Naturalists on a hike or around the campfire as they share the many fascinating features of the park. Special flood related programs will be held throughout the summer. A schedule of programs can be found on the website.

How to Get There

Jay Cooke State Park is located 2 miles east of Carlton or a short 30 minute drive south of Duluth. Highway 210, which turns into Rushing Rapids Scenic Byway within the park, was severely damaged by mudslides and collapses. Currently, the only section open to the public in the park is from the towns of Carlton and Thomson to the River Inn Visitor Area. The east entrance of the park, off of Highway 23 is closed. Further work to repair the closed sections of highway will be taking place during the summer.

Naturalist Programs: See "Summer catalog programs 2013" for a list of already scheduled programs.

Park Website:

Park contact info: 780 Hwy. 210, Carlton, MN 55718; (218) 384-4610

MN State Park Reservations:; 1-866-857-2757

Jay Cooke State Park

Naturalist Programs 2013

Flood Hike

Saturday, May 18, 1-2:30 p.m.

Learn how the historic natural disaster of 2012 hit the heart of Jay Cooke. This guided walking tour will show the sights and share the stories from this powerful rainfall event. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

The Flood at Jay Cooke State Park

Saturday, May 25, 8-9 p.m.

The flood of 2012 severely damaged the park and changed how it looks forever. Join us for this program that will use photos and video to showcase what was damaged and how the park plans on recovering. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

Birdsong Hike

Sundays, May 26 through July 7, 7-9 a.m.

Join us as we share tips on identifying birdsongs and birds. Hike along with us as you discover who's making the chirps, twitters and trills you've been hearing. Great for beginning birders. Binoculars provided. Meet at the campground shower building.

Outdoor Adventure Day

Saturday, June 8, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Join us for an outdoor adventure during this ongoing event filled with fun family activities. Learn how to build a campfire, shoot archery, cast for fish, cook outdoors, use a GPS and even investigate a campsite crime scene. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

Nature Play

Thursdays, June 13 through August 29; 1-2:30 p.m.

Explore the outdoors during this kid's program series. Each week we'll check out a different topic through fun games and hands on activities. Special emphasis is placed on nature observation skills, exploring safely and activities to do in your own backyard. Check the web for the full program list. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

Kayaking Adventures

June 16, 1-3 p.m.

July 24, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.

August 11, 1-3 p.m.

Learn to paddle while sea kayaking the scenic Thomson Reservoir. After some paddling and safety basics, we'll head out to explore the reservoir. Each program will focus on a different topic. Check the web for topic and time. Life jackets and equipment provided. Register by calling (218) 384-4610. Cost of this program is $20 per person.

Wildlife Adventures Day

Saturday, July 6, 1-3 p.m.

Join us for a wild adventure during this ongoing event filled with fun family activities. Become a track detective, investigate skulls and bones, meet the magnificent monarch or learn how birds fly. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

Archery in the Park - Open Shoot

Sundays, July 14 and August 4, 1-3 p.m.

Join certified archery instructors for hands-on coaching and give this fun activity a try. This activity is suitable for age 8 and older. Equipment is provided. Personal archery equipment is not allowed due to weapons rules within Minnesota State Parks. Join us anytime during this ongoing program and try your hand at target shooting. Meet behind the River Inn Interpretive Center.

A full schedule of programs can be found on the event calendar at

For more great ideas on vacations and daytrips in Minnesota, see our entire magazine at