October is prime time for hiking in Minnesota. The magic formula of no mosquitos, plus cooler temps and vibrant fall colors, transforms sweaty summer slogs into awesome autumn adventures. Yet, even with ample hiking trails crisscrossing our state, we may not be aware of all the opportunities out there, or be willing to travel to new state parks to experience it all.
Here’s where our Minnesota DNR is ready to help. They’ve compiled a list of one outstanding hiking trail from each of the 68 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, and have published all these top hikes in a handy, spiral bound book entitled Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club. Hike entries feature a short description of what to expect, and often a color photo. These trails have been chosen by state park staff for their intrinsic beauty and unique natural history. The book provides hikers with clear choices for getting out and seeing their state’s natural places step by step.
Furthermore, Hiking Club gives incentives to go hike as many trails as possible. The book provides an organized means of curating your own personal checklist of which of the 68 trails you’ve hiked so far by entering the trail’s unique password in your book.
Verónica Jaralambides, marketing consultant of the DNR’s Division of Parks and Trails, explains how the password works. “About halfway along the designated Hiking Club trail at each park there’s a sign with a password that club members get to record in their book, along with the hiked mileage, as proof that they completed the hike. Participants get excited about finding the password, and it helps gamify the outdoor experience, adding another element of fun and incentive.”
Finding these passwords creates a quest for hikers, young and old. “This year we’re updating all our Hiking Club signage to provide better wayfinding and replace worn-out signage. We took the opportunity to update some passwords as well, and we now have an interpretive element for visitors to learn something new about the place they’re visiting,” Jaralambides adds.
As you fill in more passwords by hiking at more state parks, you’re also earning more rewards. That’s right—this loyalty club gives you prizes for reaching hiking milestones. You can present your log at any state park office to get patches for hiking 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, and 175 miles, and after hiking all the trails. Furthermore, you can receive certificates for up to two free nights of camping at Minnesota state parks. You’ll get your first free night after reaching 100 Hiking Club miles, and another after you’ve hiked all trails. That’s an up to $50 value, considering today’s drive-in camping rates of $20 to $25 per night at state parks.
The Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club book costs $14.95, and can be found at all state park gift shops and at the online Nature Store: mndnr.gov/naturestore.
Of course, it’s not just the material rewards that motivate visitors to track down those Hiking Club signs with secret passwords scattered around the state. It’s about expanding one’s geographical range, and one’s hiking prowess. “With the goal to hike at 68 state parks and recreation areas, the Hiking Club provides an incentive for members to stay active and healthy,” says Jaralambides. “The club helps establish new habits while giving participants a sense of accomplishment. We’ve received testimonials from people who found the longer hikes in the book unattainable when they first started, but they quickly gained confidence and ability by starting with other hikes, and eventually built up to more strenuous ones.”
Hiking Club was originally established in 1991 to mark the Minnesota state parks’ centennial, and “has endured the test of time,” Jaralambides says. Many members report discovering a new favorite park that they would have never visited were it not for the club. While visiting state parks and recreation areas, club members travel to different areas and support the local economy.
Sales of the Hiking Club book reached 2,806 copies in the first eight months of 2023—on pace to easily surpass last year’s total of 3,094. Jaralambides proudly notes that sales have increased every year since the DNR updated the books and increased promotions.
Jaralambides also takes pride in how the program spurs people on to explore their natural environment. One participant’s testimonial stated, “Personally, my favorite part of the Hiking Club is that it usually walks you through just about every unique part of the park.”
The loyalty club helps connect more people to the outdoors and discover new state parks and recreation areas. Pick up a copy of Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club and go see how many different passwords you can collect while the hiking is still prime.