Banning State Park is a lesser known, but beautiful Minnesota State Park in north central Minnesota (near Sandstone) which offers a number of activities for everyone. Hiking, waterfall viewing, white water rafting and a bit of history, are all offered here. We came here in the fall (the best time to visit any state park in Minnesota) specifically to see the Wolf Creek Falls.
Being fall, the park was nearly empty; we hiked for miles only seeing a few hardy campers and a couple of maintenance workers. You can’t really say you’re hiking in Banning either. The hiking paths were well maintained, fairly even and very flat; you were really just taking a long walk.
Since the waterfall was our objective, the park ranger instructed us to park at the picnic area; however, the hike is actually shorter from the campground. Again, though, this was less of a hike and more of a stroll through the changing and falling leaves.
To get to the falls from the picnic area, take the Quarry Loop Trail to the Spur Trail to the Wolf Creek Trail. The Quarry Loop trail has a brochure listing 17 historic facts about this area (I’ll detail a bit more later).
The hike to the falls (about 1.5 one-way) is pretty easy until you get to the end of the Wolf Creek Trail. It looks like it ends abruptly at a small cliff. However, find an easy path down the rocks and pick up the path at the bottom. There is a second cropping of rocks you also have to climb down before you get back on the path to the falls. Don’t let the rocks discourage you; a man walking his dog and three elderly people all found a path down and back up again with no problem.
The Falls sits just off the Kettle River. You can walk out onto the top of the falls, or there is a path that goes around in front of the falls and continues along the river.
Photos from the Falls
Alternate Return Along the Kettle River
On your way back to the picnic area, I would suggest a different route: High Bluff Trail to Deadman Trail to the Quarry Loop Trail. Take the part of the loop that goes along the Kettle River, as there are other paths that shoot off the loop down to the river, where you can take in the rich fall colors, or the rapids you can raft on a later trip, such as Hell’s Gate and Dragon’s Tooth rapids.
The paths are easy to find and well marked with signs and maps, so you shouldn’t worry about getting lost.
Quarry Loop Trail
The Quarry loop trail has 17 viewpoints which illustrate the history of sandstone quarrying in the area (hence the name of the town of Sandstone where Banning is located). The railroad used to run through the area. Some ruins you can explore:
This hidden pool and weeping rock was around marker #8 in the self guided tour brochure. It was very pretty and secluded, so try to spot it as you pass by.
The Cutting Shed, where larger pieces of stone were cut down (#11 in the self-guided brochure).
The Power House, which generated the power to run the jackhammers (#12 on the self-guided hike).
The rock Crusher Building, which crushed faulty rock to use in cement and for other uses (#13 on the self-guided tour).
The stairs leading out of the quarry near the picnic area (#17 on the self-guided tour).