Jay Cooke State Park is an incredible 8,818-acre state park located in North Eastern Minnesota that offers some of the most incredible camping, scenery, and hiking in the entire state of Minnesota. With hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, this is one of Minnesota’s most popular state parks.

In this post, we’re not only going to show you why it’s so popular but how you can have an amazing weekend at Jay Cooke State Park.

Check out more Minnesota camping destinations in our 41 Favorite Places to go Camping in Minnesota.

What Makes Jay Cooke State Park So Special?

Rapids flowing in the St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
Rapids flowing in the St. Louis River

The park is one of Minnesota’s top ten most visited state parks, attracting nearly 400,000 visitors per year.

So it’s big and popular, but what makes this park so special?

Jay Cooke State Park is one of those amazing places that not only has a lot of fun things to do and see while visiting the park, but it has an amazing amount of history and geographical significance.

Through the center of the 8,000+ wooded acres runs the St. Louis River. This section of the river is full of rocky canyons and white water rapids. This creates a beautiful scenery for visitors to enjoy.

200 Foot Suspension Bridge over St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.
200 Foot Suspension Bridge over St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.

Over the river, you’ll find one of only two suspension bridges in the entire state of Minnesota. The bridge was first designed and built in the 1930s but due to a major flood in 2012 and subsequent damage, the bridge was rebuilt in 2014. It stretches 200 feet over the St. Louis River and is an amazing sight to behold.

The St. Louis Grand Portage

Rough rapids at St. Louis River -

One of the more interesting pieces of history in Jay Cooke State Park is that the Grand Portage runs right through the park.

For hundreds of years, Indians, fur traders, and voyagers would use the St. Louis River as part of a connecting route between Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi River.

But as they came to the portion of the St. Louis River leading into Spirit Lake and eventually Lake Superior, it plunged down several hundred feet of rocky canyons. This made travel down this section of the river completely unsafe.

Hiking Trail at Jay Cooke State Park
Hiking Trail at Jay Cooke State Park

So these travelers then had to complete a 7-mile portage around this section of the river. Unlike the easy portages in much of the BWCA (which are usually far less than 1 mile and relatively flat), this portage was brutal. Travelers had to trek through swamps, climb rocks and travel overall treacherous terrain.

To add to their troubles, these travels would often carry multiple packs weighing up to 90 lbs. and have to make trips over multiple small sections of the portage.

Today, a section of the Grand Portage has been restored for hikers to enjoy.

Things To Do At Jay Cooke State Park

River bend at St. Louis River

Jay Cooke State Park has no shortage of things to do for everyone.

For camping lovers, the park has over 100 campgrounds which include electric sites, camping cabins, and even backpacking sites.

Other Activities Include:

  • Incredible fishing in the St. Louis River
  • Archery
  • Hiking – Over 50 miles of hiking trails.
  • Horse Back Riding – Over 10 miles of horse riding trails.
  • Mountain Biking
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Kayaking
  • White Water Rafting
  • Snowshoeing
  • Geocaching
  • Canoeing

You can even attend one of over 400 different events held by the park rangers every year including nature walks, evening campfire talks, snowshoe making classes and more.

Wildlife at Jay Cooke State Park

Black Bear

Jay Cooke State Park has an incredible abundance of wildlife for visitors to enjoy.

There are 46 different types of mammals living in the park including whitetail deer, black bears, wolf packs, coyotes and much more.

For bird lovers, you will find over 143 different species of birds living in the park.

What Visitors Think Of The Park

Some of the common themes that you will hear from visitors of the park are how incredibly well the 50+ miles of trails are maintained and how beautiful the hikes are.

Many visitors come back year after year as a family tradition to enjoy the beauty of Jay Cooke State Park.

Some minor complaints are that the park can actually be a bit crowded during the summer, especially during the weekends.

Recently the park has been renovating their bathrooms and showers and repairing a water line break, so recent visitors have had to deal with this small inconvenience.

Special Items Campers Should Bring

Nearby Attractions

If you’re planning on create a fun weekend stay at Jay Cooke State Park, you may want to plan some additional activities for the family. Here are a few nearby attractions to help round out your weekend.

Things To Do

Swiftwater Adventures – Looking for a guided whitewater rafting trip? Swiftwater is the place to go. They also offer loads of other guided activities, so check them out.

Spirit Mountain – If you’re a snowboarding or skiing lover, then you’ll have to visit Spirit Mountain. Located just minutes away from Jay Cooke.

Spirit Mountain – If you’re a snowboarding or skiing lover, then you’ll have to visit Spirit Mountain. Located just minutes away.

Lake Superior Train Museum – Visiting the Lake Superior Train Museum is a trip back in time for the whole family. Take a look inside these incredible machines from our past.

Jay Cooke State Park Info

Suspension Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park offers a great camping experience whether you plan on camping in a tent, a camping trailer, pop up or motorhome.

If you do camp, you can choose of one of 79 drive-in sites or 1 drive through site. 20 of these sites offer electricity (20, 30, and 50 amp).

If you plan on buying an RV, check out our Complete Guide To Buying Your First RV.

If you plan on renting an RV, we’ve got one for you too, check out our guide to Renting Your First RV.

If you prefer not to stay in a tent or RV, the park offers 5 camping cabins available for rent. But you better book these cabins well ahead of time as they tend to book up fairly quickly.

Jay Cooke State Park Address: 780 Highway 210, Carlton, MN 55718

PDF Map of Jay Cooke State Park:https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/state_parks/spk00187_summer.pdf

Website: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00187#homepage

Phone: 218-673-7000

You can check out reviews of Jay Cooke State Park at Trip Advisor.

Check out more Minnesota camping destinations in our 41 Favorite Places to go Camping in Minnesota.

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