Getting to know this region of Minnesota  requires a day for the historic towns of the south and at least a couple more for the wild parks in the north. It’s all day-trip distance from the Twin Cities  and Duluth , but Stillwater  is such an appealing town that it’s worth basing yourself there for at least part of your visit. And no matter how much fun you are having in Stillwater, make time to look over the villages of Afton  and Marine on St. Croix .
Heading north, Interstate State Park , with its sheer cliffs and massive potholes, is the first must-see park. Continuing upstream, Wild River State Park  and St. Croix State Park , with superb hiking and canoeing, are similar enough that it makes sense to choose just one and take enough time to really enjoy it. The North West Company Fur Post  is one of the state’s best living-history sites.
Most people headed up the freeway drive right by Banning State Park , where the wild Kettle River cuts through a gorgeous gorge, but this is a mistake. Before checking out another wild gorge at Jay Cooke State Park , take a detour into Cloquet  for a look at the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed gas station.