ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- If you have ever visited a Minnesota State Park to do some hiking, you may have noticed a little blue sign the reads “hiking club.” Those blue signs mark a specific hiking trail that has a password usually located around the halfway point of the trail and can be found in all 67 Minnesota State Parks, plus one bonus trail that can only be accessed in the winter.
The club began on April 20, 1991, with 62 parks participating at the time, including Douglas County’s Lake Carlos State Park.
“The purpose of the trails is to encourage visitors to come to the park to explore and discover more of what the park has to offer,” said Allen Lego, park manager at Lake Carlos State Park. “We get new visitors all the time just to hike the trail and get the password.”
To join the club, one has to visit the nature store at any state park and purchase a hiking club booklet. The booklet lists all the state parks in Minnesota and gives information about what to expect at the park and how many miles the park’s club trail is.
Hiking club members use the book to record which park they went to, the trail’s password and how many miles they have hiked. After so many miles, a club member is rewarded. The first reward being a patch once the hiker reaches 25 miles. By 100 miles, the hiker earns a free night of camping in any Minnesota state park. There are 197 miles statewide.
Once the hiking club member does all the miles, they receive an engraved plaque and another free night of camping.
“It is fun to have goals. It gives you a reason to get out and explore what Minnesota has to offer. There are so many hidden gems,” said Katie Satterlie, a hiking club member from Alexandria who has been logging miles for eight years. “If it weren’t for the club, I probably wouldn’t have visited so many parks. I love it.”
To date, Satterlie has visited 29 parks, plus the bonus hike, and completed 74.3 miles. She has earned her 25- and 50-mile milestone patches, with the 75-mile patch within reach. She said the club has given her a greater appreciation for Minnesota and recommends everyone join the club. “Just remember to bring extra water and mosquito spray!” she said.
Ed Springer, a full-time RVer with his wife, from Brandon, says he joined the club for exercise and adventure. “It allows me to stay active and get me outdoors even when I didn’t plan on it,” said Springer, “It reveals your health. If you want to keep going, you better keep going.” So far, he has completed trails at 23 parks, his favorite being Gooseberry Falls State Park. “No question! We will be going back to complete other trails the park has to offer.”
Club hiking trails are selected by park staff in consultation with the regional office for each park location. The criteria used to select a club trail is finding a trail that highlights the park’s best resources.
Lake Carlos State Park's club trail allows hikers to view Lake Carlos while strolling through the original 404 acres of a maple-basswood forest, circling Hidden Lake, and cutting through grassy meadows before coming back to the starting point by the beach.
According to the hiking club booklet, the club is the best way to see beautiful scenery and wildlife in Minnesota. You’ll wander through forests, past waterfalls, tiptoe through prairie lands and fields of wildflowers, and even spot some wildlife along the way.
Hikers can work at their own pace; there is no time frame to complete the book. When you have the milestones and eventually all the miles completed, you bring your book to any state park office for confirmation and receive your rewards.
"I love the club! Just a great way to spend the summer with friends!" Megan McLain wrote on the Echo Press Facebook page after the newspaper reached out to readers to see if there were any hikers in the club.
The hiking club is a great way to learn about the natural history of Minnesota and discover things you probably didn’t even know existed in Minnesota. Those who are out there hiking agree: If you are looking for adventure or want an excuse to get out of the house, the hiking club is a good place to start.