Jay Cooke State Park | Outdoorsy

Jay Cooke State Park
Guide

Introduction

Jay Cooke State Park is Minnesota's seventh-largest park, creating yet another reason to make sure you mark this one off your travel list. This beautiful state park hugs the St. Louis River, creating a wondrous setting for visitors to enjoy all sorts of activities. Miles and miles of multi-use trails stay alive even in the midst of winter. Here, hiking enthusiasts will find connections to both the Willard Munger State Trail and Superior Hiking Trail.

What beautiful surroundings to park yourself in. Seismic activity along the river has exposed layers of rock, creating a dramatic effect alongside the roaring rapids. The power of the water is intoxicating and draws many to the river. In fact, it's a part of how this piece of land became what it is today; in more ways than one. You can discover all sorts of wonderful bits of the park's history with interpretive programs and visits to historic sites.

Biking is highly encouraged here, as several points of interest are a decent distance from each other. Trails wind between the campground and popular park destinations. It's a fantastic way to still move around on wheels. Getting around on two wheels just seems easier than having to pack up four. No matter how you choose to get around, just make sure you do - there is much to explore and experience here.

RV Rentals in Jay Cooke State Park

Transportation

Driving

Located on MN-210 off I35, Jay Cooke State Park is easy to find just 1.4 miles from Carlton. The park is less than 20 miles from Duluth to the northeast, which is a large port city on Lake Superior. You can stop here and see the 1905 Aerial Lift Bridge or walk along the Lakewalk Trail in Canal Park. On your way, stop in at Pattison State Park in Superior, which is just 19 miles away and features hiking, waterfalls, and amazing views of Lake Superior. They also have RV campsites if you decide you want to stay awhile.

Getting to different parts of Jay Cooke State Park and to the campground is easy, as Highway 210 runs right through. Turn off into the campgrounds, and you will find that the paved road gives way to gravel paths. You won't want to go speeding around here. Signage is easy to read, and navigating through the campground is fairly straightforward, though certain loops may prove to be a bit tight for larger rigs.

Parking

When you get to the campgrounds, driving to your reserved site is straightforward. Visitors with longer trailers may find that parking sideways is the best way to maneuver into their site. Some spots are a bit tight. Other areas for parking include spaces where guests can marvel at highlights of the state park, such as the famed suspension bridge and river overlooks.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Jay Cooke State Park

Campsites in Jay Cooke State Park

Reservations camping

Family Campground

Tucked away in Jay Cooke State Park is a cozy pet-friendly campground. The forested surroundings help to create a decent amount of privacy between campers, with sites that are quite spacious. Some larger rigs may find a harder time getting around, though, the park advertises certain sites that will accommodate lengths of up to 60 feet. There are also only 21 of the 83 single-family campsites that harbor hookups for electricity. Campsites are laid out fairly typically, with a picnic table and fire pit provided. The campground also features shower facilities, vault toilets, and flush toilets.

The campground at Jay Cooke State Park does not require reservations, however, it is highly encouraged if you’re planning on visiting the park during peak vacation seasons, weekends, or on holidays. There's a chance you'll get lucky and snag a decent site if you're simply going on a whim, but you may find it difficult to secure just the right spot to fit your rig. Most sites are back-in, with only one pull-through site advertised.

The parking area for RVs and trailers can be somewhat tight. If you're cruising around with a larger haul, you may also want to call into the visitor center for recommendations on the site to reserve. Some loops may even prove to be a bit tight for turning. A knowledgeable staff member is sure to find a proper solution for you. The campground is open year-round, but during the winter only 12 sites are available, and of those, five have electric hookups.

Cloquet / Duluth KOA

When you set up camp at Cloquet / Duluth KOA, you’ll be minutes from Jay Cooke State Park, where you can hike and test your balance on the swinging bridge, or just a 25-minute drive from the shores of Lake Superior. After a day of adventure, head back to Cloquet / Duluth KOA and cool down in the swimming pool, relax in the hot tub, visit the dog park with the pups, and stay connected with Wi-Fi. The campground has pull-thru campsites that can house rigs as long as 80 feet. Firewood and propane are available for purchase on-site as well.

First-come first-served

Walk-Up and Backpack Sites

Reservations are not required in order to stay at Jay Cooke State Park's campgrounds. However, they are highly encouraged, especially if you are planning a visit over a weekend or holiday. The peak seasons in summer tend to see this campground quite full. There are, however, certain sites that remain walk-in only. There are eight sites that do not allow for reservation and only take first-come, first-served, walk-up guests. These sites include four designated for backpackers and another four labeled only as walk-ins within the park's campground.

Campground visitors will find modern restrooms, with a recent renovation to the water system. Both flush toilets and showers are available, as well as fresh drinking water. For the adventurous, each backpacking site harbors a picnic table, latrine, and a fire ring. Backpacking campers should be prepared to carry their own water or treat it on-site.

If you're lucky enough to arrive before the weekend crowd hits, you may just snag yourself a site. With 83 spots available, you could be in for a treat. These sites will hold tent campers, RVs, and travel trailers. If you're traveling during the off-season, and winter is in its midst, be prepared for the park's campground to only have 12 campsites available for a stay. There are five of these sites that have electric hookups.

It can get kind of tight for larger rigs, and there is only one pull-through site that is advertised; however, some sites will support lengths up to 60 feet. It all depends on the site. To ensure you get the best spot suited for your motorhome, it's advised to get those reservations in. Bring your pup along too because pets are welcome.

Alternate camping

Cabins

Within the state park, visitors who haven't brought their home-away-from-home with them can still stay in style. Camper cabins are provided under reservation for guests who don't feel like hauling it all with them. The cabins are scattered in the wooded areas around the outer edges of the campground. All five cabins have a screened porch and year-round access to heat and electricity. This is definitely a cozy choice for winter visitors.

Two of the cabins are wheelchair-accessible and sleep up to five guests. The remaining three cabins will support up to six guests. Unfortunately, Fido is not an acceptable companion for a cabin stay - no pets allowed. Online reservations can be made up to 12 months in advance. You can also call the park office. More information on the cabins can be found online or by calling the visitor center.

Group Tent Campground

Jay Cooke State Park has a solution if your family or group is too large for a typical campsite. You and 24 of your friends or family can choose from two group tent campsites just to the west of the family campground. However, these are primitive sites that you have to walk to, so you will need to leave the motorhome in the parking lot. Sites are approximately 150 feet from the parking lot, and the park does provide carts to help you carry in your camping gear.

Water spigots and a toilet are provided at the parking lot, but once you get to the campsite, you won’t have any of these luxuries. You will have campfire rings though, so you can cook on the grill and eat at the picnic tables provided by the park. Pets are welcome as long as they are on a leash or otherwise secured at all times during your stay. Be sure to book a spot early since there are only two group campsites.

Seasonal activities in Jay Cooke State Park

In-Season

Waterfalls

There are a series of majestic waterfalls located within the park, just a short walk from the ranger station. This part of the park is quite readily known, not only for the spectacular falls but also for the thrilling suspension bridge. Here, park visitors have the opportunity to really get a good look at the rushing waters. For those who would rather not brave the bridge, views of the falls can be taken in elsewhere. Other cascades can be spotted along the nine-mile Rushing Rapids Parkway -- a good hike or scenic drive for those who love waterfalls.

Naturalist Programs

Within the park, the River Inn Interpretive Center provides a place where visitors can enjoy naturalist programs all year long. Here, you can learn more about the park through interpretive exhibits. Even the building itself is a tribute to the park's construction by the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC). Guests can check in with the visitor center or go online to find more information about upcoming program events. The programs are highly recommended and are a great way to dive a little deeper into this wonderful piece of Minnesota.

Wildflowers

In late spring and early summer, the park comes alive with all sorts of happenings. The St. Louis River is readily engorged; its rushing rapids a sight to behold. Yet, not everything so beautiful and dramatic is as rough. Spring's precipitation helps create another point of interest - blooming wildflowers. Guests will enjoy finding these beauties along the many trails. See if you spot some of the park's regulars: jack in the pulpit, yellow wood violets, yellow lady slippers, and more. Be sure to bring your camera so you can get some pics to share on your favorite social media site.

Horseback Riding

Equestrian enthusiasts can enjoy a good six miles of trails here with their noble companions. Horseback riding is another activity enjoyed readily at Jay Cooke State Park, but it is an activity that requires you to bring your own horse and riding gear. Unfortunately, horse rentals are not easily accessible in the area. However, even if you won't be atop a horse for this outing, you may at least spot one on any of the multi-use trails. Riders are encouraged to check-in at the park office for trail and parking information.

Biking

Make sure you get that bike rack attached to the rig before heading to Jay Cooke State Park. There are several trails that wind through the park's forest, and many are also multi-use. For those that like getting around on two wheels best, eight miles of paved biking trails and another 13 miles of trails suited for mountain biking, are something to look forward to. Biking solo or together with the family is a fantastic way to get out, get moving, and have fun - and these trails keep it exciting with such scenic views.

Off-Season

Snowshoeing

The same trails used for hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the warmer months soon give way to sports of a different caliber. Many of these trails are multi-use to begin with, but with the coming snow, the paths see different modes of transportation. There are a few miles of trails that are packed and marked specifically for snowshoeing, though all off-trail areas of the state park are also open for exploration. Difficulties of trails will vary, so tread with caution. It's important for guests to adhere to certain other precautions, such as keeping off of groomed ski trails. The park rents out snowshoes for visitors who would like to give it a go during their stay.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is another popular excursion enjoyed at the park. Jay Cooke State Park's grounds offer trails that range from easy to difficult, meaning you're sure to find the perfect trail to meet or surpass your skill level. It's good to note that the farther you get from the park's office, the more difficult the trails tend to become. There are around 20 miles of groomed ski trails to find here. Depending on conditions, time, and other outside factors, another 12 miles of trails are sometimes groomed to add to the fun.

Warming House

During cold winter months, the park is still frequented by outdoor enthusiasts looking to take advantage of the many trails. There's something for everyone to enjoy here, even in the dead of winter. Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park can choose from miles of cross-country ski trails, snowshoe, and hiking trails, or even snowmobile trails. There's so much to keep you busy. When you want to warm up, come to the River Inn Interpretive Center where you can gather around the fireplace. It's the perfect spot to unwind and thaw out while you decide what to do next.

Snowmobiling

While it's highly likely that you haven't dragged the snowmobile out on this excursion, it is another activity you can enjoy here at Jay Cooke State Park. It's such a thrilling, fast, and fun way to zip around the forest. There's a trail located within the park that connects to the Willard Munger State Trail system - a multi-use trail that opens up to all sorts of other activities as soon as it's covered with the white stuff. This certainly isn't an activity for everyone, but, if interested, it's worth looking into possible rentals from the nearby town of Duluth less than 20 miles to the northeast.

Hiking

It's a hiker's delight here at Jay Cooke State Park. There are so many trails and seemingly endless forested enchantment. The park's trails will wind you either through wooded regions, along the riverside, or both. The vistas from overlooks are awe-inspiring. Over 50 miles of pathways are ready to take on your eager feet. If you're really feeling adventurous, you can even take on the lengthy Willard Munger State Trail. Whatever your skill level or interest, you're sure to find a trail to suit it. Be sure to practice proper trail etiquette at all times.

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