Schools of trout happily swim through the lazy Whitewater River and various spring fed creeks of Whitewater State Park. And while it’s known for its fantastic fishing opportunities, the park also boasts year-round interpretive programs, a modern Visitor Center, and an especially appreciated lack of mosquitos, unique for the region.
Whitewater is well seasoned, with a number of historical attractions within and nearby. In fact, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the park. To commemorate the occasion, local conservationists and naturalists have teamed up to release a special Oral History Project from stories of campers and those native to the region.
Explorers and adventurers will love this park’s diverse selection of attractions and oddities. Home of the park office and interpretive services, the Whitewater Valley Visitor Center should be your first stop. The friendly Park staff are ready to help you plan your visit and load you up on information, and even loaner equipment such as GPS units, fishing kits, discovery kits for kids, and birding kits. Don’t skip the Discovery Room, which showcases nature displays, exhibits and a spotting area to observe the local bluebirds, cardinals, hawks and bald eagles flying about.
The vast expanse of outdoor wilderness is really what you’ll want to check out. If you only have time for a quick visit, check out the Chimney Rock Trail for an awesome view of the Whitewater River. Those searching for a more accessible hike can take the Meadow Trail, which drops off right into a grassy valley, surrounded by dramatic Minnesota bluffs. During the hot and humid summers, go unwind at the beach for a refreshing dip in the cold, spring-fed water. Those more interested in history lovers should visit the famous Elba Fire Tower. Built in 1933, this sturdy tower offers cozy 360 degree views of the entire wetland region below. You’ll be especially grateful for the chance to unwind, thanks to the arduous 500-step climb required to ascend to the top.
Finally, firmly planted atop the land sits Inspiration Point; a beautiful limestone rock outcrop that overlooks the entirety of the Whitewater valley. Known as the most popular attraction within Whitewater State Park, visitors can still discover solace from their troubles. In fact, this is the only overlook in the entire park where there are no signs of civilization anywhere in sight. With just a little imagination, standing atop Inspiration Point on a clear, calm day can make you feel as if you could step down into a deep forested paradise, unspoiled and far from the reach of society.
Whitewater campground here is plentiful, with every site having full electric hookups and full-through capabilities. The campground features a full range of amenities including regularly placed shower houses with laundry facilities, and a number of group camping areas as well. Furthermore, there are 5 cabins available with various sleeping capabilities.
We stayed at Minneiska campground since Cedar Hills is under construction this year. It's a newer campground so the vegetation hasn't grown in fully yet - your neighbors are visible but there's good distance between sites so it wasn't a problem at all. The grounds themselves are really well-kept with nice bathroom facilities and hot showers, which was perfect for the cooler fall days. It's a busy park so you'll need to reserve early or plan on visiting during the week.
The hiking itself was awesome. We did the Dakota trail, which was a tough up and down hike with really incredible views of the fall colors. There's also a nice park/picnic area with beach access. I'm hoping to come back next summer to enjoy the swimming. All in all it was a great stay!
We stayed at Gooseberry Glen Cart In Campground, on Site 1. The trail to the site was bumpy, but manageable. Site seemed a little small, but we managed to fit a 9 & 4 person tent along with two camping hammocks (6 Men; 2 Dogs). We had room to roam and chill while not feeling overly crowded. First night rained from 11p-5a. Site did not get rained out and no puddling. We were on a little cliff overlooking a small creek/stream, so perhaps there was good drainage. I totally expected mosquitoes but THERE WERE NONE!! After getting a total of 38 bites on my ankles from my previous trip it was so nice to not have to stress about it. The hike to Chimney Rock Trail is literally right across the highway with a trail leading to the parking lot once you cross over. I highly recommend getting up those stairs and having a look at the beautiful views. Wildlife didn’t bother us or our food/gear at all and we kept it onsite. There’s a bear locker on the site, but we kept everything in duct tape coolers and had absolutely no problems. Hummingbirds hit up the vegetation daily. Owls and coyotes could be heard at night so that was cool. The toilet is super close to the site and there’s a trail that cuts right into site #1 that other campsites use…At first it was pretty annoying and invasive until we set up our tents to block that path off from the site itself. We had an absolutely amazing time and was definitely a park/campground I would love to go back to!!
We were in Gooseberry Glen cart-in site 4. As other reviewers have said, it's a fairly long walk in with your gear, and the trail is challenging when pushing a cart. Once at the site, it's beautiful: right on the water, completely shaded, and spacious. However, we could clearly see our neighbors at site 3, which you don't expect at a cart-in site this far in the woods. It rained while we were there, and the site became quite muddy. Our gear and ourselves were filthy when we left. Finally, as another reviewer said, the animals in the area are not shy: mice, raccoon, squirrel, all were scampering around very close and in clear view of us throughout our stay. We kept our food in the car as there was no secure food box at the site.
We enjoyed hiking the challenging Dakota Trail during our stay. It was about a 3.5-4 hour hike with aggressive elevation changes and beautiful scenic overlooks. The majority of the trail is well shaded in the woods.
We had a great cart-in site (Gooseberry glen site 4). There weren’t a lot of signs to get us there, but we were able to figure out where to go with the state park map. The cart-in distance is long; probably about a half mile with lots of tree roots to try and drive your cart over.
Site 4 is right on a rushing creek, which was perfect, and provided a great noise to fall asleep to, and to cancel out the close neighbors (site 3 is pretty much right next to it).
Heads up that we had a lot of raccoon and mice visitors, who didn’t seem afraid of people. The food/wood locker had plenty of access points for mice, so make sure to secure your food at dusk.
Other than animal issues (and a not ideal restroom situation), this was a great spot with awesome hikes (chimney rock, inspiration point) and great access to water.
I’d recommend site 2 or 4 if you want river access.
About the park Whitewater State Park is a much sought-after place to camp for those that know about this region’s#1 feature- MINIMAL MOSQUITOES. I won’t say zero mosquitoes because there might be one or two that wander in there, but we did not encounter a single one on our overnight stay there. We kept on exclaiming how weird to not hear and contribute to the camping soundtrack of bugs getting slapped. Basically what you need to know is that the last set of glaciers missed this region, which left behind limestone that absorbs rainwater quickly- and since mosquitoes breed in warm shallow water they don’t really have a lot of opportunities to do so in this region.
This region also has many more bluffs and valleys than the rest of Minnesota- this is also the result of a lack of glacier activity during the last glacial era that filled the flat parts of our state with“drift” sediment. What this means is that a lot of the hikes have a lot of elevation gain. We hiked to Inspiration Point from the Cedar Hill campground- if you do this I would not recommend taking the staircase that you encounter way before the picnic area parking lot UNLESS you really like having to climb over things.
The trail also comes across Chimney Rock- if you are hiking on a hot day you might as well give yourself a few minutes to cool down by climbing into the rock- it is much cooler and there is often a breeze that is funnelled through it. If you aren’t terribly afraid of heights you should definitely keep going to Inspiration Point! In order to get back down the trail quickly you can go down the staircase that is visible from the last part of the trail to the point- you can also completely bypass all the strenuous hiking if you would rather just take this(relatively strenuous) staircase up to the point, look around, then go back down.
A river runs through the park that plenty of people were wading in and there is a swimming hole that we didn’t participate in. I have Verizon cell service and I did not have reception- I think people who have AT&T did though. The visitor center does have free wifi and a free phone to use outside the building.
About the campground Much of Cedar Hill campground is for both tents and RVs, if you don’t need an electric site then the BEST spots are along the river. I specifically liked 66, 67, and 69. Some of them had foot paths down to the river, some didn’t, but either way you get to hear the water and the sites are quite spacious. We wound up staying in site 37 which has electricity(perk of this is being able to make macaroni and cheese in an instant pot!). One thing I hadn’t considered is that 74 cuts through the park, and we were pretty close to it so at a few times there was definite car noise. It wasn’t nearly as bad as camping along the north shore though when your site is squished between Lake Superior and Hwy 61 and you hear fast traffic all. day. long.
If you are camping on the weekend expect the campground to be quite full- we camped on a Sunday night and while the majority of the neighboring sites were occupied by RVs, the campground wasn’t even halfway occupied. Most of the sites had enough tree cover to be considered private. One weird thing is that a few of the sites are kind of like adjoining suites with tiny clearings between them- it was kind of startling to look up and see two people taking a shortcut(not really though!!) through our clearly occupied site to get to theirs. Weird.
One of the negative aspects about this park is that the bathroom facilities in cedar hill haven't been updated in ages, so they are finally getting updated in 2020 so this campground is closed for the season. The newer campground is open, but I don't like it as well since there isn't much privacy or shade.
Nice river with lots of sites right on it. Campsites nestled in trees so pretty private. Campsites are a bit tightly packed for my taste, but a nice spot for sure.
Very nice campground!! The area has lots to do.
Campsites are beautiful, each one seems to have unique qualities. We stayed in site 42, it didn’t seem to have very much privacy. I was also hoping for a view of the river but I couldn’t see it from the site. We found a dream catcher in the trees, so we made another one to leave. The tent sites along the river are amazing! Each one has a path down to the river. Site 69 has a private beach and it’s deep enough to swim in. For being a stocked river, we didn’t get a single bite all weekend. I only saw 1 person actually catch a single fish. We did a couple trails while we were there. It says Chimney Rock has “over 100 step” I think it’s 199 each way! We tried using the campground’s GPS units but couldn’t figure them out. Others said the same thing. We drove through the newer campground Minneiska, the pictures online made it look bare, but it was beautiful! It was a prairie full of wild flowers! The trees were newer but old enough to still create shade. There was an abundance of staff always driving around yet there was a bathhouse that had clogged up toilets all weekend long. There is also ZERO cell phone reception. Whether that is a plus or a minus, that’s up to you.
This park has a lot to offer in terms of hiking! Many, many miles of trials from flat prairies, to rocky bluffs, to dirt wooded. And some excellent views from the blufftops! We plan on going in the fall again to take in the colors! Beautiful trout fishing river running through the park, even has a swimming beach!
Overall a wonderful park to day-hike, fish, and camp in!
We stayed here over Memorial weekend and had a blast--there were so many fun things to do! We hiked, took trout fishing lesson, sat at the beach and had relaxing evenings by the fire. If you can give up electricity for a couple days I think the best sites are along the water. Theres a slow flowing spring fed river running behind site 70 (and a couple sites on either side of it) that have paths down to the water where you can sit and fish or just enjoy the sound of the water running past. There are 2 campgrounds at this State Park and the older one where we stayed will unfortunately be closed for the 2020 camping season for renovations.