Hike the Carlton Trail at Jay Cooke State Park

River Inn Visitors Center Parking Lot, Esko, Minnesota, United States

  • Activities:

    Cycling, Chillin, Photography, Running, Hiking, Fitness

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    4 Miles

Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Picnic Area
River
Scenic

Walk across the swinging suspension bridge and take in great views of the St. Louis River. Hike through hardwood forests and if you head there in autumn, enjoy spectacular fall foliage colors.

Hike the trails at Jay Cooke State Park in the autumn to see a stunning display of red, gold, and orange foliage colors lining the banks of the St. Louis river. Beginning at the River Inn Visitors Center at the park's headquarters, head over to the newly rebuilt swinging suspension bridge crossing the St. Louis river. Take in the views of the St. Louis river while listening to the raging waters below your feet before crossing the bridge towards the trailhead. Once you have crossed the bridge, veer off to the right where you will access the West Ridge loop and Carlton trails. Continue to follow the signs for the Carlton trail. The trail winds through a beautiful hardwood and evergreen mixed forest, and offers many scenic views of the river along the way. View Thompson Dam and reservoir on the northern end of the trail before heading back. The Carlton trail is a two mile one-way out-and-back trail, but if you feel like venturing further, continue over a small wooden bridge that leads you to the Munger State Trail, a paved bike path that runs along the northern boundary of the park. Continue on the Munger State Trail for about a mile, then take the Forbay Trail which will lead you back to the Visitors Center parking lot. For an added bonus, hike the Thompson Trail loop (approx. 3/4 mile) off the Forbay trail before heading back; this short loop will take you to Thompson Cemetery, an old pioneer cemetery that dates back to the late 1800's. Upon returning to the Visitors Center, enjoy a snack around the picnic area or relax and enjoy the scenery.

NOTE: Due to flooding in 2012, the east entrance into the park is still closed. Make sure to enter the park via the West entrance.

Pack List

  • Hiking shoes
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • $5 State Park day pass
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Reviews

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We visited on a rainy day in June. While on the trail it hailed and rained but we still had a great time. At one point my 6 year old daughter slipped and ended up with a muddy butt! We knew it was going to be muddy and had spare clothes in the car. The best part was when we came around a bend in the trail and there was a patch of yellow lady Slippers! I've never seen that many in one area. Worth the mud! And of course the bridge is neat.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

The swinging bridge is a classic. Every Minnesotan needs to go at least once in their life.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Great location with some amazing trails

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Lisa Groene

Minnesota native. I love camping, photography, and exploring new places.

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