Traveler - Family Friendly Picks

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Minnesota State Parks and Trails

July 2017


girl at overlook


Afton State Park

For the busy family or single parent who wants to expose a child to the outdoors but may not have the time or funds to travel far, consider visiting Afton State Park located just 19 miles south east of St. Paul!  Afton State Park offers gorgeous views of the St. Croix River as well as a swimming beach, naturalist programs and a visitor center with interpretive displays. The kids can enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking, picnicking and Mom and Dad will appreciate the stroller-friendly paved trail.  Once you get familiar with all that this beautiful park has to offer, you might want to come back and stay the night in one of the yurts that are available for camping.



The List - Parks with Naturalist Programsnaturalist activity

Parents and kids agree that some of their favorite memories from Minnesota State Parks are the experiences they've had at a naturalist program. From learning about bats and butterflies, to looking for fossils or going on a geocaching adventure, many naturalist programs provide introductory-level experiences for children and adults to learn about the natural world while developing new outdoor skills. It's like summer camp for the whole family!

Most naturalist programs are offered free-of-charge. Programs are offered most weekends at state parks around Minnesota. Naturalist programs are also available by request for organized groups such as schools, child care centers and scouts.

Use the Park Finder tool to search for state parks that offer naturalist programs.    



Find upcoming naturalist programs on the on-line events calendar.


Discover - Nature Books for Kids

The natural world is so vast and so amazing that it can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially to a small child. You can help your children get excited about the outdoors by sharing books that foster curiosity for nature while helping improve their literacy skills.  Take a book outdoors to a peaceful spot and make some memories!  

These books are available at your local library or you can purchase them at a Minnesota State Park Nature Store.  

  • Airplanes in the Garden:  Monarch Butterflies Take Flight, by Joan Z. Calder
  • Baby Bear Discovers the Word, by Marion Dane Bauer
  • Goodnight Loon, by Abe Sauer
  • Tracks in the Wild, by Betsy Bowen
 Tracks in the Wild book cover  

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Find more nature books for kids and resources to help connect kids to nature.

Game Time - Finding Fireflies firefly

July is a great time of summer to observe fireflies, also known as lightning bugs. The hot, humid temperatures signal the mating season of these night flying beetles.  

Across the planet there are more than 136 different species of fireflies.  Many of these species are disappearing and researchers aren't quite sure why.

Fireflies prefer to hide near meadows or lawns and at the edge of woods or streams.   Each species of firefly sends different mating signals. You can learn to recognize different species by the number, duration, and time lapses between flashes.

 Here's a way for you to learn about your local fireflies.

1. Gently catch and observe lightning bugs in a jar. Make sure that air is provided for the fireflies. Children should get an adult to help punch air holes in your container.

2. Observe the flashing in the jar. Count the number of flashes, how long they last, and the time between flashes. Do this for 5 minutes. Record your data.

3. Return to your capture site and gently release the fireflies. Wait one hour and return to your site. Recapture fireflies and repeat your observations. If you notice a different flashing sequence, you probably have a different species.

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Find out how you can help our fireflies.

Traveler Tip - Paved Trails for Strollers and Training Wheelskids with training wheels

Exploring the outdoors with young children can be challenging if you don't  have the proper equipment to handle the terrain.  But parents can breath a sigh of relief knowing that many Minnesota state parks and trails provide paved paths for walking and biking. Such trails can accommodate the everyday stroller that you use at the mall or the small training wheels of your little one's bicycle.  

Use the Park Finder tool to search for parks with paved trails.  Explore the Start-up Guide to Minnesota state trails to find a paved state trail that will meet the needs of your family, including the kid friendliest trails.


Explore our state trails with an inter-active trails map.


July Events - Programs for Kidsboy and butterfly

Programs and activities for kids are offered year-round at Minnesota state parks and trails.  Some programs are specifically designed for young children while other programs are geared for the whole family.  

Check out some of our upcoming kids programs



Find more naturalist programs.

Keep reading! For past issues of the Traveler, click here.