When you think Greater St. Cloud, you may think of the bustling downtown area, attractions like Quarry Park and Nature Preserve and Lake George, and Crossroads Mall. What might not immediately come to mind is the fact that the Mississippi River flows right through the heart of St. Cloud. She offers not only breathtaking views all along the way, but many activities, sights, and more along her shores. Take a trip down the river with us from Sauk Rapids to Clearwater and see all she has to show off!
Located right on the Mississippi River, Municipal Park full of fun playground equipment. In between Municipal and Island View parks is the Bridge of Hope, a Highway 15 overpass that seems otherwise unimportant. However, when you wander below this bridge, you will see a beautiful backdrop of arches that stretches over the river, giving the mirror-like illusion that it goes on forever. It’s perfect for pictures, or just a quite moment!
Just a little ways down the river is Lions Park, where explorers will find the former bridge landing that used to cross the Mississippi. Wandering out on this promenade provides nearly 360 views of the river at some of the most scenic rapids. Plus, locals have begun to create a Love Lock fence at the end. Friends, lovers, and many other people have started to leave padlocks on the fence with names, dates, and even drawings. It adds to the magical experience! Another notable attraction: under the 9th Avenue bridge you’ll find a spiral staircase that takes you up to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. It’s great for birds-eye photos of the river, especially at sunset!
On the West side of the Mississippi River just down from the St. Cloud Hospital is Hester Park. Featuring tennis and basketball courts, a playground, sledding hills and great views of the river, Hester Park is convenient and full of fun. Plus, make sure to check out the old granite staircase located in the park. A WPA project from 1935, the staircase is a great setting for photos, a picnic, and even a good workout – right by the riverside!
On the East side of the Mississippi River (across from Hester Park) you’ll find Wilson Park. Equipped with a handicap accessible playground, huge WPA-constructed pavilion for rental, a boat landing and a dog park, this massive green space on the banks of the Mississippi is a fun place to hang out. Make sure to check out the North side of the shelter for a special surprise. The Kaleidoscope Artscape Collaboration, created by Claire Witt, is a dazzling display of artistry that you can touch and explore while you spend time at the park. It’s a beautiful sight to see!
Starting just below the River’s Edge Convention Center and stretching all the way to River Bluffs Regional Park, the Beaver Island Trail is the best trail to travel if you’re looking for views of the Missisippi River. The extension below the convention center features a walkway that extends over the river and under the bridges, providing an urban walking experience unlike any other. As the trail continues south, you can catch glimpses of the Beaver Islands themselves through an array of wildlife and natural features.
Munsinger is the lower garden of the Munsinger Clemens Gardens fame, featuring walking trails, hundreds of varieties of flowers and plants, and even an old log cabin. The former site of a sawmill, Munsinger Garden was constructed as a WPA project in the 1930s. Now the garden is known as a relaxing place to experience not only the flora but to get close to the Mississippi for a stroll, relaxing in riverside benches, and even enjoy a picnic on the shores. It’s so quiet and relaxing, you won’t even remember you’re in bustling St. Cloud!
7: St. Cloud Hydro Dam
Just a short walk from Munsinger right next to the greenhouse, you will find the roaring St. Cloud Hydro Dam. Get close to the power of the Mighty Mississippi with viewing decks at different levels, some so close you can feel the mist on a windy day. The St. Cloud Hydro Dam flows 4,970 cubic feet per second of water, producing 8.86 megawatts of electricity per day. Great for photos and an up-close look at how power is generated, both sides of the river offer great views of the St. Cloud Hydro Dam.
The name says it all – this beautiful, shady park stretches several thousand feet of shoreline on the Mississippi River. With features including a sliding hill, splash pad, tennis and volleyball courts, a playground, cross country ski trails and a disc golf course, there is something to do year round at Riverside Park. Plus, rent the pavilion for your next party and grill out on the charcoal grills provided – it’s all here!
9: The Beaver Islands
Only accessible by boat, the Beaver Islands were first named by explorer Zebulon Pike in 1805 during his exploration to find the source of the Mississippi River. On October 10, 1805 he wrote that he “…passed a cluster of islands, more than 20 in the course of four miles; these I called Beaver Islands from the immense signs of those animals, for they have dams on every island…” Today, the islands are mostly natural lands inhabited only by wildlife and the occasional camper. One of the islands known as Sportsman’s Island used to be the home of a park and events center, and is still owned by the St. Cloud Country Club.
Looking to play 18 holes and get a view of the Mississippi? The St. Cloud Country Club golf course has some of the most scenic golfing views in Greater St. Cloud. Holes 3, 4, 10, 13 and 14 offer the best views of the river with 4 looking right out over Sportsman’s Island, but really there’s not a bad seat in the house. The catch: you do need to be a St. Cloud Country Club member (or their guest!) to play on this course.
At the southern tip of the Beaver Island Trail, you will find River Bluffs Regional Park. This wildlife oasis includes a boat landing that is great for both motor and paddle watercraft, as well as trails that weave through the scenic wilderness of the Mississippi River bluffs. The views of the river includes glimpses of several Beaver Islands and the trails are perfect for walking, cycling, or even fat-biking in the winter.
12: The Undeveloped Shores
As the Mississippi flows south of Saint Cloud towards Clearwater, businesses and residences along the shoreline become more and more sparse. The river begins to appear more wild and the natural river world opens up. Best explored by watercraft, this stretch of the river offers some of the most stunning, undisturbed lands before it continues on to the metro area.
13: Island View Regional Park
The best way to reach the Mississippi riverbanks by foot in this undeveloped area is at Island View Regional Park in Sherburne County. Featuring 1,300 feet of shoreline and nearly 2 miles of mowed trails, it offers visitors a peaceful getaway in native prairies, oak forests, and open water wetlands. It’s a great spot for fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, and landing your canoe or kayak into the Mississippi River.
If you’re looking for the most authentic, up-close and personal experience with the Mighty Mississippi, Clear Waters Outfitting can get you set up for a paddle trip you’ll never forget. With canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard rental plus shuttling, guide services, and more, Clear Waters Outfitting has everything you need to get you out on the river. Trips are available from St. Cloud to Clearwater, from island View Regional Park to Clearwater, from Clearwater to Becker, and more. Plus, they sell several lines of paddling equipment as well, so if you fall in love with padding the Mississippi, they can hook you up with everything you need to keep exploring it for many seasons to come.