Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to get together with family and friends and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants everyone to take their fun outside, and for one day only they're providing a terrific incentive to do so.

The DNR hosts several Free Park Days each year, which means you can enjoy any of Minnesota's 75 state parks and state recreation areas without paying any admission fees, and no vehicle permits are required. The goal of these special days is to encourage Minnesotans to get outdoors and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of spending time in nature.

The DNR notes that studies show the positive physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature. According to the American Psychological Association, the calming and restorative qualities of nature help lower cortisol levels, which leads to reduced stress and improved cognitive function.

The next Minnesota Free Park Day is on Friday, November 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

“During the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday season, Minnesota state parks and recreation areas are the perfect places to enjoy the tranquility of nature,” said Ann Pierce, director of the DNR Parks and Trails Division. “We encourage people to get outside with friends and family after Thanksgiving gatherings to enjoy the calming sights and sounds of nature.”

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Not only is November 24 a Free Park Day, but some state parks will be offering naturalist programs, including guided nature walks at Whitewater, Wild River, and Split Rock Lighthouse state parks.

Keep in mind that while most naturalist programs are free, they sometimes require advance registration. You can check the DNR's parks and trails event calendar below for details.

Also, remember that most state park offices and visitor centers will be minimally staffed on November 24, so all visitors should plan ahead and arrive prepared for their visit.

The DNR recommends taking the following steps to prepare for your outdoor adventure:

  • Check visitor alerts and find directions on state park web pages.
  • Download the Avenza app and the geoPDF map for the park you’ll be visiting before the trip. The app and maps are free, and maps will display a user’s current location even when not connected to the internet or cell service. Find information on the DNR’s geoPDF map webpage. Visitors without a smartphone should look for paper maps outside the park office.
  • Visit the self-orientation signs near the park entrance for suggestions on what to see and do in the park.
  • Check the weather forecast before leaving home, and dress appropriately for the conditions. Be sure to pack water and snacks.

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[WARNING: Under no circumstances should you enter private or abandoned property. By doing so you risk bodily harm and/or prosecution for trespassing.]

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