BANNING STATE PARK
Treat yourself to a visit to Banning State Park, just minutes off I-35 near Sandstone. In the spring, watch daring canoeists and kayakers shoot the turbulent rapids at Blueberry Slide, Mother's Delight, Dragon's Tooth and Hell's Gate. In the summer, hike along the Kettle River amid dramatic sandstone rock formations with lush lichens, liverworts and mosses. Visit Wolf Creek Falls, the Log Creek Arches and Robinson's Ice Cave. Stay at the new camper cabin (sleeps five people), which includes bunk beds, a table and benches. Take in the historic ruins of Banning Sandstone Quarry. The park is known for camping, picnicking, cross-country skiing, beautiful trails for hiking and the study of natural history.
Banning State Park is located within the Mille Lacs Uplands subsection and includes aspen-birch, mixed hardwoods, pines, conifers, tamaracks, and wetland vegetation types. Today, the area includes hardwoods, wetlands, conifers, tamarack wetlands and aspen-birch forests, which reflect the original vegetation types.
The Kettle River extends the entire length of the park, exposing bedrock for much of the distance. One of the most dominant characteristics of the park is sandstone and the potholes formed by the Kettle River. The sandstone is from the Hinckley formation, known for shallow soil over bedrock and boulders which are exposed or lie just below the surface. In the northern area of the park, the river flows through a relatively shallow and narrow valley. Within a few miles, the river valley narrows to a gorge worn by the river through Precambrian sandstone to a depth of 100 feet. At Hell's Gate, the river flows through sheer cliffs which rise to 40 feet above the water. Below the rapids, the valley once again begins to widen. Beyond the valley walls, the topography is generally level to gently rolling glacial till plain.
Banning State Park attracts birdwatchers who have sited 184 species of birds. In addition, 17 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 34 species of mammals live in the park. Common species include white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, fox, raccoon, beaver, red and gray squirrels, snowshoe hare, and ruffed grouse.
In the late 1890s, the Banning Sandstone Quarry employed 500 workers who chiseled the rock into massive blocks. The strength and pink color of this sandstone made it very popular for building construction. On September 1, 1894, the great Hinckley forest fire swept through the area inflicting heavy financial losses on the company and on the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad line serving it. Business resumed after the fire and by 1896 a village was platted on the fields above the quarry. The village was named in honor of William L. Banning, president of the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad. The village grew and by the turn of the century it was incorporated with a population of approximately 300. By this time, however, contractors were beginning to use structural steel for building construction. By 1905, all work at the quarry ceased. Fires continued to be a problem so that by 1912, the town of Banning virtually ceased to exist. Today, all that remains of the site are weathered ruins along the Kettle River. Banning State Park was established in 1963 by the Minnesota state legislature, with 5,246 acres. In 1971, the park acreage increased to a total of 5,877 acres. In 1986, the park boundary was expanded to include the Log Creek Drive area, for a total of 6,237 acres. A 10-mile stretch of the Kettle River, designated as a state Wild and Scenic River, bisects the park. In 1995, the local community of Sandstone, the DNR and the Pollution Control Agency worked together to remove the Kettle River dam and return the river to its natural state which now showcases the Big Spring Falls and the Sandstone Rapids. The park's water resources include the Kettle River, Wolf Creek, Log Creek, six streams and three springs. The scenic Kettle River includes five spectacular rapids: Blueberry Slide, Mother's Delight, Dragon's Tooth, Little Banning and Hell's Gate. These rapids provide one of the state's most challenging whitewater experiences for canoe and kayak enthusiasts.