After lunch in Hinckley, we pressed on to our next state park: Banning State Park near Sandstone. During lunch we’d speculated whether the sun would sunder the clouds and shine brightly for this hike. It didn’t do either until after we’d almost finished our loop through the park. 🙄

Banning is one of the smaller state parks and the Hiking Club route there is officially only 2.6 miles (4.2 km). So we were expecting a quick loop and then on to the North Shore (where everyone in Minnesota seems to go in the summer). We hadn’t counted on the dynamic rapids on the Kettle River or the historic features along the Quarry Loop Trail or the sandstone cliffs or… Anyway, we spent more time than expected and enjoyed every minute of it. 😁 So did a lot of other folks, as we encountered more people on the trails here than at any of the other state parks we’ve visited thus far.

From the parking lot, we followed the Quarry Loop Trail past Teacher’s Overlook, Dragon’s Tooth Rapids, and the remnants of the old sandstone quarry (which operated between 1892 and 1912). The Hinckley Sandstone quarried and shaped here was used to construct buildings (e.g., the Minneapolis Courthouse) and pave streets in the Twin Cities.

At the tip of the loop, we followed the short Hell’s Gate Trail out for another view of Hell’s Gate Rapids and then doubled back to follow the Quarry Loop to the Cut-off and Trillium Trails, which we followed back to the parking lot.

Descending stone stairs to Teacher’s Overlook
The Kettle River near Dragon’s Tooth Rapids
The Kettle River was a rich coffee color thanks to the forest tannin
Looking downstream along the Kettle
On the Quarry Loop Trail
Turbulence in the Kettle
More rapids
Reflections in stone
Continuing along the Quarry Loop Trail

Fortunately, we’d had the presence of mind to pick-up a Banning Quarry brochure at the trailhead. This helped explain what we were seeing at the 17 numbered posts along the trail. We were, of course, doing the route in reverse 🙄 so we hit #17 first and were ready when we reached #13 – the Rock Crusher – which must have been a formidably large and noisy (and dangerous) thing in its day. The Power House, which came next along the trail, must have been an even noisier and more dangerous venue.

The two-foot (0.6 m) thick, 30-foot (9 m) tall foundation walls of the Rock Crusher
The Power House was an even more massive structure than the Crusher
Modern pictographs at the Power House
One of the huge ring bolts used to pull massive stone blocks into position for sawing at the Cutting House

Past the historic quarry structures, we turned on to the Hell’s Gate Trail for a quick trip past an old Powder House to an overlook on the river. From there, we doubled-back to the Quarry Loop Trail.

The view from below Hell’s Gate Rapids
Churn drill scars in the sandstone cliffs on the way back along the Quarry Loop Trail
A leaf: living and dying
More churn drill scars and trees growing out of the sheer cliff
Sandstone abstract

We followed the Quarry Loop Trail to its junction with the Cut-off Trail. We went north on that trail to the Trillium Trail and then took that one south to the parking lot.

On the Cut-off Trail
A Leopard Frog among the leaves
Back on the Trillium Trail

Adding Hell’s Gate brought our hike to a total of 3.1 miles (4.9 km). The sun appeared just before the end of the hike (as it so often does just to torment us). So we were able to drive north to Duluth under full blue bird conditions 😎 – where it was, delightfully, a lot cooler and less humid than in the Twin Cities. 😉

Our route around Banning State Park (D = Dragon’s Tooth Rapids, H = Hell’s Gate Rapids)
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