Entrance fees for all Minnesota state parks will be waived the Friday after Thanksgiving, as part of the fourth annual "Free Park Day."
The waived fees is an annual tradition with a goal of encouraging families to spend time together outdoors, said state park director Erika Rivers.
"We also know that time spent outdoors really helps people connect to other people," Rivers said. "We just think that the day after Thanksgiving where everybody is sort of in a family spirit. It's a great opportunity to just get outside take a deep breath. There's just really no better way to de-stress and feel connected with others then going for a hike — going for a walk in a state park."
The one-day, per-vehicle fee is normally $7.
The after-Thanksgiving waiver was the brainchild of DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. He heard about a large outdoor retailer bucking the Black Friday trend and closing its doors to encourage getting out in nature instead. He followed suit.
"Commissioner Landwehr was like: 'That's a really great idea. Why don't we make Minnesota State Parks free that day too,'" Rivers said.
Three parks will also offer special events:
• At Sibley State Park in New London, parkgoers can join a naturalist on a hike to Mt. Tom and learn about the wild turkey. The hike will be from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and will meet at the Interpretive Center.
• The Whitewater State Park near Winona will host a hike to search for wild turkeys in Whitewater Valley. Parkgoers can learn about the history of the bird and join a hike to look for signs of wild turkeys. Interested folks can meet the visitor center around 1 p.m. The hike should last an hour.
• At Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, parkgoers can learn about efforts to conserve bison throughout the state. Folks will be able to touch pieces of bison and make a storybook about the animal to take home. The event is slated from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and will be held at the picnic shelter in the cart-in campsite area.
Most state parks offices and visitor centers are minimally staffed in the winter, but parks remain open and maps and information are available at each.
Signs near the entrance often offer suggestions on what to do. Or plan ahead by visiting the Free Park Friday webpage at the DNR Website. You can also use the state's HikeFinder website to map out an expedition.
You can pick up a hard copy map to plan a hike at a park office or download a GeoPDF map on a mobile device. Just a warning, you'll need internet access to download map files and install the app, but after that, internet access isn't needed to use the map.