The Drive: It is my opinion that you can only call a lake 'big' if you can't see the far shore. This means that despite being the land of 10,000 lakes, there are only around ten big lakes in Minnesota. Father Hennepin State Park is just a short 15 mile drive from Mille Lacs-Kathio State Park around the south side of Lake Mille Lacs. Although I've driven by this lake countless times, it is always thrilling to drive around a bend and see this aquatic landscape open up in front of you. Most people only see it from Hwy 169, but on route to Father Hennepin, you'll get a chance to see it from quaint cabin towns and open pastures. Lake Mille Lacs is the gateway to Minnesota's cabin and fishing country, so don't be afraid to pull over and take a picture with a kitschy roadside statue (likely a giant fish). It's part of the cultural experience.
The Park: Father Hennepin is both smaller and more heavily used than any of the other parks I've visited. If you are looking for a wilderness camping experience, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are looking for a natural place to park your RV and go swimming on 4th of July weekend, make sure you reserve ahead of time, because this place is packed. The biggest draw might be a group of albino deer that supposedly live in the park's forest, but I never saw any. And most importantly, the breeze from the lake keeps most of the mosquitos away, which more than anything else is why this park got a 5/5 on my arbitrary rating system.
The Hike: Beginning at the picnic grounds, this hike starts by cutting right through the campground (RV Parking Lot) before hitting a paved trail to the beach. Although far from mindblowing, this portion of the hike was extremely pleasant. It gave me a chance to relax after two days and 20 miles of uneven ground, changing elevation, voracious insects, and roots that mysteriously pop up and trip you. Take the short detour to the point before you hit the beach. It gives a great panorama of the lake and you can begin to get a sense of its the massive scale. The trail then loops around through the park's birch woods and marshes - taking you on an easy ramble through its less visited portions - before returning to the picnic grounds.
Cumulative Miles Hiked: 20.5
Cumulative Miles Driven: 582
Arbitrary Rating: 5/5
And congratulations, you've finally finished Part 1 of the Great Minnesota Road Trip. Here is recording of The Northern Lights playing Minnesota for your trouble: