The land on which the state park sits was originally home to the Mdewakanton Dakota Indians. Lt. Zebulon Pike negotiated a treaty with the Mdewakanton to purchase their land. The treaty site is now called Pike Island.
Fort Snelling, a historic military landmark, dates to 1820. It is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society inside the state park. After the Dakota War of 1862, many of the Dakota tribe were confined in a camp in this area, suffering through the winter of 1862-63 before being forced into Nebraska.
Lying in between river bluffs, the park contains bottomland forest and rivers and lakes. Trees include cottonwoods, silver maples, green ash and willows.
Wildlife in the park includes white-tailed deer, fox, badgers, skunks and woodchucks. Snapping turtles, painted turtles and soft-shelled turtles can be found living along riverbanks and lake edges. Birdwatching opportunities abound.
Activities in the park include cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, biking and boating. Fort Snelling Golf Course, a nine-hole course, lies west of the fort.