This Black Friday deal is a breath of fresh air – literally

Ditch the shopping frenzy and go to any state park for free.

With just a few days until the biggest shopping day of the year, many Minnesotans are finalizing lists and making game plans on which stores they'll visit to score the best bargains.

But if waking up at the crack of dawn to squeeze your way through a crowded mall isn't your style, this Black Friday deal is a breath of fresh air: on the day after Thanksgiving, entry to all 75 state parks and recreation areas is free.

Gov. Mark Dayton just made the proclamation on Monday, but Free Park Friday is a tradition state officials have been pushing for awhile now. 

The goal is to encourage families to extend their holiday by spending time together outdoors, instead of packed like sardines with hundreds of shoppers.

"Research shows that spending time outdoors benefits children and adults, including improving mood, enhancing creative thinking and problem solving, promoting a conservation ethic, and improving physical fitness," a news release from the governor's office says.

At $7, the daily vehicle entry fees to Minnesota's state parks aren't exactly wallet busters. But after a day of stuffing your face with mashed potatoes and pie, it's hard to argue with a little exercise. 

Officials say the average American consumes around 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. A brisk walk can burn about 300 calories in an hour. 

"On Friday after Thanksgiving, I can't think of anything better than visiting one of Minnesota's spectacular state parks, with free admission," Lt. Gov Tina Smith said in the release. 

Planning your trip

Once you've made the decision to swap Black Friday for Free Park Friday, the question is: Where to? 

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith says she plans to visit Judge Magney State Park on the North Shore.

"But no matter where you are in Minnesota there is probably a state park within 30 miles," Smith said in the release.

A few parks will offer special programs on Free Park Friday, which are listed on the Department of Natural Resources' event calendar here. Examples of the themed events include an opportunity to learn about primitive fire starting at Tettegouche State Park, and a hike to look for signs of beaver at Whitewater State Park near Winona.

For those who prefer to explore on their own, the DNR has a handy ParkFinder tool here. It sorts parks by location and also allows visitors to search for specific things, such as which parks offer rental equipment like skis and snowshoes. 

For Minnesotans scouting the best trails, there's HikeFinder. Just don't forget to skim the DNR's safety tips for hikers before heading out.

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