The State Parks Division was created by the legislature in 1935 (Laws 1935, chapter 340), although the state park system in Minnesota dates to 1889 when Camp Release in Yellow Medicine County was established as a memorial park (Laws 1889, chapter 281). Prior to 1925, all state parks, with the exception of Itasca and Sibley, had been under the supervision of the state auditor, Itasca having been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Forestry and Sibley under the game and fish commissioner. From 1925 to 1931 the parks were administered by the Conservation Commission. Under the law that created the Department of Conservation (Laws 1931, chapter 186, state parks were administered by the Division of Forestry until a separate division was created in 1935.
During the 1930s much of the development of the park system was done through relief programs. During the 1940s, insufficient funds were available for adequate maintenance or for development, so in 1953 the legislature passed the State Park Sticker Act (Laws 1953, chapter 470) to obtain revenue for the Division of State Parks by levying a use fee. By 1967 the division had the responsibility of developing and promoting a statewide trail system for hiking, biking, horseback riding, skiing, and snowmobiling. In that year, the legislature changed the division's name to the Parks and Recreation Division. When the Conservation Department became the Department of Natural Resources in 1970, the Parks and Recreation Division remained unchanged.