Road Trippin’ : Day Seven

Photo has hand holding a 52 Hike Challenge 2020 Adventure Series patch. The image is focused on the patch while the out of focus background features a river and the banks with trees. The photo was taken on a sunny day.

#41 and #42 hikes of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trails/Parks: Flandrau State Park and Minneopa State Park

I want to acknowledge these hikes took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute, Wahpeton and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ.

Trash Collected: 0.1 pounds

The photo shows the Flandrau State Park Sign, which is made of cut local stone in hues of brown, reds, purples and grays. The park name is  made of metal mounted to the stone face. In the background the forest provides a shaded, green field for the sign.

Flandrau State Park

#41hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

In my planning for this trip, I spent time looking at the park maps and even the directions to get from one park to another. For whatever reason, I didn’t connect this park sits right on the edge of the city of New Ulm, Minnesota. The entrance to Flandrau State Park is located in a residential neighborhood on the west side near Martin Luther College and the August Schell Brewing Company. The park was the site of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) camp in the 1930s and 1940s. When the Dakota called the land their home, it was primarily tall grass prairie along the Cottonwood River, which meanders through the park.

I was pleasantly surprised as I entered the park of the feeling of having been transported almost instantaneously from a city to a more remote location. Pulling into the park’s main parking area to start my hike on the Cottonwood Trail, I first walked past several WPA buildings and the swimming pool. The pool was closed and drained, its lifeguard stations appearing strangely placed on the sandy pit that would normally be filled with water. The trailhead is accessed from the beach and quickly heads into the woods. With the recent rainstorms, the trails were damp and even muddy in places. Along the trail there are various view points of the Cottonwood River and bluffs across from the park. The trail along the river had a washed out section where the trail had been rerouted near an overlook. Seeing it, reminded me both that it’s important to stay on primary trails to keep erosion to natural pace and that erosion happens as a normal part of nature.

About a half mile in I picked up the Oxbow Trail which took me away from the river toward the north part of the park which is primarily prairie bordered by more forest. The sun was starting to come on strong and it was getting hot so I was grateful for the spots of shade that came when I connected with the Grassland Trail. This section follows a bluff that offers access to New Ulm’s streets and Martin Luther College.

I’m often surprised at the methods that park managers use to keep trails open and this park provided some I’d not seen before. A wet section of trail had old pallets and short bridges that allowed for traverse over what would otherwise be a very muddy section. Moving back into the forested Ridge Trail that is a bit more narrow and on to the Woodland Trail offered opportunity to explore the diversity of this park. As I traveled throughout the park I noted the abundance of garlic mustard throughout the park, most of it having gone to seed. This had me again reflecting on the impact humans have on the land. I’m more aware of is this year than I’ve been in the past and am coming to terms with the innocent introduction of non-native species.

The park is a beautiful option for anyone looking to camp or hike while being close to a city for the conveniences like restaurants and shopping. Personally, I found it to be more like a city park. This wasn’t the experience I was looking for on this trip so I headed off to my next stop.

Minneopa State Park

#42hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

This day’s theme was parks near some of Minnesota’s beloved smaller cities. Minneopa State Park is an easy drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area as well as from Iowa, located just off of Highway 169 near Mankato. I’d visited this park a few years back with my son on our way home from another adventure. We’d stopped at the park’s falls and driven the bison enclosure to Seppman Mill, but hadn’t hiked any of the park’s trails on our visit.

My plans included exploring the Hiking Club Trail and camping for the night. Again, I hadn’t really considered the location and timing of my visit during my planning. I’d focused on where the park fit in my overall route to make the most efficient travel across the region. Had I considered that I’d be arriving on a Saturday, I might have adjusted my overall itinerary so that I’d be in these two parks for a week day visit. As I’d noted in my lead in post to this series, the goal was minimal contact with other people. This park wasn’t exactly conducive to that plan.

I arrived to the Red Fox Campground entrance at about 1:00 PM to find a line of cars eight or nine deep. Each was waiting their turn to pay the day fee and access the Bison Enclosure which is right before the entrance to the park’s campground. My anxiety level amped up and I considered my options. The entrance is narrow so when I was able to move past the cars, I found a turn-around spot and headed toward the park office which has a different entrance, closer to Minneopa Creek and the falls.

Side Note: I’ve got an annual Minnesota State Park pass so I don’t need to pay fees on arrival at each park. I highly recommend this if you visit Minnesota State Parks with any regularity. In 2020 the pass fee is $35 and offers unlimited access to the parks. One day permits are $7 each so the pass quickly pays for itself. Once you have the pass, you can bypass long lines like what I encountered at Minneopa State Park. Currently, since not all park offices are open, you can order one online, print the receipt for your car window and your window sticker arrives about a week later. Some outdoor retailers (REI, Midwest Mountaineering and others) may also sell the passes, but it’s good to check to make sure they have them on hand before you go to purchase one.

Pulling into the park office entrance, which was open, I was looking to get ice and my park patch. There wasn’t a line so I was hopeful to be quickly in and out. As I put my car in park more cars pulled in behind me quickly leaving me waiting in a line of many more people than I wanted. I got my purchases handled and decided I’d put the ice in my cooler in the parking lot nearby. Alas, that was not meant to be. More cars clogged the parking lot and road so I again turned around and headed elsewhere for a few hours until, I hoped, the park settled down for the evening.

The image is of the campsite #A4 in the Redfox Campground. The site is surrounded by trees. On the left is a tan and brown tent. The center has a fire ring and behind it there is a picnic bench.

Returning a few hours later, I was able to get by the crowds at the entrance to the campground to locate my campsite. I’d reserved a drive-in site near the restrooms that looked online to be fairly secluded. Thankfully I had chosen well. Up a short few steps, I had a beautiful site (#A4) that sits just above the campground road and sites on either side. I set up my tent and waited until early evening, again hoping that the crowds might taper off, so I could have a quiet hike. I decided I might further get some solitude by returning to the falls picnic area for dinner and then hiking after.

My plan worked. As evening was setting in the area near the falls had emptied. I pulled out my camp stove, made dinner and finally relaxed a bit. Following dinner, I took a leisurely stroll to the falls. The falls is close to the parking lot making it very accessible on fully paved trails. A bridge spans the top of the falls providing a beautiful backdrop for photos. I considered taking the stairs to the base of the falls, but there were just enough people that I opted to head back to hike the Minnesota River Bluff Trail near the campground.

The Hiking Club Trail is easily accessed from the campground on foot, but I drove to the parking area so I could also take a drive through the bison enclosure when I finished. This trail is a lollypop that follows the north side of the enclosure, and for those looking to do a longer hike, connects to circumnavigate the entire enclosure. About a mile in, I opted to use the loop to return to my car. The trial is primarily wooded which offered yet another reprieve from the afternoon heat. I had to keep moving though to keep the mosquitos at bay.

Finishing up my hike which was thankfully not as busy as I’d expected, I got into my car and headed to the Bison Enclosure. I had about an hour before I needed to be out of the enclosure and knew I wanted to get to the Seppman Mill for it’s beautiful views before it closed for the evening. Entering the enclosure it wasn’t long before I encountered cars stopped to take photos of the bison herd. I carefully navigated past and made the snaking drive to the mill. The Seppman Mill is located on the southern side of the park. It’s a circular structure that tapers at the top and is a popular photo backdrop.

I’d come for the view over the enclosure, which offers a bird’s eye view of the restored prairie and, sometimes, the bison. The fall color of the prairie was starting to pop in the late afternoon sun. I took it in until another wave of people arrived. On my way out of the enclosure I stopped for a few pictures of the bison before heading back to the campground.

My campsite offered the distance I needed from the other campers even though the park was busy until dark. As the sun faded the noise did too and I was able to get a good night of sleep to be ready for my morning drive. I was glad I’d visited this park, but don’t think I’d come in the summer again. Late fall, winter or early spring would hopefully offer a the quieter experience I enjoy. I also considered that since these two parks are so close to one another and the trails are shorter, I could have easily added a third park into my day. It’s definitely something to consider when looking at any Minnesota State Park adventure. With at least one, if not two or more, parks generally located within an hour’s drive of each other it’s easy to visit up to three parks in a day. Had I not already visited Sakatah Lake State Park, it would have been a great addition to the day’s hiking.

Next Post Preview: I head for the open prairies of south central Minnesota. The heat is in full force under the clear, sunny skies as I explore near the Minnesota-Iowa border.

GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, ENO DoubleNest Hammock with Atlas Straps, Guardian Bug Net and Pro Rainfly, Slumberjack 2-person tent with footprint, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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