New Trails : Getting to the Bottoms

The image is of a bend in the Zumbro River. A few green plants are in the foreground with the river bank arching from right to left. There is sand along the river bank boarding low vegetation. Behind and in the distance are the trees of the forest. The sky is bright blue with white clouds.

#24 of my 2022 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Railroad Bed Trail, Zumbro Bottoms West Assembly Unit, Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest

This hike took place on the traditional territory of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ and Wahpeton. I respect the histories, languages and cultures of these peoples, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant and changing communities. Join me in learning more about the tribes and these lands, by following the links provided.

Trash Collected: 0.5 pounds

A wide light brown, dirt trail leads off into the distance in the center of the photo. The trail is surrounded by vegetation and trees making a tunnel for hiking. The sun is out and small bits of blue sky show through breaks in the leafy canopy.

I often find myself looking for a trail I haven’t experienced and I’m willing to drive a fair distance to check out a new trail or park too. In the heat of mid-summer I headed southeast to visit a park I’d heard about from other hikers – Zumbro Bottoms – which is located in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest near Wabasha, MN. I’d heard the trails were beautiful and there are many trail options.

I’d decided to hike from the West Assembly Unit horse camp. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I arrived at the campground which had a large group of folks with their horses. It took a bit of searching to find the trailhead, but I parked in an open area near the pit toilets and was able to locate the West Back Trail. The trail signs were a bit different than I’m used to and were geared toward horse riders.

My plan was to hike the Railroad Bed Trail and get in about five miles total, possibly more if I felt up to it. I’d also decided to bring my backpacking pack to keep in shape for future longer hikes. With a lunch packed inside I was set for hiking through the afternoon.

A flat narrow trail running along the woods took me to the edge of the campground took me to the Railroad Bed Trail. I was on my way. The trail is a mix of soft packed rock and sand – very typical for horse trails. As I hiked, I encountered several groups of riders coming the opposite direction. At each encounter I stopped, greeted the riders and continued talking as they moved past. I’d been told at some point early in my hiking the importance of making space for the horses and to speak to the riders so the horses wouldn’t spook, especially when hiking with trekking poles and a pack. While horses are sweet and curious, if they are unfamiliar with a hiker, the size and shape of the pack, and the sound of poles it can be confusing or frightening to an inexperienced horse. One pair of riders with a new horse commented how much they appreciated my understanding of the etiquette as it kept everyone safer.

When alone, I enjoyed the workout the soft trail was providing. My first view of the Zumbro River stopped me in my tracks because of it’s simple beauty. The clear water flowing softly along under the bright, sunny sky surrounded by the greenery filled me with gratitude for the opportunity to hike here. The trail follows the river, close to its banks in some places, set in the distance by wooded areas in others. Side trails along the way were tempting, but I knew I was in for a longer hike on this hot, humid day so I kept to the main trail. At one point a side trail was too inviting. I went along for quite a while before I became concerned I’d taken a trail which would lead me in the wrong direction. I bushwacked my way toward the main trail. Only a few hundred yards beyond the side trail rejoined the main making me feel silly for my mis-read of the map. From then on it was all about sticking to the main trail.

Another bend in the trail revealed the voices I had heard were a group of people enjoying a game of frisbee, taking a break from canoeing on the river. I kept moving leaving the voices to fade into the background again. As I neared the Funk Ford bridge I came upon a snake, which didn’t move off the trail and into the woods as I’d expected it would do. Getting a bit closer, I realized it was in the process of swallowing a frog it had caught. Fascinated, I watched for a few minutes and then took a wide circle to leave it to it’s lunch.

At the bridge, as I was making a decision about where I would stop to make my lunch, a couple neared and asked about the location of the campground. They had arrived by water and in checking my map, I discovered another campground was nearby. Laden with camping gear they trudged off in the direction of the campground. I decided to cross the bridge and take advantage of a shady parking area at the other side to make my lunch. I settled into heating water and then waiting as the dehydrated meal cooked. A little bit later one of the two I’d run into returned for the rest of their gear sharing the campsite wasn’t as far as we’d estimated.

With my lunch eaten and the stove packed I set my sights on covering the distance back to the car. My return trip was less eventful. I passed only one family of riders along the way. I was grateful I’d brought enough water for the day, but was starting to run low. At the car I spent a bit of time sitting in the back feet up, with my last bottle of water and chatting with a camper who’d stopped by. Looking around for a water source, I spotted one on the way out of the campground. I was busy filling my bottle when that same camper came over to tell me the pump was not potable water. She said the camp host had bottled water for sale, which I stopped to get on my way by. I also knew I’d now need to clean and sterilize my water bottle when I got home.

The trails at Zumbro Bottoms are a wonderful place for anyone wanting to get a good workout. The scenery is beautiful and having the river nearby adds to the experience. The next time I want to get in a long hike I know these trails will be on my list of places to visit.

Next Post Preview: Speaking of getting to the bottoms, there a some wonderful brands innovating in clothing. Take a look at a new option in the next Gear in Review post!

GEAR: Granite Gear Crown 38 backpack, Vasque Ultra Dry Waterproof Hiking Boot, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket,
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Pants, SheFly® Go There™ Pant, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Nemo Dragonfly Ultralight Backpacking Tent, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season 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 or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.


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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