Wandering Pine is reader-supported. Thank you! When you buy through our links, we may earn a small portion at no additional cost to you. Learn more
The garden is bursting and these late summer days are filled with working at home and in the yard. I’m writing this post on a family trip to another beautiful MN State Park, in a cute little rental camper, early in the morning while everyone is still asleep. No work or chores for a few days. Just some much needed rest and family glamping!
Southern Minnesota is an area of the state that I haven’t explored much. I have seen a little, but usually just passing though on road trips out West. I was tickled when Ruth agreed to let us tag along on her Minnesota State Park road trip for a couple of days! I’m trying not to take it personally, but every trip I have planned so far this year has been cancelled for a variety of reasons. But, joining friends on their trips for a day or two, has worked out great! Recreating during a pandemic has taught me to be flexible, hold onto plans lightly and to appreciate local and spontaneous adventures, more than ever. THANKS FRIENDS, for having amazing plans and letting me join you! Ruth is posting day by day reports of her full trip on her blog, including all of her preparation before hand. She’s an accomplished planner and covered a lot of ground (responsibly) on her adventure, give her page a visit for the full itinerary!
LENGTH 2 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Easy with a couple of hills
DATE August 14, 2020
MAIN FEATURES This is a small park with wooded and prairie views. Can get buggy in shaded areas and very hot in the open areas in the summer. Wildflowers and wild plums were in full bloom in August.
I hit the road early on Friday morning to drive the 2 1/2 hours to Kilen Woods State Park to meet Lynae and Ruth for our first hike of the trip! I miss these two gals and am looking forward to seeing them since our Women Who Hike group hikes are postponed this year due to Covid. We drove in separate cars, brought masks, stayed 6+ feet away from each other, made minimal stops and tried to be as self contained as possible.
We all got to the trailhead at 9 am. It was already almost 80° and steamy so we knew this was going to be a hot hike! Thankfully the trail is only a couple of miles long.
Our hikes in this region are both beautiful and heavy, as they retell the history of the Dakota Mdewakanton , Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ , Očhéthi Šakówiŋ land and the forced removal its people. I have much to learn, but see that the effects of the US-Dakota War can still be felt almost 160 years later. As we enter the park, I am struck by the contrasting narratives I read on the educational signs; the older signs mostly favoring settlers, the newer signs telling a fuller story.
This region has been inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years. The first white adventurers, trappers and traders set foot in the area in the mid-1700s. The Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux issued in 1851 opened this land to the first pioneers and settlers removing the Dakota Indians to a reservation along the Minnesota River. 10 years of life on the reservation created hardship and frustration culminating in the war of US Dakota war in 1862. The park was created in 1945 and is settled on the shore of the comprised of 21 Pioneer Homestead lots. – excerpt from Trailhead sign.
The Hiking club trail starts at the parking lot, and leads to views of the Des Moines River and a steep walk uphill.
The trail continues to wind in and out of woods and much of it is a rolling prairie that is in a full bloom of wildflowers this time of year! Each time we ducked into the shady woods, we were attacked by mosquitoes… so remember your bug spray! The heat of the mid-day sun on the prairie also made me thankful for my umbrella.
Along with the many native plants and wildflowers we saw blooming we saw grapes and plums and enjoyed seeing swarms of dragonflies that were helping us with the mosquito population.
I usually like to check out the camping situation at parks while Im there. This campground had a new looking bathroom building and each campsite was wide open without a lot of tree cover. This would be a great campground in the Spring or Fall but might be hot in the Summer with full sun exposure. There are 32 modern campsites and 4 walk-in campsites. I did not check out the walk in campsites, but the modern campsites were buzzing with happy families in campers and motorhomes.
It only took us about an hour to hike through this park but it was a nice start to our multi park tour and a good place to learn more about Minnesota’s history. Next up, Fort Ridgely!
LENGTH 2.6 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY wide grassy trails with a few hills
DATE August 14, 2020
MAIN FEATURES The trail starts at the site of the fort and picnic area and continues with views of the Minnesota River Valley through a battleground that has been replanted with wildflowers and native prairie grasses.
Fort Ridgely State Park is about an hour drive from Kilen Woods on backroads, through beautiful farm country. I’ve been watching the weather forecast since this morning, and we’re due for severe thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes today. So, we hit the trail as quickly as we could with the hopes that we would be off by 3 pm and have a safe place to shelter just in case things get rough.
Our hike started at the park office and was primarily on a wide mowed grass. I would call most of this trail very accessible. There are a few hills that will get your heart pumping but fairly easy to access. Much like the previous park, this area was hot and humid. We were swarmed by bugs every time we found shade and blasted by sun every time we walked on the Prairie. But we loved being surrounded by wildflowers and having the trail to ourselves.
Before we knew it, we were at the end of the trail! This hike went by fast! We ended up completing the trail by 2 o’clock and the weather mostly blew over us. So we decided to check out our campsite and then head up to the fort to learn a bit more about the history of the area.
We realized after crossing the river, where we started our hike, that we were probably going to have a rough night in our remote hike-in campsite. We were completely swarmed by mosquitoes on our way into the heavily wooded sites and were were expecting high winds and possible tornadoes. We decided to talk to the Ranger and see if we could switch our site to a standard campsite just to be close to our our cars for safety. Only a couple of weeks ago, I needed to bail due to a Bear visit at camp and severe weather on the North Shore and severe weather is not something I like to take chances with. We snagged campsite number 17 which had it’s share of mosquitoes, but was a lot more open, so they didn’t seem quite as bad. As we walked through the park, we noticed several campsites were closed and roped off. We assumed it was due to the pandemic, but the Ranger said that it was due to flooding and was still pretty soggy after the last storm since this park is right on the river. That would also explain the bugs.
Storm clouds filled the sky, the weather report turned severe again, wind started picking up and it looked like we were going to have to take cover soon. We sped up our tour of Fort Ridgely and learned all we could before the weather hit. Like the barometric pressure, pressing down on us…this whole place feels heavy. We took shelter in the large, stone picnic shelter and spent a long time talking about what happened in this place and just caught up on everything else that has happened this year.
Since the weather still looked threatening to the West, and the bugs were hungry at camp…we hung out in the old stone picnic shelter for most of the afternoon just to have a breezy place to enjoy without getting eaten alive. We ate our dinner there and basically treated it like our campsite until hiker midnight struck.
After a few downpours, we headed back down the hill to camp just before dark. The severe weather hit home but missed us. We all called our families to check in and quickly set up our tents. Ah…bed.
This campground is wet! It’s right on the shore of the Des Moines River and we woke up to tents that were completely soaked with condensation and the damp cold rolling in, in the middle of the night. But it is lush, green and beautiful and we woke to the sound of birds and rushing water.
LENGTH 6.2 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Medium, mostly due to length and sun exposure
DATE August 15, 2020
MAIN FEATURES Bison, expansive views of the prairie and valley, prickly pear cactus (!) and Sioux Quartzite rock formations. Bring plenty of water and sun protection, this is a long exposed loop without access to shade or water.
We got on the road at 9 for the two hour drive to Blue Mounds State Park. We have a beautiful, clear, sunny day ahead. The hiking club trail is 6.2 miles long and almost in South Dakota!
Hikers can enter the park from the Eagle Rock Vista overlook (south end of the park) and hike the short 1/4 mile out and back to see the view of the prairie and try to catch a view of a bison. The trail is accessible and wide, but make sure to bring water and sun protection as the trail is hot and exposed during the day.
We continued on to the north end of the park to the park office since we’ll be camping tonight. We were glad to see park staff onsite, so we each grabbed a map and a bought state park patch. Many of the parks seem to be staffing lightly due to covid, so if you are trying to get a patch from each park, you can work with the park office to order online or try leaving them $6 in a camping fee envelope, requesting that they mail you one. (Ruth has had luck with this)
While we were at the office, I asked if the ranger would sign my hiking club book and be able to give me my patch a little bit early since I was less than 2 miles away from my 150 mile patch and we were headed out on the 6.2 mile trail…she happily obliged and found one of the classic patches to match my set. Hooray! If you are not familiar with the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club program, its a wonderful way to challenge yourself to see new areas of the state and earn patches and free nights of camping along the way!
Im not usually a fan of long mid day hikes on the prairie, but I felt ready for this one with my umbrella, 3L of water and lots of salty snacks! Note: (I know I already said this twice, but…) this is a long exposed loop, the terrain itself is not extremely challenging, but a person could bake out here in the heat easily. Bring water and sun protection.
We left our cars at camp and walked the 1/2 mile to the entrance of the hiking club trail. This park has group, primitive, electric AND Tipi camping—and they are just about all full tonight. Most people were at their campsites, leaving the trail pretty empty (which was fine by us). The trail reminded me of places that I have hiked out West. The park info says that there are cactus and Bison in the area, but we didn’t see either this time. So, keep your eyes peeled, maybe you’ll see them!
Temps were in the high 80s again today but much less humid, thankfully. We got back to camp and our site was pretty exposed to the sun… so we decided to hop in our cars and squeeze in one more adventure- PIPESTONE NATIONAL MONUMENT!
How has your 2020 Summer been? Have you explored Southwest Minnesota’s State Parks or are you hiking the Minnesota Hiking Club Trails? Adventuring in your backyard or venturing out? Anybody been on the Casey Jones Bike or Paul Bunyan State Trails? Good resources or recommendations about learning more about Minnesota History? Shoot me a note in the comments, I’d love to hear from you! And stay tuned for an upcoming post about the park I am glamping in with my family RIGHT NOW, and an upcoming YouTube Video featuring the parks mentioned in this post. Hit subscribe if you want to be notified when new content arrives.
And if you liked this post or found it helpful, feel free to like and share. I always appreciate knowing that people actually read this stuff and and inspires me to keep writing.
Happy Trails and Happy Summer!