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This trip report will be a 2 part post, highlighting our tour of the final Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails in my book, covering 974 miles and 7 Parks! Like most of Minnesota’s State Parks, these parks are all between 1-2 hours apart and short hiking distances, making it easy to visit multiple destinations in one trip. Since these are the furthest from our home, we decided to hit them all and make a 5 day trip out of it. Stay tuned for part 2!
What was supposed to be a relaxing anniversary trip ended up being one of those trips you just kind start to laugh about every time something goes wrong. It was a doozy! Severe weather, ravenous deer flies, mechanical challenges, camper parts flying off in the wind, four trips to the hardware store, 107 degree heat index, dust storms, tornado sheltering in the mens room (with A LOT OF PEOPLE), losing most of our food in the fridge due to the door unexpectedly opening, food spilling out, and then baking in a hot camper while we drove all day… the list goes on…but WE SURVIVED!
Exploring A New Biome!
The Northwest corner of Minnesota is located in the Tall Grass Aspen Parkland Biome, the smallest of the 4 biomes in MN at around 3 million acres. This unique area extends across three provinces in Canada and is a transitional mix of flat prairie, deciduous trees and is basically an old lake bottom- fascinating! The Tall Grass Aspen Parkland Biome was formed over Ten thousand years ago by enormous Lake Agassiz, the largest lake in North America and larger than all of the Great Lakes combined! You can learn more about it here.
Buffalo River State Park
LENGTH 2.5 miles
DATE VISITED June 18, 2022
MAIN FEATURES The Buffalo River State Park hiking club trail runs along the river and through the flood pain forest. It is an easy 20-30 minute drive from Fargo, ND and offers camping, a shaded picnic area and 12 miles of hiking trails. The park is also connected to the Bluestem Scientific Nature Area, one of the largest prairie areas in the state. Bring your sun protection and water bottle, because it’s a hot one in the summer. And keep your eye out for prairie chickens!
The hike at Buffalo River State Park in Northwest MN was a W I N D Y one but worth it to see the prairie in bloom! The 2.5 mile hiking club trail starts paved and transitions to gravel and mowed grass along the river, woods and prairie. I started my hike at 11 am. Mid day hiking is not my favorite, but brought my sun hoodie and umbrella for shade. I had the trail mostly to myself, and stopped to say “hi” to a scout troop on a training hike for Philmont.
The park has a pool/pond that was not in operation when we were there, and a nice, shady picnic area. The trail starts in a wooded area along the riverbank and shifts to wide open prairie. Be careful and stay on the mowed trail to avoid ticks and poison ivy. Note: the hiking club trail starts between the two buildings and the hangs to the left. Do not go to the right or you will go the wrong way like me.
The prairie is in full bloom and every plant is waving a little “hello” in the breeze. Spotted some wild asparagus, anemone, plums, sage, yarrow, wild roses, grapes, prairie smoke, along with swaying prairie grass. I’m thankful to the park staff for the mowed trail, this looks like tick heaven. I hiked wearing a skirt but wore my permethrin treated compression sleeves, gaiters and shoes.
My favorite part of the hike through Buffalo River State Park was the prairie smoke flowers. They look like something created by Dr Seuss and are so wonderfully wispy in the breeze!
Note: We camped in the Lindenwood campground in Fargo, North Dakota the night before, which was a nice way to break up the drive from Minneapolis. It was flooded, so we jammed into the upper RV parking area (which was basically a parking lot). But it looks like a great park to check out on another trip – not right after your hitch coupler AND jack break after accidentally driving off a curb 30 miles away and you are trying very hard not to be crabby. That is another story…
Two more parks today, back on the road!
Red River State Recreation Area
LENGTH 2.2 miles
DIFFICULTY easy, paved
DATE VISITED June 18, 2022
MAIN FEATURES The Red River State Recreation Area is on the Minnesota/North Dakota border. Its paved, multi-use trails are part of the 20 mile Greenway Trail, which is suited for bikes, stollers, bikes and walking. Other features of the park are a picnic shelters, camping, playground, boat launch and fishing areas.
The Hiking Club Trail is a 2.5 mile walk along a paved bike trail in full sun exposure. It briefly winds along the river and then through a residential city park with playgrounds, mowed grass and picnic areas.
It was too windy for my umbrella, so I was thankful for my sun shirt. Started hiking at 3 pm in a heat and wind advisory. It feels more like a neighborhood bike trail than a typical state park experience and I probably would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t blasting hot and I didn’t have sand and dirt in my mouth…toughest walk on this trip, glad to have it behind me.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed this hike. Uffda! I felt like the Peanuts character “Pigpen” after this one!
Old Mill State Park
LENGTH 1.4 miles
DATE VISITED June 18, 2022
MAIN FEATURES Old Mill State Park is located on an 1882 Homestead, featuring historic buildings and an old steam engine mill that is fired up once a year as part of the Park’s special event and interpretive programs. It features great spots for picnics, a swimming beach, and 7 miles of hiking trails.
At 1.4 miles, the Aggassiz Self-guided Trail was a short but sweet hike. It features a walk through the gallery forest, on a wide, mowed grass surface. Gallery forests are unique forests that grow along a water source in areas otherwise lacking trees. I learned this interesting fact through one of the many lovely interpretive signs along the trail. The trail starts in a wooded area, takes a loop to the river and then back out on the prairie. Beware: the trail can be a little overgrown in spots and this was the only park where I found ticks. Be sure to also check out the nice swimming beach and the old mill during your visit.
The fierce wind storm in the area formed dust clouds that limited visibility on our drive to each park and sent a weather alert on our phones. It was the first time we’ve ever received an extreme dust alert! I would have loved to have stayed and enjoyed more of this park, seeing the mill and maybe go for a swim, but the heat index was over 100° and that wind was really howling! We got out of there to and back on the road to our next campsite for the night…Lake Bronson…
(to be continued)
Here’s a little shout-out to some of my gear faves from this trip – much of it sun/bug related, and quick drying!
- Sahara Sun Hoodie (wore this for 5 days straight, the hood was really nice to have!)
- Purple Rain Adventure Skirt (wore this everyday- nice and breezy, wonderful pockets)
- Wright Socks – Cool mesh tab
- Zensah Compression Sleeves
- Altra Gaiters
- Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
- Sun Umbrella
- InReach Mini
- Kula Cloth
- Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight (for the camper)
- Field Watercolor Kit
- Hike Goo Foot balm
- Sea to Summit Head net
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but those trips often make the BEST stories. And, yes…we are going camping again…and it was such a treat to get to paint more roadtrip paintings in the car in between hikes!
Despite the ups and downs, we were excited to spend some time together in our sweet A-Frame camper, explore a new biome and learn about the unique features of this region that are basically an ancient lake bottom!
The MN DNR Hiking Club and Passport Clubs are fantastic ways to challenge yourself to explore new parts of the state while earning mileage patches and free camping certificates along the way. It took me 8 years to hike all 67 parks and I can’t say enough about the programs! I am grateful that this challenge gave me a way to see the breadth of beauty that this beautiful state has to offer and I learned so much along the way.
Having a goal like the Hiking Club Trail and pairing it with the 52 hike challenge helped build the skills and frequency that made me want to adventure on longer and more challenging trips. In 8 years, I completed 3 thru hikes, several other backpacking trips, completed the 52 hike challenge 4 times (and then stopped counting) and started this blog. If you haven’t signed up, check these programs out, you won’t regret it!
Do you have a trip that was the best/worst? Have you explored the Northwest corner of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails? Drop me a note, I’d love to hear about it! Next up, part 2 – our visit to 4 more State Parks!!!
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