Minneopa State Park in Mankato, MN
In southcentral Minnesota, there is a state park that is a beautiful representation of Minnesota and its history. Minneopa State Park is oddly divided into two sections. So if you plan to walk the Hiking Club Trail, you’ll want to make your way to the northern section. Or to put it another way, follow the signs for the bison drive. Yes, there are bison here! The herd is one of the park’s major points of interest along with the beautiful waterfalls, sprawling prairie lands, hardwood forest, and a historic windmill. See? I told ya it was a great representation! Allow yourself a few hours to explore this park beyond just the trail.
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Minnesota Hiking Club
The Hiking Club trail follows along the northern edge of the bison enclosure. Your chances of seeing the bison from the trail are pretty slim so don’t get your hopes up. You’ll see them later. Just enjoy the trail itself for now. The trail is both prairie and woods. The prairie section obviously leaves you exposed to the hot sun so either prepare accordingly or plan to hike this trail on a day when both the sun and the temperature are forgiving. It’s an easy hike. If my miniature dachshund, Lily, can do it then anyone can do it!
- Hiking Club Trail: 2.7 miles
- Minneopa State Park Map
- Combinable with another park(s) in the same day: Yes – Flandrau. Fort Ridgely too if you’re an overachiever!
- Best season to hike: Any! But try to avoid exceptionally hot, sunny days.
The Bison Drive
A glacial river carved this valley 15,000 years ago and left large boulders, or “erratics” behind. They’re called erratics because the stones are uncommon to anything else in the area. You’ll see them scattered throughout the prairie lands. Part of this enormous riverbed is now the prairie home of the Minneopa bison herd. After completing the Hiking Club trail, hop back in your car and take the bison drive. It’s a two-way dirt road that will take you through the bison enclosure, up to the Seppman Windmill, and back again on the same road. If you can’t see the bison from the road, there’s a good chance you’ll see them from the overlook at the Seppman Windmill. I’ve had good luck with seeing the bison in my visits to the park. Sometimes a little too close to my car for my dog’s liking. Bison traffic jams do happen so I hope you don’t have pressing dinner plans!
Seppman Windmill doesn’t look much like a windmill anymore. Intense storms, lightning, and a tornado managed to rip the sails away in its short 26-year lifespan as a working flour mill. The stone base remains today as a watchtower over the prairie and bison below.
Now you’ll want to take the drive over to the other section of the park located on the south side of Highway 68. There you’ll find Minneopa, or “water falling twice” in the Dakota language. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the two waterfalls of Minneopa Creek. You can take the trail down to the base of the falls, but I personally tend to avoid lots of stairs if at all possible. Besides, you can see both falls very easily from up above so why strain yourself?
Planning a Minnesota State Park Visit?
Check out these other articles for more information!
- Read the best times to visit Minnesota State Parks to plan your spring, summer or fall visit.
- Learn about the must-see spots on Minnesota’s North Shore in this article.
- The essential Minnesota Hiking Club Guide will tell you all you need to know about the Minnesota Hiking and Passport Clubs.