Minneopa State Park: Waterfalls and Bison in Minnesota
Minneopa State Park is in the south-central region of Minnesota and approximately 85 miles southwest of Minneapolis. It’s a beautiful park that offers a unique experience for visitors, including a creek, double waterfall, hiking trails, camping, a stone mill, and a bison herd. It’s off the beaten path and makes for an excellent daytrip or short stop on your road trip elsewhere within the region.
The park office is located at 54497 Gadwall Road and is open from 10AM until 3PM Friday through Sunday, with hours varying during the other weekdays. Contact the office by phone prior to your visit at 507-386-3910 to ensure office availability.
You can pick up a $7 self-pay permit if the office is closed. The park office also offers GPS units, snowshoe rentals, and firewood. Groceries and other necessities are available a few miles down the road near Mankato. The facilities offered at the park are basic and primitive, and water is shut off during the winter; water is available year-round in the office.
A short walk from the parking lot leads you directly to the falls where you will cross a bridge between the upper falls and the lower falls. The view of the bridge and the falls is spectacular! The upper waterfall has a 10-foot drop, and the lower waterfall has a dramatic 40-foot drop. Visitors can descend the stone steps to access the very wooded creek for about a half mile walk drenched in color.
A view of the bridge over the falls. Copyright hiking mojo.
This main area of the park is great for viewing the waterfalls, taking a short hike along the creek, picnicking, and animal watching. The creek is home to an active colony of beavers, and the park is known for its birdwatching opportunities, as many bird species pass through this area during their migration, including songbirds, hawks, and even bald eagles.
Stairway leading down to the creek. Copyright hiking mojo.
There is a second side to the park, which is a short drive across the highway. This area is home to the bison range, stone mill, about five miles of hiking trails, and the campground (visit the park website for campground fee information). The park is currently home to more than 20 bison, roaming just over 330 acres of prairie. During our summer visit we were pleased to see the abundance of wildflowers throughout this area, which provided an excellent backdrop for photos!
A view of the mill from across the bison range. Copyright hiking mojo.
Visitors are required to stay inside their vehicles when in the bison range. Once you leave the range, either to hike the trails on the outer perimeter or visit the stone mill, you can take in the view of the valley on foot. While the main park is open daily from 8AM until 10PM, the bison range hours differ with the drive being open from Thursday through Tuesday from 9AM until 330PM. The drive gates close at 330PM sharp, so be sure to plan accordingly.
It’s worth a mention that Blue Mounds State Park in the southwestern corner of the state, and about two hours southwest of Minneopa, also has a bison herd and provides tours out onto the prairie to view the bison. The landscape in this area is beautiful and would make another nice stop on your road trip. Visit the Blue Mounds State Park website for more information.
Most of the hiking trails near the bison range are dirt and gravel, and the trails are pretty level with a few hills here and there. Two of the trails run along the outer perimeter of the bison range and provide some great viewing opportunities of the valley, especially from the old stone mill which has been standing since 1864. The Minnesota River Bluff Trail connects with the Seppmann Mill Trail for a combined four miles of hiking, and there is about another mile of trails that wind through the campground area.
The old stone mill. Copyright hiking mojo.
If you are in the southern part of Minnesota, be sure to stop and visit Minneopa State Park!