Last updated on August 16th, 2019
Did you want to get up close to some Bison? You don’t need to even venture as far as Custer State Park in South Dakota to do so. Minneopa State Park in Mankato Minnesota is home to an amazing bison drive. After doing a little more research about the park, I quickly realized that there is so much to do there, including visiting Minneopa Falls. I’m amazed I haven’t been here sooner. Here is what else I found out on my visit!
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Minneopa State Park in Mankato MN
The 2,599 acre park is home to more than just the bison. They also have camping, wildlife programs, an old mill ruins, Minneopa Falls and 4.5 miles of hiking. With Mankato being just a short drive from the Twin Cities, this made a perfect day trip. Mankato has so many amazing sites, at Minneopa State Park made it to the list of the 28 things you need to do when visiting Mankato MN.
Minneopa Falls MN
Minneopa Falls consists of two falls, the first is just 8 feet. The second, more dramatic falls are nearly 40 feet. Minneopa Falls in MN is accessible to everyone. They have a paved path from the parking lot just behind the picnic area, making it incredibly easy to find. Take the footbridge across to get the view of the smaller falls. The creek was shallow and the kids loved getting to explore up top.
As any good waterfall explorer, we needed to see it from the base too. The park normally has a loop that takes you all around the falls, but due to some erosion, it’s now a one way path. Take the paved path to set of stone steps and venture into the woods. After that just follow the trail along the bank of the creek. The path is sandy, rocky and will have you climbing over tree limbs. It’s not too bad, but I recommend that you have a pair of steady shoes just to be safe. Flip-flops are not recommended. Minneopa Falls made my list of 8 Stunning Waterfalls Near Minneapolis. But it’s defiantly is worthy of a Day Trip.
We used this opportunity to test out our new hydration backpack. I’ve wanted one of these for some time now and decided to try it. I found one that had extra pockets so I could store my first aid kit and bug spray. Defiantly a must when doing any hiking, especially with kids. The pack worked great because it allowed me to have my hands free to hang on to my 3-year-old and, have a free hand to stabilize myself. The pack held 2.3 liters of water.
The Bison Drive
The Minneopa State Park bison are viewable on a unique drive through their enclosure. It’s a great feature to the park. My kids woke up at about 6 am running into our room asking “Are we going to see the Buffalo now?” They were so excited. Secretly I was too. Considering the only time we’ve seen them was at the zoo, they were a little concerned about the safety. I explained to them that as long as we stayed in our car, it would be fine.
The bison enclosure helped restore some of the natural habitats to Minnesota. After the prairie was developed in 2012, they reintroduced bison in the enclosure. They came from Blue Mound State Park and the Minnesota State Zoo. The Bison Drive is open Thursday – Tuesday from 9 am to 8:30 pm. Their hours change seasonally so check their website to confirm the times.
When visiting, make sure to respect their habitat and for your safety, follow these reminders:
- Remain in your vehicle at all times.
- Always give the bison a 75ft clearance.
- Pets must be on a leash at all times around the enclosure.
- Do not climb or pull on the fence wires.
- Bison gets nervous around loud noises and activity.
- Hiking is not allowed in the range.
I know how tempting it is to get out of the car to take pictures, but just be safe and stay inside.
One of the unexpected treasures of the enclosure was the prairie. The landscape is filled with all kinds of plant life and water sources. To get a better look, stop at the Mill. You will get closer without being in danger of encroaching on the Bison’s habitat.
The mill sits on a hill outside of the bison enclosure. The only way to get there is to drive through the bison enclose, or hike around it. At the end of the drive, go up the hill and find a place to park. Get out the bug spray because we got attacked like crazy. The mill is a feat of engineering and with everything it’s been through, I’m amazed it’s still standing.
The Steppmann Mill was constructed in 1864. At its height, people from 30 miles away would come in to have their grain milled for flour. It had 4 arms to power it. However, the mill lost two arms due to a lightning strike in 1873. They were replaced only to be blown off by a tornado 7 years later. They continued to operate it with just two arms until 1890 when another storm took off the remaining arms. With technological advances, it became unprofitable to repair.
Hiking in Minneopa State Park
Besides the Mill, there is also a hiking trail that will loop the entire Bison enclosure. We wanted to explore more of the trail but were getting eaten alive by some of the winged creatures. Depending on the year, bug spray may be required. We came back a couple years later to hit the trail without any problems. For more on what the Hiking Club Trail is like, check out: Hiking Club Trail Reivew. It was beginner rated and lots of fun.
How much does it cost?
There is a $7 per day parking fee to enter any MN State Park, or you can buy a yearly permit for $35. They are also participate in the The Minnesota State Parks Passport and Hiking Clubs. I’m already starting to plan my next trip down to Minneopa State Park this winter for a frozen Minneopa Falls. Hoping I can work it into the schedule. Or maybe I should plan a weekend camping?
For more ideas on things to do in Mankato, check out my post on 28 Things to do in Mankato | The only guide you need.