Across the country, thousands of people headed outside this weekend. It was part of the National Get Outdoors Day initiative to encourage unplugging and stepping into nature. All of Minnesota’s 75 State Parks participated again this year. The initiative started out in 2008 in coordination with the USDA Forest Service. Now over 138 different parks participate in the program. Most of the participating location in Minnesota all have coordinating nature activities at the park too.
This weekend we were in search of a park that had some hiking and some cool sights. I also wanted to be closer to the Twin Cities and possibly one that had a Water Fall. They are my kids favorite so I knew we would be able to encourage them to hike if we had a goal in mind. We decided on Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. It was only an hour drive south. They had a waterfall trail that was only a mile, so we knew the kids could handle it. Based on my research, the ground looked like it would accommodate little feat.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
The park was easy to find. A little ways off Hwy 35. The park is described as an “island of trees amongst the prairie’. They were right. As you drive through the farmland you start to question if there really are some ‘Big Woods’ out there. Then, out of now where you find it. You are transported to a forest. Not something that you would expect in Southern Minnesota. Since it was going to be hot out, we got there early. The gravel trail is well marked and a little hilly. The kids managed fine. The trail is about 1 mile long and does a complete loop. We found that the trees gave us plenty of shade and kept some of the heat down. The only downside is that the trees also kept the humidity in.
The kids were so excited to be out in the woods. We found woodpeckers, bunnies, squirrels, slugs, rushing water, wind rustling the branches. It was nice to hear those things again. It didn’t take us long to find the falls. They allow you to get as close as you want to the water. Because of the rain we had recently, it was very active. The water was also very refreshing.
The one downside to this path was the hills going back up. Normally they wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But when your two year old just expended all of his energy to hike down there, you have no choice but to carry him back up. Despite having to carry him the half mile back to the car, it was a lot of fun.
In addition to the waterfall, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park has 11 miles of other hiking trails to check out. If you are adventurous, you can borrow a GPS unit from the welcome center and try out some of the geocaching locations they have onsite. Like most Minnesota State Parks, they also have camping facilities. During the winter they also have cross country ski trails and some snowmobile access.
If you didn’t get the opportunity to take advantage of National Get Outdoors Days, you can head out to any park for the day with a $5 parking permit. Or better yet, get the annual pass for $25. I could definitely see using it. Nerstrand Big Woods State park was a lot of fun for what we wanted. If it wasn’t so hot this weekend, I would have loved to camp there. For us, it was a great little trip!