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 a MN State Park with a waterfall. 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
Nerstrand State Park is 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 yourself driving through a forest. Not something that you would expect in Southern Minnesota. Since it was going to be hot out, we got there early and were off on our adventure.
The State Park, like many others in Minnesota, has a lot of different activities to entertain their guest. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park has 11 miles of other hiking trails to explore. For a little more fun, you can borrow a GPS unit from the welcome center and try out some of the geocaching locations they have onsite. Like the geocaching at Myre-Big Island State Park, the geocaching has guest following paths on the GPS unit. They stay on the trail and work like a scavenger hunt. Once you reach the first location, you’ll be directed to the next.
Like most Minnesota State Parks, they also have camping facilities. During the winter they also have cross-country ski trails and some snowmobile access.
Hiking Nerstrand State Park Waterfall Trail
Our plan this trip was all about the Waterfall. The trail is about 1 mile long and does a complete loop so no backtracking is necessary. The gravel trail is well marked and a little hilly. The kids managed fine. The trail took us deeper into the forest allowing the trees to provide 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.
The waterfall was a one drop, a little higher than our heads. Because of the rain we had recently, it was very active. What made this waterfall so special was the access to the water provided. With the ability to get up close to it, we found it to be very refreshing on our hot journey. The waterfall trail is part of the MN State Parks Hiking Club trail.
The Journey Back
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.
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 $35. I could definitely see using it. Nerstrand Big Woods State park was a lot of fun for what we wanted and it’s a stamp for our MN State Parks Passport. For us, it was a great little trip!