Visiting Pipestone National Monument | What to Expect

Last updated on August 22nd, 2019

Minnesota has one National Park, Voyagers and two different National Monuments, Pipestone and Grand Portage MN. There are officially a few others on the National Park’s list, but they are a Scenic Riverway’s. I had driven right by Pipestone several times now out to South Dakota but didn’t have time to stop. If I would visit Pipestone National Monument, I needed to make a special trip out there. It can’t believe what I was missing out on.

What is Pipestone National Monument?

It’s a place considered sacred by the Native Americans in the area. It is where they got the stone to make pipes. Today’s they still use it for that purpose. To quarry there, you have to be Native American and approved by the government. When you visit, you may even see people actively gathering rock.

Visiting Pipestone National Monument

Visiting Pipestone National Monument is on a long list of National Parks that doesn’t charge a fee for admission. A few years ago, all the National Parks changed from charging a flat fee, to do a demand-based fee structure. The demand is no were near the Badlands, or Devils Tower so there is no cost for admission. According to the National Park Service, they don’t plan on adding it in the next few years.

Pipe Making Demonstrations

The first thing you’ll want to do is go inside the visitor and watch one of the 20 minute videos about the history of the land and pipe making. After that step outside the theater and watch the pipe making in action. Individuals making the pipes have examples of work they’ve done, and showing how they shape and polish the rocks into the pipes. The craftsmen are very informative and are great with kids, in case yours is as chatty as mine were.

The Nature Trail

Before you go out in the quarry, pick up an interpretive guide at the visitor’s desk. When you are finished,  make sure to return it so someone else can enjoy it. There are actually two different trails, but the primary trail is the Circle Trail. The trail is paved, but not quite ADA compliant for wheelchairs. It reminded me a lot of the Devils Tower paved walkway. The trail is more for ease of walking then a wheelchair.

The path circled through the highlights of the park, including the Old Rock Quarries, Old Stone Face, Winnewissa Falls, the Oracle, and the prairie. The trial takes about 30-45 minutes to complete and is about a mile long. There are opportunities to branch off and take some stairs. Those detours loop back with the rest of the trail, so you miss anything. You can skip them if you aren’t up for that much hiking, but I highly recommend going up to them if you can.

What I didn’t expect to find was so much water running through the quarry. The falls took me by complete surprise and was a stopping point that many snapped pictures of. It also helped that standing in front of it was like having your own personal air conditioner.

The Three Maidens

The Three Maidens is a rock formation on the road by the entrance road to the visitors center. The rocks differ from the pipestone in that they are granite. Pulled from far away by the Pleistocene Ice Age. Their differences made them so sacred. The Native Americans used to place Petroglyphs all around them. After someone had defaced a few, they were moved inside the Visitor’s Center for safekeeping. The Three Maidens site has a nice picnic area and fishing pond nearby.

Where to get a Pipestone Pipe?

There were a couple of places we found selling the pipes. First up was inside the Visitor’s Center. A basic pipe cost around $45. There is a Fort outside of the entrance selling souvenirs and pipes as well. Their prices were about the same as inside the Park. My recommendation is to stop there before going into Pipestone to get an idea of what available. I felt like they had more options there. You be the judge

Other Tips

You are in the prairie. It can be hot and beautiful all at the same time. The best time to visit is during the spring after the flowers have bloomed. Otherwise, bring a bottle of water with you on your hike.

If you are a fan of Gordon Ramsey’s show Hotel Hell, or Resort Rescue form the travel channel, the Calumet Inn is a few blocks away from Pipestone. The hotel is in the middle of some remodeling work to repair the exterior brickwork. It also has reports of hauntings from guests. Something to think about if you are planning on staying in the area.

Pipestone is a fun community to spend some time in. We were in town during their county fair and got to check out everything. They had a great selection of entertainment, including a rib cook-off.

Would I go back?

Visiting Pipestone National Monument was so beautiful; I should have stopped earlier.  You only need an hour to do the walk. If you are in South Western Minnesota make this a priority stop!

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