Best Hikes at Blue Mounds State Park in MN & other things to do
Located at the furthest corner of Southwestern Minnesota is Blue Mounds State Park in MN. This Park has something for everyone, including stunning overlooks of quartzite cliffs, bike paths, prairies, and a bison herd. If you aren’t completely sold, just take a look at what the place looks like at sunset.
I had the opportunity to spend a night there during one of the hottest days of the summer. While the heat may have restricted our movements, it left us Hiking at Blue Mounds State Park during the best time of day.
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Why do they call it Blue Mounds State Park?
Blue Mounds State Park got its name because some settlers moving through the Plaines in the 1860s and 1870s thought it looked like a blue mound off in the distance. Today you can see Bison, Coyotes, and deer reside in the park.
Miles: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy but long
Total Miles Hiked: 105.1 miles
The Blue Mounds State Park Hiking Club State Trail
Like most of the MN State Parks, the hiking club trail at Blue Mounds takes you through the best parts of the park. In this case, almost across the entire thing. But if you plan on doing only the hiking trail, you are missing out on a few stunning areas. More on that later.
Thankfully we had a full day to explore some of the trails in the park. The hiking club trail has a lot of breakaways and can easily be broken up into sections that are easier to manage.
I took full advantage of that considering how long the trail is. We started off at the Southern parking area, near the closed visitors center.
Did you download your free Blue Mounds State Park Map yet from Avenza? They have GPS enabled maps that let you track your location as you hike. It’s a game-changer!
Mysterious Rock Alignment
One of the interesting things that were found at Blue Mounds State Park is the Rock Alignment. At the southern end of the park, spanning 1,250 feet is a line of rocks, set east-west in the prairie grass.
On the first day of Spring and Fall, the sunrise aligns perfectly with these rocks. The mystery still lingers about how they got there or who put them there.
Eagle Rock is a tall rock in the middle of the prairie, but what makes it unique is if you are standing there you can see Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, all at once. We first visited the rock after arriving early for our night at the park. A few hours before we could drop the trailer, we decided to check it out.
With the heat reaching 98 degrees, we made it as far as the rock before turning back to the safety of the air-conditioned car. I cannot believe how fast your energy reserves drain at those temperatures. The next morning, around 7:30 we went back and could enjoy ourselves a little more.
See Related: DIY Compression Stuff Sack for Camping
The biggest draw to Blue Mounds State Park is the Sioux quartzite cliff line. The cliffs were formed on the bottom of an ancient sea. They radiate with spectacular pins and purplish colors due to iron oxide.
During the morning hours. The hiking club trail at Blue Mounds State Park takes visitors to the top of the cliff line. From the trail, you can stop at the top and look down at the spectacular views. I highly recommend going either in the morning or evening hours to capture the sun on the cliffside.
To get a better look at the cliffs, make sure to do the Quarry Loop Trail. It’s a short way from the parking area, so if you are beat, it won’t take too much more energy to get up close and personal with them.
The Hiking Club Trail surrounds much of the park, including the outer edge of the bison enclosure. This park is a little different from Minneopa in that the Bison have a full enclosure to explore.
There are about 80 bison that live on the prairie, with another 20-30 bison born each year. Every few years, a new bull (male) bison is brought in for herd diversity.
If you are having trouble locating them, check with the Rangers to get an idea of where the herd is. They have a good idea of the best viewing spots.
I recommend bringing a pair of binoculars to hike with as the Bison often don’t go up against the fence. You can also try and spot them at the Bison Observation Tower near the park campground.
Normally the State Park has Prairie and Bison Tour. It has been postponed during Covid. The tour lasts 90 minutes and goes inside the enclosure in an open-air truck. Bison can get as close to 75 feet from you.
Wonder where else you can see bison in Minnesota? Their most well-known is Minneopa State Parks Bison Drive. They also have a herd in Alexander Ramsey Regional Park and Spring Lake Park in Hastings.
Minneopa Falls, Bison and so much more at Minneopa State Park
Make sure to schedule your Bison adventure before you leave!
Cactus in Minnesota
The first time told me there was cactus in Minnesota I kind of laughed. I didn’t think it was possible until I spotted some on the trail. Along the Mound Trail, near an outcropping of rocks, are patches of Prickly Pair Cactus. During the summer months, the top of the cactus is topped with bright yellow flowers. They were just starting to bud when we got there. After seeing the first group, we noticed that it was a lot more prevalent up there. Thankfully just to the side of the trail and not on it.
Other Things to Do At Blue Mounds State Park
Natural Play Area
Blue Mounds State Park has a couple of areas for kids to play. The first is a playground near the picnic area. This as my daughter would put it, “is a lame swing set”. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, they could have done better. That was until we found that Natural Play Area.
This is down on the trail a little and not really marked. Kids have so much more fun when they get to play in natural environments, so I was excited to see what the park had in store.
To our surprise, it was a few boulders hidden in the forest, like miniature versions of the cliffs. These were epic. I even got in there and climbed it with them. The parent in me was going worst-case scenario and wondering how badly they could hurt themselves.
Depending on the age, they may need a little supervision. All I can say is, Blue Mounds State Park did an amazing job at making nature fun for kids.
There is a beautiful paved bike path from the picnic area, all the way to the entrance to the southernmost part of the park. Make sure to stop near mound creek. The trails are flat and well maintained. I loved getting to explore some of the trails, including the bike area. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also take the trail into Levrune. If you forgot your bike, they have some for rent.
See the Dam
Hiding near the Camping area of the park is a man-made dam, creating Upper Mound Lake. It’s a short trail from the parking lot and campground, making it easy for anyone to do.
Nearby is a family of nesting ducks. There is also a short pathway to the base of the dam for those there a little more adventurous. I was tempted to rock hop to the other side but didn’t completely trust my footwear.
Sleep in a Tipi
Blue Mounds State Park is one of a few that have Tipis for guests. They have a wooden bottom but are a fun way to enjoy the park. Each one sleeps up to 6 people.
100 Miles on the Hiking Club Trails
With the conclusion of this hike, I got my next achievement on the Hiking Club Trail. The 100 miles patch. This is such a huge milestone for me and the family. If you told my kid that over the course of a couple of years, they’d hike 100 miles, they would have said you are crazy.
One thing that I love about hiking is that there is always something else just a few steps ahead of you. It’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. This is just the beginning of the summer. By the end of the year, we may have a few more patches, we’ll see.
Have joined the Hiking Club yet? The MN State Park hiking club has a designated trail at teach park. Along the way, you’ll earn free nights of camping and patches! 75 reasons to join the MN State Parks Passport and MN Hiking Club
Other Questions about Blue Mounds State Park in MN
Are there bears in Blue Mounds State Park?
No, Bears do not live in Blue Mounds at State Park. Or at least none that have been reported. Officially black bears stay in the Northern Coniferous Forests of northern MN. But they have been spotted in the Twin Cities before.
Bison, elk, wolves, and prairie chickens once roamed most of the park. Today the Bison still reside thanks to a unique program. The park also has a small population of coyotes and deer. The tall grasses also attract birds
Can you Swim at Blue Mounds State Park?
Nope, there isn’t an official swimming area even though there are lakes and streams. I recommend heading into Levurne and swimming at their city recreation area.
How much does it cost to camp at Blue Mounds State Park?
All Minnesota State Parks are free with an annual permit. You can buy them in person or online for $35. If you are planning to visit for the day, expect to pay around $7. Throughout the year, there are a few free days and other discounts you can check out too.
Camping costs anywhere from $25-35 a night.
Pro Tip: Visit any State Park during one of their free days. Check out Minnesota State Park Pass Hacks, Tips, and Free Days to find all the days
Would I go Hiking at Blue Mounds State Park Again?
Yes, the park was beautiful. I would love to bring my bike and explore some of the back trails. I think the next time I do it, it will be during a cooler month. The 97-degree temperatures meant we didn’t do any hiking until early morning or late at night. Any other time and you are risking heatstroke.
If you go, bring plenty of water, keep an eye on the weather conditions and have some fun! Hiking at Blue Mounds State Park is one for the record books.