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There are some State Parks that are just a little harder to get to. Not because of the physical location, but because they don’t tout the WOW factor that most Minnesotans look for in a park.
But the absence of that is the exact reason I like to go to parks like Fort Ridgely State Park. Prairie overlooks, rolling hills and historical sites are all you need to draw visitors to Fort Ridgely State Park.
The Fort Ridgely State Park Highlights
Fort Ridgely State Park was first established in 1911 as a memorial to those that fought in the US-Dakota War of 1986. Like much Minnesota these grounds were created by the Glacier movements, carving out the prairie landscape and hills.
Today, the park is filled with meadows and Oak Savanna, as well as some wildflowers. There are also some tall trees near the bluffs. The state is working on restoring some of the original prairies in the area and is doing a great job.
Visitors have a lot of ways to enjoy the park, from hiking to horseback riding, to camping and fishing.
The Fort Ridgely State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 2.6 miles*
Total Miles Hiked: 60 miles
*The official and actual length traveled is different
Fort Ridgely State Park is an absolutely beautiful place to hike and explore. If I had more gas in the tank, I would have done so much more.
The majority of the hiking club trail is all through the prairie landscape surrounding the Historic Fort Ridgely. Some of it dips into the woods, but don’t expect much tree cover. Thankfully, we were there on a breezy day, while there
Historic Fort Ridgely Grounds
One of the biggest draws to the park is along the Hiking Club Trail, the Historic Fort Ridgely. The Fort was built in 1853 as a US Army outpost. The original inhabitant came from Fort Snelling. About 300 soldiers and civilians lived there.
The fort saw some action in 1862 during the US Dakota War. This is a common thread along much of South Western MN. We saw similar events at the nearby Upper Sioux State Park.
The actual buildings are run by the Minnesota Historical Society and cost additional to get in. But the guest of the Fort Ridgely State Park can take a self-guided tour of the grounds for free.
Hiking with Horses
There are many times that hiking club trails double as equestrian trails. Fort Ridgely is one of the only times hiking, that we’ve come across them on the trail.
It could have been the day we were there or the proximity to the horse camp. Or maybe it was because they just opened up the State Parks for camping again. Either way, sharing a trail with horses has its own unique challenges.
The first up is obvious. Horses don’t clean up after themselves and if you aren’t looking down, you may step in something steaming. Also, if you are hiking with Dogs, they may not be thrilled with sharing their space with a horse.
If you come across horses, ask how they would like to proceed. In our case, the group of horses stayed off to the side, while we moved along cautiously.
Other Things to Do At Fort Ridgely State Park
Fort Ridgely State Park is the only State Park in Minnesota that hosted its own Golf Course. This is a first for me. Occasionally you see this on private campgrounds, but never state-run. The Golf Course was 9 holes with artificial grass. The holes surround the Fort.
I didn’t see the golf course around the ground, but we did notice a few areas that looked like they could have been sand traps, that were grown over.
I also heard reports in 2018 debating if they could still golf there or not. Based on my impressions, it is something that is no longer in operation.
Aside from the Historic Fort, the majority of the guest enjoy camping at the park. A few of the sites even support hammock camping.
Check with the Park Rangers first to make sure you are following their guidelines and are on an approved site. They have 31 traditional camps site, and also a reservable Farmhouse to stay in.
The camping is all in a wooded area. The sites were shaded, with ample space and privacy. Everything that makes for a good campground!
If you plan on camping there with kids, consider bringing swimsuits for them. They have a great stream running through, with very shallow water.
Fort Ridgely State Park has a Fort Ridgely Creek running through it where you can fish from shore. My nephew ended up catching a few small fish while he was there. The creek has brown and rainbow trout.
During the winter, the trails turn into Snowmobile trails and they also have a few designated sledding hills.
Hiking Trail Updates
Before going to any State Park, always check the State Park website for any trail updates. They keep it up to date with any trail reminders, like flooding and closures. Also, the State Park’s trail maps may change slightly year to year.
I downloaded the map for this park back in 2019. After reviewing it online, I found that the official hiking club trail shifted slightly away from the historic site and now does a wider loop around it. The posted trail map signs still had the old hiking club trail highlights.
The mileage was supposed to be equivalent. In actuality, we clocked it at 3.8 miles, well over the 2.6 that was advertised. Thankfully it was beautiful and we didn’t really notice.
You can get a free digital Fort Ridgely State Prak Map straight to your phone from Avenza. It’s a GeoPDF map that tracks your locations as you hike using your phone’s GPS.
There were some closed portions of the trail. They did a great job of marking the designated route around any closures. You didn’t even realize you were on a detour.
Other Questions about the park
Where to Park?
There are two main places to park if you are there just to go hiking. Either at the Rangers Station or at the Fort. Both provided easy access to the trail. The majority of the hiking trail is in the flat prairie by the Fort.
The Rangers Station is in the lower section of the trail. I am a big fan of starting my hikes on low ground. This way it’s downhill on the way back. For this reason, I recommend parking by the Ranger Station.
How much does it cost to visit Fort Ridgely 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
The Historic For Ridgely grounds is open daily from dusk until dawn. The commissary building is currently closed. There is no fee to visit the grounds.
Would I go back?
OMG, Yes. I’d love to visit Fort Ridgely State Park. The unique history and beautiful hiking trails are enough of a reason.
This is half the reason I love exploring these parks is to find the unexpected beauty out there. Don’t forget to reserve your campsite early. If you get a chance to visit Fort Ridgely State Park, jump at the opportunity.