Hiking the Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail in Southern MN
Hiking in humidity is not for the faint of heart. For some reason, I thought we should take advantage of this weekend without plans to get over the 75-mile mark on our hiking club. This year’s stretch goal. You gotta have goals if you are ever going to make it happen. I am ecstatic that we pulled it off in Summer. Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail would be the spot to do it
We wanted to do something shorter with the humidity. The reports about Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail said it was not as strenuous as some of the others we’ve been doing. The only problem with the heat is you never want to stop moving. When most people talk about Carley State Park, it is always in conjunction with their Whitewater State Park hike. They are very different.
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The Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 1.8 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 76.4 miles
The hiking club trail was easy to find. The sign for it was by the parking lot near the campground. The trail does a horseshoe shape around the Whitewater River.
The Wildflower Trail also marks the start of the Carley State Park Hiking Club Trail. For this reason alone, I recommend visiting the park in the summertime when everything is in bloom. For Virginia Bluebells, go early in the season. This part of the trail was unbelievably flat.
Do you have your digital Carley State Park map yet? Get a free GeoPDF map from Avenza that lets you track your location as you hike.
Rattlesnakes in Southwestern MN
In the car ride, I made the mistake of telling the kids that this area is home to rattlesnakes. We’ve spotted them in South Eastern Minnesota when I was a kid and I didn’t want the kids going off-trail. My daughter freaked out immediately. She was convinced we were taking her into a Snake-invested country.
Little does she know rattlesnakes are all over Minnesota. We went over everything with her, “Stay on the trail”, “Watch what you are stepping on”, it didn’t matter, she was terrified.
Once we got to our first water crossing everything changed. My fearless warrior was back, leading the pack.
Crossing the Whitewater River Part 1
The first river crossing we came to was a bit of a surprise. Normally it includes a bridge. In some cases, there are cement steps in the water to cross like a Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. At Carley State Park they were rocks to hop over to an island before getting to the traditional cement steps. Everyone was having fun.
The Outside Trail
The outside of the horseshoe trail was along the river bluffs. Hills, with single-lane hiking. The trail surrounds you in white pines and giant trees; everything you expect out of a hiking trail. The only problem was the humidity made it so we did not want to stop moving to check out anything. At one point we even joked that a velociraptor would be coming out of the jungle to get us all.
We found a rickety old bridge to cross that looked like it was from a funhouse. The bridge was stable, but for safety’s sake, we had everyone cross one at a time. No real drama but a fun little thrill for the kids.
Crossing the Whitewater River Part 2
Do you ever joke with your kids about what something will be like before you get there? We were throwing out all kinds of wild theories about what the next river crossing might be like after the first one.
What if it is an actual bridge this time? What if there are more rocks to traverse? Will this one be the traditional cement stepping stones? What if there is a log you have to shimmy across or go over like a balance beam?
We all laughed when we saw the crossing. It was a combination of cement stepping stones, a log to shimmy down, and rocks.
During the wet season, the river has grown wider since the trail was created. It was a little nerve-wracking wondering if the log would hold us, but it did. The kids did great getting down the log.
Between the four of us, we only had one wet foot. Someone got a little too confident in their abilities.
Just past the river, on the way back to the parking lot was a picnic area and areas and a swing set for kids.
Finding the Password
The Hiking Club Password was very easy to find on the trail. If you have hiker’s tunnel vision and miss it, don’t worry. There is a second sign about 100ft down the trail.
Fun Facts about Carley State Park
Carley State Park was named after the late Senator James A. Carley. He donated the land to the state after his death. It took a year for the state to officially accept the gift and make establish it as a state park in 1949. The park wasn’t developed until 1967.
The park is open at 8 am and closed for day visitors at 10 pm. Carley State Park, located at 50366 County Rd 4, Plainview, MN 55964, is only 12 minutes from Whitewater State Park.
Other things to do besides hiking the Carley State Park
There are a couple of other hiking trails in the park, as well as opportunities to fish and camp. The campground sites all looked nice. I would not recommend attempting the Carley State Park Hiking Club trail in the winter because of the DIY river crossing opportunities. Otherwise, Carley State Park was a treat to visit.