Did you want to get up close to some Bison? You don’t need to even venture as far as Custer State Park in South Dakota to do so. Minneopa State Park in Mankato Minnesota is home to an amazing bison drive.
After doing a little more research about the park, I quickly realized that there is so much to do there, including visiting Minneopa Falls. I’m amazed I haven’t been here sooner. Here is what else I found out on my visit!
Minneopa State Park in Mankato MN
Sitting along the Minnesota River Valley, Minneopa State Park is a popular stop in southern Minnesota.
The park is divided into two sections; a southern section with Minneopa Falls and the park office, and an upper section, where you’ll find the bison enclosure and campground.
The 2,599 acre park is home to more than just the bison. They also have camping, wildlife programs, an old mill ruins, Minneopa Falls, and 4.5 miles of hiking.
With Mankato being just a short drive from the Twin Cities, this made a perfect day trip. Mankato has so many amazing sites, at Minneopa State Park made it to the list of the 28 things you need to do when visiting Mankato MN.
Things to see at Minneopa State Park
Minneopa Falls MN
Minneopa Falls consists of two falls, the first is just 8 feet. The second, more dramatic falls are nearly 40 feet.
The fall trail leaves from the parking lot in the southern unit, near the park office.
Minneopa Falls area is accessible to everyone. They have a paved path from the parking area just behind the picnic area. Take the footbridge across Minneopa creek. From there you’ll see the base of the smaller falls, and the top of the second drop.
The entire area above the falls is easly accessible.
As any good waterfall explorer, we needed to see the base of the falls too. The park normally has a loop that takes you all around the falls, but due to some erosion, it’s now a one-way path.
How to get to base of Minneopa Falls?
To get to the base of Minneopa Falls, take the paved path down the stone steps and over the creek. After that just follow the trail along the bank of the creek. The path is sandy, and rocky, and will have you climbing over tree limbs.
It’s not too bad, but I recommend that you have a pair of steady shoes just to be safe. Flip-flops are not recommended. Minneopa Falls made my list of 12 Stunning Waterfalls Near Minneapolis. But it’s defiantly worthy of a Day Trip.
We used this opportunity to test out our new hydration backpack. I’ve wanted one of these for some time now and decided to try it. I found one that had extra pockets so I could store my first aid kit and bug spray.
Defiantly a must when doing any hiking, especially with kids. The pack worked great because it allowed me to have my hands free to hang on to my 3-year-old and, have a free hand to stabilize myself. The pack held 2.3 liters of water.
The Bison Drive
The Minneopa State Park bison are viewable on a unique drive through their enclosure.
The bison enclosure helped restore some of the natural habitats to Minnesota. After the prairie was developed in 2012, they reintroduced the bison herd in the enclosure.
They came from Blue Mound State Park and the Minnesota State Zoo. The Bison Drive is open Thursday – Tuesday from 9 am to 8:30 pm. Their hours change seasonally so check their website to confirm the times.
It’s a great feature of the park. My kids woke up at about 6 am running into our room asking, “Are we going to see the Buffalo now?”
They were so excited. Secretly I was too. Considering the only time, we’ve seen them was at the zoo, they were a little concerned about their safety. I explained to them that as long as we stayed in our car, it would be fine.
When visiting, make sure to respect their habitat and for your safety, follow these reminders:
- Remain in your vehicle at all times.
- Always give the bison a 75ft clearance.
- Pets must be on a leash at all times around the enclosure.
- Do not climb or pull on the fence wires.
- Bison get nervous around loud noises and activities.
- Hiking is not allowed in the range.
I know how tempting it is to get out of the car, but please stay inside.
One of the unexpected treasures of the drive is the prairie. The landscape is filled with all kinds of plant life and water sources. To get a better look, stop at the Mill.
The mill sits on a hill outside of the bison range. The only way to get there is to drive through the bison enclose, or hike around it.
At the end of the drive, go up the hill and find a place to park. Get out the bug spray because we got attacked like crazy. The mill is a feat of engineering and with everything, it’s been through, I’m amazed it’s still standing.
The Seppmann Mill was constructed in 1864. At its height, people from 30 miles away would come in to have their grain milled for flour. It had 4 arms to power it.
However, the mill lost two arms due to a lightning strike in 1873. They were replaced only to be blown off by a tornado 7 years later.
They continued to operate it with just two arms until 1890 when another storm took off the remaining arms. With technological advances, it became unprofitable to repair.
Hiking in Minneopa State Park
Besides the Mill, there is also a hiking trail that will loop the entire Bison enclosure. We wanted to explore more of the trail but were getting eaten alive by some of the winged creatures.
Depending on the year, bug spray may be required. We came back a couple of years later to hit the trail without any problems.
For more on what the Hiking Club Trail is like, check out: Hiking Club Trail Review. It was beginner-rated and lots of fun.
Camping at Minneopa State Park
Minneopa State Park has a great campground. It’s a perfect place to explore the city. The campground has 61 drive-in sites and another 4 group campsites.
They only have 6 electric sites, so if you travel with an RV, they are harder to come by. Make sure to reserve early because this park is extremely popular!
Other Questions about Minneopa State Park?
How much does it cost to get into Minneopa State Park?
There is a $7 per day parking fee to enter any MN State Park, or you can buy a yearly permit for $35. They are also participating in The Minnesota State Parks Passport and Hiking Clubs.
Can you swim at Minneopa Falls?
It is not recommended to swim at the base of Minneopa Falls. The water moves very fast and there is algae in it. Just past the falls in a shallow river.
If you are looking to swim, I recommend going to the neighboring Flandrau State Park in New Ulm. They have a sand-bottom beach.
What does the word Minneopa Falls mean?
The word Minneopa Falls is derived from the Dakota language and it means “water falling twice,” referring to the two tiers of the waterfall.
Located in southern Minnesota, Minneopa Falls is a popular tourist attraction known for its scenic beauty and tranquil surroundings.
How many Bison are in Minneopa State Park?
How many Bison are in Minneopa State Park?
Minneopa State Park has around 25-30 bison. The park can support a maximum of 40 bison. The entire bison herd is estimated to be about 130 bison between three different sites.
They are spread out between Minneopa State Park, Blue Mounds State Park, and the MN Zoo.
Would I go back?
I’m already starting to plan my next trip down to Minneopa State Park this winter for a frozen Minneopa Falls. Hoping I can work it into the schedule. Or maybe I should plan a weekend camping?