Complete Guide to Kilen Woods State Park & A Hidden Gem in Minnesota
Looking for a secluded hike in Southern MN? Kilen Woods State Park has a little bit of everything, from Class I rapids to overlooks, woods, and prairie. This amazing park is a great place to take a break from the road and disconnect.
With only Kilen Woods State Park standing between us and completing the Southwest portion of MN State Parks, we had to squeeze in this last stop. After fishing up our short hike at Lake Shetek State Park, we headed over to Kilen Woods. It’s about an hour away. The park has some great features, including hiking and Class I Rapids making Kilen Woods State Park a hidden gem in Minnesota.
First up, was a bite to eat. On one of the last nice days of the Fall, we took our bag lunch and enjoyed a beautiful day in the park at their picnic table. We weren’t even the only ones doing it. The park itself has three main sections. The Picnic, interpretive side near the entrance, a campground, and a wooded trail section along the Des Moines River.
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The Unique History of Kilen Woods State Park
Kilen Woods State Park was created to preserve the natural features of the Des Moines River Watershed. The park is part of the Prairie Bush Clover Scientific and Natural Area, protecting the federally threatened prairie bush clover. The park has a mix of prairie grasslands, oak savannas, and woodlands.
Things to do at Kilen Woods State Park in Southern Minnesota?
Kilen Woods is a beautiful place to visit. You can go hiking, biking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, wildflowers, and more.
There are many activities you can do at Kilen Woods State Park. Some of the most popular activities include hiking on the Hiking Club Trail and bird watching. Those who like water sports, can also canoe or fish in The Des Moines River.
Or if you’re looking for an activity with some wildlife mixed in, try visiting Kilen Woods during migratory bird season or during deer hunting season when you might see some whitetail deer or turkeys!
The Kilen Woods Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 2 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 157.8 miles
Hiking the MN State Parks Hiking Club Trail was the main reason for visiting. We started off by the panic area and headed down. What I wasn’t expecting was descending into the Des Moines River Valley valley almost immediately. Along the hike, you’ll be going along the river bed, and up the Dinosaur Ridge Overlook.
While it isn’t anything like the north shore’s elevation gains, it is still a little more strenuous than the hike at Lake Shetek. Even with the extra work, having the river beside you made for some stunning views. Much of the hike was along the river, so you always had something to look at.
From an adventure standpoint, the bridges over the small creeks were where things got a little interesting. The first bridge we came to had a detour. That’s because the entire thing caved in. The new bridge inland was just as nerve-wracking to cross. It was crooked and a little shaky.
On the return of the loop, you’ll go through the campground and some meadows. The prairie grasses were alive when I walked through. With each step, the ground started to move in front of me. Upon closer inspection, it was covered in hundreds of grasshoppers.
See Releated: 7 Best Things to do at Lake Shetek State Park in Southwestern MN
Most of the hike we spend picking the burrs off our dog. The trail is well defined, but there is plenty of brush on either side, making it one of the lesser-visited state parks we’ve been to. It also makes the perfect conditions to snowshoe the hiking trails.
Camping at Kilen Woods State Park
The campground at Kilen Woods State Park is smaller, with only 33 sites. Most are in the prairie, surrounded by trees on the outer sites. It had an open feel to it. If I was going camping here, I would take advantage of the walk-in tent sites, only because I like a little more privacy when I camp. But with the limited number of sites, chances are you will have some privacy anyway. Depending on the time of year, being in the open prairie might be just what you are looking for.
If you’re looking for a place to paddle, this is the spot for you! Complete with a fire ring, picnic table, and pit toilet, this canoe rest area/campsite is just downstream from the park’s Class I Rapids. Tall trees shade the site, providing lovely views of the Des Moines River. Paddlers should reserve a spot before camping here. It’s the perfect place to enjoy.
Class I Rapids in Southern MN
The Des Moines River is a favorite amongst canoers and kayakers because of the rapids in this section of the park. Depending on water levels, you might end up with a fun ride down the river. Just downstream of the rapids is a canoe rest area. They do have a campsite there as well. Paddlers should be watchful for hazardous large rocks and changing currents.
Des Moines Overlook
Des Moines Overlook is a prominent feature in the park. Located along the tallest bluffs of the Des Moines River, this wooden overlook offers visitors excellent views of the southwestern Minnesota landscape. Remember a bottle of water for the hike; the terrain can be a challenge for some.
The park protects an oak forest, sunny river bottom meadows, a flood plain forest, oak savanna and prairie. Wild plums and hawthorns occur among prairie grasses and wildflowers along the edge fo the Des Moines River Valley. Big blue stream, Indianan grass, blazing-star and perple cornflowers along the grassy reveans.
Where is Kilen Woods located?
Kilen Woods State Park is located in the southwest portion of Minnesota in Lakefield. It’s about two and a half hours from Minneapolis, making it one you can day trip to, or spend some time near the neighboring parks like Blue Mounds State Park or Lake Shetek State Park. During the non-peak season, the park office is closed.
What Animails can you find in the park?
The park is home to deer, beaver and muskrat. wood ducks nest in the trees alogn the river and herons stay in the back waters. Anglers catch walleyes, northerns, catfish, and bullheads form the rivers pools.
How much does it cost?
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 Visit Kilen Woods State Park Again?
The park is smaller than most. Because of its size, most people can hike the whole park in a couple of hours. IF you really want to enjoy it all, I recommend spending the night or getting on the water. I would visit the park again, and maybe even camp. With smaller parks like these, they tend to not get the crowds of their neighbors, which is just my cup of tea.