Things to do at Old Mill State Park in Northwestern MN
If there was ever a time to push the red button, this is the park to do it. The Old Mill State Parks is a great representation of what Minnesota State Parks are like. With a mix of prairie, woodlands, and middle river, it has been looking very similar to what the park would have looked like to the early settlers.
The most common reasons people visit this quiet park is to see the stone arch bridge and the Old Mill Site. That is where the red button comes into play. But there is more to the park than just that. You’d be surprised at all the fun things to do at Old Mill State Park.
Deciding to base camp at Lake Bronson State Park, it was painful to backtrack to Old Mill State Park on our Northern Minnesota Loop Adventure. When the park is 30 minutes away, it didn’t feel too bad. Knowing what I know now, I might have been able to squeeze it in. But we already spent a day at Red River, and it would feel like a cheating to day trip to another.
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The Beginnings of Old Mill State Park
The Park was the original homestead of the Larson Family. The family built a few different mills throughout their time living there, changing between steam, water, and window power. As floods and other natural disasters occurred, they rebuilt changing up the style a little more.
The family decided to sell their mills to the state in 1937. It wasn’t until after WWII that they decide dot release some funds and make it an official state park. Today, a big part of the park’s history lies with the milling legacy.
Things to do at Old Mill State Park
Old Mill State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 1.4 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 129 miles
The hiking club trail is one of the easier ones you’ll come across. Along the flat landscape, it’s a mix of shaded wooded trails and glacial prairie. According to one of the park rangers, the best time to visit is actually in the fall. The colors become amazing and lead to some better scenic views.
Before you start on the official trail, take the foot trail just to the right of the trail to the scenic overlook. It provides a great view of the river and the stone bridge.
The hike was on a wide pathway, through some great areas. Knowing that half the trail was in the sun, we hit this trial early. It was nice as we were the only ones on it.
After doing so many hikes along the North Shore and in some more popular state parks, this was a new thing to us. There are many interpretive signs on the trail. In the wooded section, make sure to stay on the path as there is poison ivy growing just off-trail.
The second portion is through some restored prairie. This is a great example of the wilderness that has come back. Driving through northern Minnesota, it’s easy to forget that the landscape didn’t always look like this. When European settlers came in we started to change the landscape to fit our needs.
While it makes for great farming, at one point it was all-natural prairies. The quick loop drops you back into the parking lot before you know it. My puppy was ready to go a second time.
Do you have your Old Mill State Park Map downloaded yet? Before any adventure, I always download the State Park Map. While this park wasn’t too hard to figure out, it did give us some good insight into the fun things to do at Old Mill State Park!
One of the most famous landmarks of Old Mill State Park is its stone arch bridges. The bridge spans over the Middle River. What I love about Minnesota State Parks is how unique they make different elements in the park. Some things, like water towers, stick with the same look and feel. This bridge is one I haven’t seen anywhere else. It connected to some other trails.
Old Mill State Park Beach
The Beach at Old Mill State Park was recommended to us because of its sandy bottom. Lake Bronson also has a sandy beach, but once you get into the water, you’ll run into rocks and other elements.
Old Mill is all sand. The swimming pond is fed with fresh water from a well. Nearby there are wide open spaces and picnic areas as well as a changing area.
WPA Stone Water Tower
Next to the beach is also where the stone water tower located in the park. The structure is seen at other state parks too. Unlike Lake Bronson, you cannot go inside. It’s an admired from the outside kind of structure.
This beautiful stone structure can be seen at a few other state parks too. The first is at Lake Bronson and its stone water tower and observation deck. The second is at Jay Cooke State Park and its Swinging Bridge.
The Old Mill
The Old Larson Homestead and grist mill are where this park shines. You’ll see an example of the old steam-powered mill and a settler’s cabin. Two of the Old Mills on the property were moved to where the mill stands today.
The example you see when you visit is one rebuilt in 1958. It gets fired up during Grinding Days hosted by the Marshall County Historical Society at the end of August.
If you can schedule your visit around then, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, stop by the mill and peek in the doors. There is even a red button you can press and hear the interpretive program about how it works.
The cabin was also moved to the area to show what pioneer life was like. The cabin has historical items that were once used by pioneers to help paint the picture. One thing you need to do when you visit is to check out the old ox car ruts left in the land. In the trail to the right side of the cabin is a path to nowhere.
On the ground, you can see indentations left by the cars and they came to drop off the flour. It becomes apparent just how old these marks are when you continue to see them with a tree growing through the middle of the tracks.
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 go back to Old Mill State Park?
Old Mill State Park was an interesting find. One thing that shocked me was how few people were there. It took some time, but we eventually found the people. The campground was only about half full. It was wooded yet open and small. It would be good for a lower-key adventure. We were happy with our choice to stay at Lake Bronson. I would definitely day trip to Old Mill State Park again.