Pipestone Trail

Visiting Pipestone National Monument: What to Expect

Minnesota has one National Park, Voyagers and two different National Monuments, Pipestone and Grand Portage MN.

There are officially a few others on the National Park’s list, but they are a Scenic Riverway. I had driven right by Pipestone several times now out to South Dakota but didn’t have time to stop.

If I would visit Pipestone National Monument, I needed to make a special trip out there. I can’t believe what I was missing out on.

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What is Pipestone National Monument?

Pipestone National Monument is considered sacred by the Native Americans in the area. The park is made up of a Nature Trail and the Pipestone quarry.

It is where the Native American Tribe got the stone to make ceremonial pipes. Today they still use it for that purpose.

To quarry rocks, you have to be Native American and approved by the government. When you visit, you may even see people actively gathering rock.

Pipestone is a claystone. The technical term is argillite. The red pipestone color is derivate from the oxidation of iron. The rockface at Pipestone has formed 1.5 billion years ago.

Pipestone National Monument Cliffs

Visiting Pipestone National Monument

Visiting Pipestone National Monument is on a long list of National Parks that don’t charge a fee for admission. A few years ago, all the National Parks changed from charging a flat fee, to doing a demand-based fee structure.

The demand is no were near the Badlands, or Devil’s Tower so there is no cost for admission. According to the National Park Service, they don’t plan on adding it in the next few years.

Pipe Making Demonstrations

The first thing you’ll want to do is go inside the visitor and watch one of the 20-minute videos about the history of the land and pipe making. After that step outside the theater and watch the pipe-making in action.

Individuals making the pipes have examples of work they’ve done, and show how they shape and polish the rocks into the pipes.

The craftsmen are very informative and are great with kids, in case yours is as chatty as mine were.

Pipestone Nature Trail

Before you go out into the quarry, pick up an interpretive guide at the visitor’s desk. When you are finished,  make sure to return it so someone else can enjoy it.

There are actually two different trails, but the primary trail is the Circle Trail wrapping 3/4 mile through most of the park’s main highlights The trail is paved, but not quite ADA-compliant for wheelchairs.

It reminded me a lot of the Devils Tower paved walkway. The trail is more for ease of walking than a wheelchair.

Pipestone Steps

The path circled through the highlights of the park, including the Old Rock Quarries, Old Stone Face, Winnewissa Falls, the Oracle, and the tallgrass prairie.

The trail takes about 30-45 minutes to complete and is about a mile long. There are opportunities to branch off and take some stairs.

Those detours loop back with the rest of the trail, so you miss anything. You can skip them if you aren’t up for that much hiking, but I highly recommend going up to them if you can.

The oracle at pipestone
Cotton Trees on Pathway
Pipestone Trail

Winnewissa Waterfall

What I didn’t expect to find was so much water running through the quarry. The water comes from Pipestone Creek.

The falls took me by complete surprise and was a stopping point that many snapped pictures of. It also helped that standing in front of it was like having your own personal air conditioner.

You can take the set of steps and see the falls from above.

Pipestone Waterfall
Winnewissa Falls at Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone Creek
Pipestone Creek

If you love the stones at Pipestone, you need to check out Blue Mounds State Park just a short drive away. They have similar Sioux quartzite cliffs that are spectacular.

The Three Maidens

The Three Maidens is a rock formation on the road by the entrance road to the visitor’s center. The rocks differ from the pipestone in that they are granite.

Pulled from far away by the Pleistocene Ice Age. Their differences made them so sacred. The Native Americans used to place Petroglyphs all around them.

After someone had defaced a few, they were moved inside the Visitor’s Center for safekeeping. The Three Maidens site has a nice picnic area and fishing pond nearby.

The Three Maidens
Fishing near pipestone national monument

Don’t forget your pets!

Pipestone National Monument is one of a few National Monuments that let pets on the trail. They must be on a 6-foot leash.

We loved that Pipestone is a pet-friendly park, especially because during summer both years we visited, in southwestern Minnesota it was upwards of 90 degrees and with little shade in the parking lot. Leaving them in the car was not an option.

Where to get a Pipestone Pipe?

There were a couple of places we found selling the pipes. First up was inside the Visitor’s Center. A basic pipe costs around $45.

There is a Fort outside of the entrance selling souvenirs and pipes as well. Their prices were about the same as inside the Park.

My recommendation is to stop there before going into Pipestone to get an idea of what is available. I felt like they had more options there. You be the judge

Fort Pipestone

Other Tips

You are in the prairie. It can be hot and beautiful all at the same time. The best time to visit is during the spring after the flowers have bloomed. Otherwise, bring a bottle of water with you on your hike.

Wildflowers at Pipestone
Things to do at Pipestone National Monument
Pipstone hiking

Where to stay near Pipestone National Monument?

If you are a fan of Gordon Ramsey’s show Hotel Hell, or Resort Rescue from the travel channel, the Calumet Inn is a few blocks away from Pipestone.

The hotel is in the middle of some remodeling work to repair the exterior brickwork. It also has reports of hauntings from guests. Something to think about if you are planning on staying in the area.

The Calument Inn

Pipestone is a fun community to spend some time in. We were in town during their county fair and got to check out everything. They had a great selection of entertainment, including a rib cook-off.

Would I go back?

Visiting Pipestone National Monument was so beautiful; I should have stopped earlier.  You only need an hour to do the walk. I

f you have more time in the area, check out Alexander Ramsey Park. They have an epic waterfall. If you are in Southwestern Minnesota, make this a priority stop!

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