We visited Minneopa state park because a) I love hiking b) I’m trying to get as much state park time in before the summer hordes descend and c) my back is dying from working at home out of a dining room chair so I preordered an office chair for curbside pickup at an office store which is on the way home from this park.
Minneopa is a unique state park. A River Runs Through it. So does a train(choo chooo). And a neighborhood(kind of). If you have never visited the park before you need to decide what you are going to prioritize first because all of a sudden there are two different park road signs pointing you to either turn left or right depending on what you want to do.
One direction is the waterfall part. It is a nice waterfall. The parking lot is right by the waterfall- so it is very accessible for people who are unable to hike to a lot of waterfalls. However, because the parking lot is RIGHT THERE it isn’t the most rewarding waterfall that I’ve been to, it’s kind of like a less impressive Minnehaha. On this trip we didn’t visit the waterfall because it’s plague time and I figured that it might be busy. Tip: On the weekends get to state parks as early as possible during social distancing time! Most people don’t roll out of bed at 6 am like we did, so it will be fairly easy to socially distance yourself. We got there at 8 and only encountered 4 other hikers that were just heading out when we were almost back to our car.
The other direction is the BISON DRIVE. Yes, you can actually drive amongst bison if the road is open. It wasn’t on our trip on 4/10/2020 because the road conditions are still gross from the winter thaw. Instead we hiked the entire loop(I think it’s 3.3 miles) because it goes around the entire bison enclosure, and I wanted to guarantee that I would see me some bison.
Other highlights about this section of the park are the views of the magnificent Minnesota river, an old windmill(the blades are gone), and the campground is also situated here. This section isn’t as popular as the waterfall section, as evidenced by the relatively small parking lot. The hike was enjoyable while we were there- if it is a hot hot day you might want to just do the Minnesota River Bluff Trail for the shade- the Seppman Mill trail is exposed and you can drive and park at the mill.
As I mentioned before there is also an access point to drive into the bison enclosure. We were able to see the bison herd once we got to the mill area, unfortunately for my photos the bison were just far enough away that I didn’t get a quality photo.
Now onto the campground. Loop A is superior for tent camping in every which way, unless you happen to want electricity or want to rent the cabin which is in loop B. Loop A has trees, large sites, a bathroom, and several sites have awesome views of the river. One thing to keep in mind is that the sites on the outside of the loop are much more private and have way more trees- the inner loop is relatively open in comparison and would be good sites to choose if you are group camping. I would be prepared with lots of bug spray and a screenhouse if you are camping here in the worst of mosquito season- there was quite a bit of standing water and swampy pond nearby.
Site notes(see pics/videos): A2 is nice and spacious, but next to the swampy water
A4 is the immediate neighbor and is distinctive because it’s up on a hill
A3 is on the inner loop and is visible to the road, but I liked it anyway
A5 is a nice spacious site on the inner loop that is less private, I’m pretty sure A19 butts up behind it if you are looking to get a few sites
A12 is the type of site that I would love to camp at- view of the gulley and of the river
A14 is the site that you need to reserve a year in advance if this campground were more popular- amazing location with a spectacular view of the river
A24 also has a good river view
A26 is large and has some badass oak trees
The B Loop is weird- a lot of the campsites don’t seem to even have space for a 2 person tent unless you are ok with not having a campfire(or burning down your tent). If you have a tiny scamp you might be ok?
Site notes: B3 is a good pull-through site for an RV
The cabin is here! It has a screen porch and a propane tank for heating it in cold weather! Also has a decent view of the river- inside is just some bunk beds and a table. There is a pit toilet next to it that I’m guessing other campsites use too.
B20 is definitely the best site in the loop for tent camping- I actually would camp at this one.
There are also 4 group campsites that could probably fit 2-3 tents on them that are only a short hike-in from the parking area. Nice pit toilets are nearby. Minneopa is definitely either a nice day trip or camping trip from the Twin Cities! I was extra pleased that the drive down 169 is interesting- the terrain is beautiful, there are some really random touristy places and showrooms(giant yellow barn/extended structure that is without a doubt indeed Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store), and driving through Saint Peter is a nice old-timey experience.