Take a Trip to Southwest Minnesota | Blue Mounds State Park, Pipestone National Monument and More!

For the past decade or so, I’ve taken a trip abroad every other year. I have a full-time job and a mortgage, every other year is just what’s doable for me. But in case you hadn’t heard, there is a global pandemic running around. Life has changed and we’ve done our best to adapt. Summer 2020 has turned me into a weekend road trip warrior. So to round out a summer of more state parks than I’d ever imagined I’d visit, I decided to stray from the beaten path and head west towards South Dakota.

Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park is tucked in the Southwest corner of the state of Minnesota. The park preserves one of the last remnants of prairie land in the state but also has unique cliffs and quartzite rock formations. What drew us here though was the Bison herd. My boyfriend Glenn and I fell in love with bison when we went out west in a van last year and it’s so cool that there are places in our own state dedicated to keeping them safe.

We booked a cart-in campsite that was only about 50 yards from the parking lot. We have an extremely small tent and no where to store things so we found ourselves going back and forth to the car a lot. Glenn would say that he did most of the back and forth but this is my blog so I control the narrative. ;)

We hiked the 5.5 mile loop along the bison preserve and around the quartzite cliffs. We had to watch out for prickly cactus along the edge of the trail so our dog Audi didn’t get hurt. Who would’ve thought that cactus would be an issue in Minnesota!

We saw the bison from a distance but mostly just enjoyed the views of the prairie and surrounding farmland that seemed to go on forever.

The next morning we woke up and on yet another trip to the car discovered that the bison herd was right next to the fence by our campground! We watched as they ran by with their babies. It was a crazy moment and we had it all to ourselves because it was just after sunrise and most of the campers were still snoozing.

Palisades State Park

On our way into South Dakota, we swung by Devil’s Gulch Park in Garretson, SD. Legend says that the infamous outlaw Jesse James avoided capture here by jumping the ravine on his horse. Although most historians agree that jumping the ravine is impossible. It was a super crowded Saturday at the park, but we did hike around and let Audi take a dip in Split Rock Creek.

Devil’s Gulch

About a 10 minute drive downstream from Devil’s Gulch Park is Palisades State Park. It has beautiful quartzite rock formations that overlook the creek. The cliffs feel a little out of place surrounded by farmland but I guess that’s what makes it so special.

It’s not a very big state park but there are 4 miles of hiking trails. After wandering around for a few hours we found ourselves across the river from the parking lot. So we took off our shoes, held on tight to Audi’s leash and hopped across the rocks to the other side. Audi’s four legs were much more efficient than our two, but we all made is safely across.

By now, we had worked up an appetite so we headed into Sioux Falls and grabbed some pizza from Books N’ Brews to enjoy by the falls.

Pipestone National Monument

We packed up our campsite at Blue Mounds State Park and decided to use the day to check more state parks off of our list before setting up camp at our next spot but first we decided to check out Pipestone National Monument.

A recurring theme we’ve seen at the state parks in this area is the fact that these lands are preserved to protect the prairies, plants and animals that have pretty much been wiped out by farming. In addition to that, Pipestone National Monument is also sacred to American Indians because of it’s history as being a place for different tribes to quarry side-by-side. The monument isn’t huge by any means. Circle Trail is the main loop and it is only 3/4 of a mile.

A recurring theme we’ve seen at the state parks in this area is the fact that these lands are preserved to protect the prairies, plants and animals that have pretty much been wiped out by farming. In addition to that, Pipestone National Monument is also sacred to American Indians because of it’s history as being a place for different tribes to quarry side-by-side. The monument isn’t huge by any means. Circle Trail is the main loop and it is only 3/4 of a mile.

Because of COVID times, they allowed us to keep our trail guide so I’ll give you some fun facts about the points of interest but you should definitely go see if for yourself if you’re in the area.

Sioux quartzite is some of the oldest quartzite in the world, approximately 1.7 billion years old and is found throughout southwest Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. This National Monument gets its name for the sacred pipestone that the Indians quarried here. Pipestone is soft and clay-like and used to create ceremonial pipes for religious and civic ceremonies.

As we ventured through, we were able to watched a quarrier extracting pipestone by hand. It was such a contrast to the other quarries we’ve visited, like the Quarry Park and Nature Preserve where heavy machinery digs giant mile-deep holes into the land.

We visited on a Sunday morning and had the trail to ourselves. It was so peaceful and enlightening to see a piece of American Indian history living on.

Split Rock Creek, Camden and Lake Shetek State Parks

Next we continued on to Split Rock Creek State Park. This park was created when a dam and bridge were built out of Sioux Quartzite to create a lake along Split Rock Creek.

From there we headed to Camden State Park which sits in a valley along the Redwood River. There are miles and miles of hiking and horseback riding trails and there’s also a swimming beach but it seemed like most of the visitors opted to swim in the river instead.

Camden State Park

After a long hike, we had a quick snack from the tailgate of our car before heading to our next campsite at Lake Shetek State Park. Here we had another cart-in spot and it was an incredible location! We were on the end of a row of sites and directly on the lake’s shore. We set up camp and decided to go for a dip in the lake to wash off the morning’s hikes.

Once we were cooled and dried off, we took a stroll around the campground. Like many State Parks we’ve visited, it is the site of significant historical Dakota vs Settler confrontation but now it has 14 miles of hiking trials and 70+ campsites. It is a beautiful and well-maintained park. We followed the trail that led across a causeway to Loon Island and saw quite a few white tail deer along the way.

That evening we even had a couple white tail visitors at our campsite…until the ferocious Audi-bear scared them away.

The weather took a turn the next day and while it was 80 degrees and sunny the day before, we woke up to 50 degrees and rain. It was no big deal, we had had a packed weekend filled with beautiful weather and lots of adventures so we might as well head home to our cat who has no self control and had definitely finished the mountain of food we left her within the first few days.

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time <3

Casey

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