Big Falls Campground and Horse Camp
Information provided by Joan Nelson, Big Falls City Clerk/Treasurer.
Big Falls Campground and Horse Camp is a 28-acre site along the banks of the scenic Big Fork River. We like to say we are located in “The Heart of the Wilderness,” which is at the Junction of State Highways 71 and 6, in the City of Big Falls in Koochiching County. We are 40 miles south of the Canadian border and Voyageurs National Park. We offer complete camping facilities and clean, modern indoor bathrooms and showers.
Our park is the only of its kind on the Big Fork River. It is situated along waterfalls and rapids, in a setting of lofty pines and surrounding woods. It is a pristine, natural setting that changes with the seasons. The rapids range from wild and roaring in early spring to calm and lazy in mid to late summer. The rock ledges and outcroppings make for a natural landscape alive with large and small waterfalls that provide for a unique swimming and wading experience. A Big Fork River “massage” in the small rapids, with the historic train bridge in the background, is an experience like no other in the area. Diving into what locals call the “Deep Hole” is an adventure for the brave and will not soon be forgotten. Photo opportunities abound here. “Love this place,” “Beautiful park,” “We will be back” are frequent reviews we receive. Camping underneath the towering pines in a tent or RV is a very serene experience that draws guests back time and time again. Picnicking in one the pavilions or on the island is a great day activity. There simply is no other place in the region that rivals the Big Falls Campground for its unique location, natural beauty and access to endless outdoor activities.
Our park is a sportsman’s paradise to set up camp for fishing or a fall deer, grouse or bear hunting trip. We have direct access to the Blue Ox ATV trail, and provide a great place to headquarter for your Northern Minnesota ATV adventure. We feature more than 30 miles of marked multi-use trails, with many, many more miles to explore on your own utilizing county forest roads and trails.
We are also connected to the Big Fork River State Water Trail. Whether traveling by canoe, kayak or small motorboat, we offer a modern rest area and campsites at the portage before heading to the primitive landings downriver. You can travel all the way to the Rainy River which runs along the Canadian border. Walleye, northern pike, bass, muskies and sturgeon are species found in the river. Fishing from shore on the rocks is also a fun experience.
If hunting or fishing are not your thing, we have so much more to offer the naturalist. Opportunities for wildlife photography or viewing are abundant in the park and surrounding wilderness. You may see moose, deer, black bears, timber wolves, beaver, fox and more. Bald eagles, cranes, herons, ducks, grouse and countless other birds are plentiful. Our state flower, the Lady Slipper, is found in the area, as well as many other native species of orchids and wildflowers. People come from all over the region to enjoy picking our bountiful wild blueberries. Hiking the trails is also a favorite pastime.
We provide a separate horse camp area for riding enthusiasts. It has direct access to all of our marked trails and opportunities to explore on your own. This camp provides sites with electric and water hookups, as well as tie lines for the horses. Spring and fall are perfect times to bring your horses and explore the north woods.
We welcome campers and day visitors from all over the state, country and Canada. We get many repeat guests from the regional communities, as it provides a true nature experience, without having to travel a long distance. We are also a frequent venue for events such as weddings, family reunions, group camps and day meetings as they make use of our two riverside pavilions and spacious open area.
Our site has rich historical significance. It has been used as a portage camp site for thousands of years by Native Americans, voyageurs and lumberjacks. As you sit and listen to the sounds of the river, you can feel the history and imagine all of the people who came before you who also cherished this place. An historic train bridge has been incorporated into the Blue Ox ATV trail and offers amazing views. We also have the remnants of an old spill way that was once part of an electric power dam. It was destroyed by an ice flow and never restored. You can view it up close from a river-island picnic area.
We are excited to say that we are expanding this summer! We received a $1.27 million grant from GMRPT to purchase 10 riverside acres, construct a new accessible restroom building, create additional sites and upgrade the sanitary sewer system. We expect that project to be complete by fall of 2020.
More information about our park or city can be found on our website at bigfalls.govoffice.com.
Winona Ice Park
Information provided by Alicia Lano, Outdoor Recreation Coordinator for the City of Winona Parks & Recreation Department.
The city of Winona, located in the driftless region of southeast Minnesota, is nestled within the high bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley. Dubbed the “Island City,” Winona is encompassed by lakes, sloughs and the Mississippi River. The city is comprised of 27 public parks, the newest of which is the Winona Ice Park. The ice park, perched high atop the bluffs and overlooking the city, is one of just a handful of city-owned ice climbing parks in the nation. It is located about a half mile northwest of the iconic Sugar Loaf, a unique rock feature that sits above the city and is visible from miles around.
Both Sugar Loaf and the Winona Ice Park are located on old quarry limestone sites. The quarrying activity left the perfect geographic features for a man-made ice climbing park. The bluff on which the Winona Ice Park is located provides sweeping views of the valley below. The way the quarry is bench-cut into the slope makes it a safe, flat area to stage groups of people. Access to the park is a moderate, 20 to 25-minute hike up the bluff and shares the same trailhead as Sugar Loaf. The ice climbers have mentioned that the hike is a great warm-up before they start climbing. The Ice Park is not only for climbers, though. Many hikers and snowshoers have also been enjoying the trail up to the park and watching the climbers in action.
Using hundreds of feet of hose, low-flow showerheads and an ingenious movable system, our ice farmers are able to create two separate ice climbing areas. The first area is low-angled, which is ideal for beginners and instruction. The second area is larger and more vertical, with a max height of about 85 feet.
The Winona Ice Park is made possible by a collaboration between generous landowners, the City of Winona, and the Director of Winona State University’s Outdoor Education and Recreation Center and local climbing guide, Eric Barnard.
For more information, please visit the City of Winona’s Park & Recreation website at cityofwinona.com/city-services/parks-recreation/.
Robinson Park is a 65-acre site located along the Wild and Scenic Kettle River in Sandstone, which is in Pine County and located directly off Interstate 35. Sandstone, which is named after the stone that was quarried out of this region, is conveniently located about 65 miles south of Duluth and about 75 miles north of the edge of the metro area, setting it approximately halfway between two major cities.
Robinson Park is located directly adjacent to Banning State Park on three sides and was once the location of a sandstone quarry that was in operation until the late 1930s. Many of the building structures located in Sandstone were built by James J. Hill, a well‐known railroad conglomerate, out of the sandstone rock quarried from this region and park site. When the quarry operations closed, left in its place was an approximate 100-foot-high rock cliff wall that separates the park into an upper and lower area that has attracted climbers to the park for many years. There are scattered remnants of the previous quarry operations and equipment still located throughout the site. Due to the significance of some of the artifacts and the previous historic land use, the park was added to The National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
The upper portion of Robinson Park consists of approximately one-third of the park property and is located directly adjacent to the city of Sandstone. This parcel of land is mainly undeveloped except for Sandstone water tower adjoining a large open area where a previous city building once stood and a shed that a climbing group has set up and maintained to provide water service from a local hydrant to irrigate the cliff walls for farmed winter ice. Foot trails are scattered throughout upper Robinson.
Lower Robinson consists of the remaining two‐thirds of the park property and is accessed off of Highway 123 along Old Wagon Road, which was once the road that connected to the old Wagon Bridge that crossed the Kettle River. Old Wagon Road enters into lower Robinson at the main parking lot and contains a boat ramp into the Kettle River. The river runs the entire 3,500-foot length of the park separating Robinson Park from Banning State Park on the east side.
The southern portion of lower Robinson contains a large wetland area fed by natural springs and has numerous rubble rock piles surrounding it. A fairly heavy cover of deciduous vegetation has taken over this area. There are three primitive camp sites located along an old raised railroad bed line that parallels the Kettle River with the remains of two previous powder storage buildings located along the wetland in close proximity to the Old Wagon Bridge abutments. The city has also recently added two group campsites overlooking the river.
The central and north sections of lower Robinson are where the majority of the park activity can be found. There are recreational improvements that were incorporated utilizing LAWCON funds back in the 1970s, such as the restroom building and picnic shelters. Two picnic shelters are available, one adjacent to the main entrance parking lot by the boat launch and a smaller shelter close to the restroom building. LAWCON funds were also used for the boat ramp and the main park entrance sign.
There are two small boat portages, one to the north and south of the previous dam location. The portages allow for pedestrian access to the Kettle River with the ability to avoid travel across the previous dam location where strong water currents and debris in the water can pose hazards. Adjacent to the dam location, the City of Sandstone has created an interpretive memorial containing signage to display the historical significance of the site.
Lac qui Parle County Park
Lac qui Parle County Park is located six miles northeast of Dawson, Minn. and 15 miles east of Madison, Minn. The name Lac qui Parle was coined by the French trappers and traders which translated means “lake that speaks.” The river travels 15 miles to the northeast to its namesake Lac qui Parle Lake, which is the upper end of the Minnesota River. A detailed history, description and photos of the park can be viewed at http://lqpco.com/index.php/park/.
The park is 234 acres and its main characteristic is the river that winds through it. The river, which passes by pristine burr oaks and steep banks, cuts the park in half. There is an east and west entrance to gain access to each side. Long-term plans are to install at least a walking bridge between the two. The west entrance has large grassy meadows and trails that disappear into the woods such as the ridge trail behind the cemetery and the beach trail.
One of the trails off the inside meadow runs down to what is called the beach. It’s a spot on the inside of a large curve in the river where sand settles out of the water, providing a beach: a unique place to swim, float or take a turn on the sack swing hung from a huge cottonwood tree. Across from the beach is a very high and impressive clay bank where the moving water takes pieces away each year and from time to time exposes ancient American bison bones and skulls.
Just down river to the next bend there is a section perfectly suited for unique soft shelled spiny backed turtles. They can be spotted from a distance, basking in the sun. Just beyond that turn in the river is a smaller meadow that nature is restoring the native trees. Near that area is the mouth of a small creek, the end of a drainage system from the west side of the county.
Traveling back west to the top of the hill there is a pioneer cemetery overlooking the center meadow. The cemetery is on the preservation list, for it is important to remember the 1870s history of the early settlers and the many children and adults buried there. The long-term plan for the area includes a well, vault toilet and a picnic shelter/historical building.
Access from the west entrance can be restricted by rainfall and snow due to the roads being primarily dirt roads. Because there is a paved road to the west entrance, rebuilding of the park road to the cemetery, a walking bridge, a trailhead/shelter, a natural playground, an improved sliding hill and a camping area are all part of the improved access for the public.
The east entrance has been the primary entrance even though it is a smaller but very pristine area of the park. There are many trails that follow the river that wraps around it. There are burr oak trees, a shelter, a playground, a sliding hill, a well, a vault toilet solar lighting and many undesignated camping areas. Access to this side of the park is a mile and a half of gravel road giving the location a more primitive setting. There are many trail riders that use this side of the park to include the annual St. Jude ride on Labor Day. A few Boy Scout Jamborees have been held there as well. Restoration for this side of the park includes road improvement, natural playground area, bridge access and ongoing maintenance.
Belle Prairie County Park
Belle Prairie County Park (BPCP) was originally owned by the Belle Prairie Franciscan Sisters and, after changing ownership a few times, became the first county park in Morrison County in 1980. BPCP is 145.3 acres of park land situated along the east bank of the Mississippi River, adjacent to County State Aid Highway 76 (formerly State Highway 371), and serves 16 cities and 30 townships within the county.
BPCP is unique in its balance between the natural landscape and man-made areas of play. It has been a priority of the county, as well as the previous owners, to maintain and protect its distinct ecological features. The park is a convergence of native prairie, virgin white pine stand, oak savanna woodland and floodplain terrace (black ash-silver maple).
Since taking possession of the property, Morrison County has focused on preserving the majority of the park for its high biological diversity along with its geological, historical and archaelogical significance. Projects that control undesirable and invasive species utilizing prairie restoration have been ongoing for many years. Restoration of the oak savanna began in 2013 with Great River Greening conducting outreach to provide the community opportunity to learn more about the park and participate in thinning the woodland and removal of undesirable species.
Located within the floodplain terrace is a site designated as an “area of high cultural-resource sensitivity” with what looks to have been a Native American tool workshop. Many stone fragments of what appear to be from the Archaic Period were found on this significant prehistoric cultural resource.
You can learn more about BPCP on the Morrison County Parks, Trails & Facilities webpage
Information provided by Morrison County Public Works Director Steve Backowski
Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Project
The Red Lake River Corridor (RLRC) Enhancement Project is striving to create a water trail experience that is second to none in Minnesota and the region. Recent success in funding applications have led to great enthusiasm throughout the region.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission recommended funding in 2018 (which was approved at $200,786), and has recommended $1,491,881 for 2019, which awaits approval from the Legislature. The RLRC Enhancement Project also received $20,000 in funding from Northwest Minnesota Foundation for grant writing and purchase of signage for the water trail. Local communities provided matching funds for all of these applications at approximately 25% for each application.
The RLRC project seeks to increase use of the river by residents resulting in better quality of life, better health outcomes and more equitable access to outdoor recreational opportunities. Secondly, the project strives to increase tourism, contributing to the local economies and improving overall economic development in the region. Next, this project will provide better physical accessibility to the river which will expand health and recreation outcomes. And finally, the project will improve stewardship of public lands and waters as a result of strong corridor identity and education.
Through the first two applications, the water trail will see improvements to 12 canoe/kayak access points, including floating piers and kayak launches in some locations. Additionally, two of the major campgrounds along the corridor will be improved by updating facilities and expanding capacity.
The Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement project is governed by a Joint Powers Board including the cities of Thief River Falls, St. Hilaire, Red Lake Falls, Crookston, Fisher and East Grand Forks; Pennington County, Red Lake County and Polk County; and the Red Lake Water Shed District. This work has been made possible through the support of University of Minnesota Extension – NW Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, which has been instrumental in the planning process, convening and grant writing for the Joint Powers Board.
Information provided by Crookston City Administrator Shannon Stassen.
Plum Creek County Park
Redwood County’s Plum Creek County Park was included in the list of funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for 2019. The project selected is a $30,000 improvement to the park’s electrical system in the campground; a total of 16 RV sites will be upgraded from 30 amp to 50 amp service. All 16 sites are available for nightly reservations to the general public. This straight-forward upgrade will be a welcome improvement and will better accommodate the growing needs of RV campers.
This project is a compliment to the Legacy funding received in 2018, when the park was funded for $317,000 worth of projects. This included additional primitive camp sites, six camper cabins, new bathrooms, additional trails and a self-rental kayak station. Implementation of both grants will hopefully be completed in the fall of 2019.
The county is also nearing completion of the new park website, which will include an online reservation and payment system. This upgrade to our reservation system will make reserving sites and collecting payment easier for both the county and the campers. The website should be up and running by the middle of March. Check it out at www.PlumCreekPark.com.
Information and photo provided by Redwood County Environmental Director Scott Wold.
North Straight River Parkway
The North Straight River Parkway in Owatonna held its grand opening in June. Donor families, past and present city staff, elected officials and trail lovers all gathered to celebrate the completion of almost two miles of trail along side of and crossing over the beautiful Straight River. The Parkway contains the Lange Woods Trail and Wildung/Ihlenfeld Trail and connects the Buxton Trail to the 26th Street Trail.
Planning began in 2005 with city staff and the families who donated the land. In 2014, the city was awarded a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Grant for 2017 construction. In 2017, the city was awarded a Minnesota DNR Local Trail Connections Grant. Together, these funded nearly all construction costs. In addition, the Statewide Health Improvement Plan – Steele & Dodge Counties donated a bike repair station and two benches along the trail for users to take a break and enjoy the beauty of nature.
For more information about trails in Owatonna, contact Parks and Recreation at 507-444-2467 or Maryjo.Knudson@ci.owatonna.mn.us.
Information and photos provided by Mary Jo Knudson, recreation superintendent for Owatonna Parks and Recreation.
Big Falls Campground
The Big Falls Campground is located in the heart of the wilderness, alongside the natural splendor of the Bigfork River rapids, in the city of Big Falls on Highway 71 North, 30 miles south of the Canadian border.
The two camping areas cover about 11 acres. There are more than 30 miles of locally marked multi-use trails, as well as direct access to the Blue Ox ATV and Bigfork River State Water trails. In addition, there are many miles of unmarked roads and trails for visitors to explore on their own.
Big Falls Campground has one rushing river, with two unique campgrounds. Visitors can relax underneath towering pine trees at its scenic RV and tent campground. Horses are welcome at the riverside horse camp just across the road from the main facility.
Explore the river’s nooks and crannies and all the surrounding wilderness has to offer! Visitors can spend their days hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, birding, ATV or horseback riding … nights around a campfire … and fall asleep to the river’s lullaby.
Robert Ney Regional Park Reserve
Located in Wright County, Robert Ney Regional Park Reserve is combination of marsh and forest that occupies 846 acres and provides varied wildlife habitat.
The site includes a memorial chapel, picnic area, access to Lake Mary with a dock, and nine total miles of trails, including designated trails for hiking, skiing, skijoring and horseback riding. It is also home to the Wright County Parks Environmental Education Center, which hosts a variety of programs throughout the year for families, adults and children.
During the winter months, the Wright County Parks Department offers a variety of winter activities at Ney Park including dogsledding, lantern cross country skiing, snowshoeing and other programs. To see a full list of winter programs and other activities available at Ney Park, visit the Wright County Parks Department website at co.wright.mn.us/parks.
For more information, contact Wright County Park Coordinator Brad Harrington at 763-682-7894 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aitkin County Mississippi River Trail
The Mississippi River Trail in Aitkin County recently underwent extensive infrastructure upgrades at five different location made possible by a $184,000 Legacy grant. Some of the upgrades along this popular biking, walking, canoing and camping destination include:
– Removal of a non-compliant outhouse
– New showerhouse and restroom facilities
– Upgraded electricity to 50amp at sites in Aitkin
– 5 new campsites (two at Aitkin Campground, three at Jacobson Campground)
– Replaced canoe access 7 miles upstream of the city of Aitkin
– Built new canoe access on west bank between Jacobson and Libby Dam on Big Sandy
– Built RV dumpstation at Berglund Campground in Palisade
– Invasive species wash station on recreational trail
– Walking trails with historic logging photos and facts
For more information about the Mississippi River Trail, visit co.aitkin.mn.us/departments/Land/recreation.html.
Thanks to Rich Courtemanche for submitting information on the Mississippi River Trail.
Located in Thief River Falls, Greenwood Trail System encompasses major connecting points and employers (including Digi-Key and Arctic Cat) within the city. In 2013, the city completed a 1.5-mile, 10-foot wide asphalt trail featuring connections to the city campground and nature hiking trails. The project cost approximately $285,000 and was made possible by funding from a Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant, the City of Thief River Falls and other sources.
The trail has been a great addition to Thief River Falls’ community trail system. It is utilized year-round by all types of users, including bicyclists, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiiers. This summer, the city plans to add a three-fourths of a mile addition to connect the trail system to an elementary school.
Thanks to Joe Amundson, Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Thief River Falls, for submitting information on Greenwood Trails.