Hiking in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park in Minnesota

November 9, 2018

Life has been really crazy lately. Fall is always a busy time around our house, but this year the intensity has been turned up to 11. I know everyone says that all the time, but I would like to think that this notion of being crazy busy is not hyperbole in my case. Many things are taking up my time (like losing my full time job, starting a new part-time contract, still searching for a full-time job, parenting, trying to launch an online business, household maintenance). Other things in my life are taking an emotional toll (like aging parents with health issues who live many too many miles away).

As a result of all of these things going on, we haven’t felt like we could spare the time or resources for even a day trip, let alone a long weekend or vacation. Which is kind of a drag for a travel blogger.

A Morning in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

This week we said enough to the craziness and made time for a few hours of hiking at a local state park, followed by a leisurely stroll through a lovely Minnesota town. What a difference it made to my state of mind! It reminded me how much I love seeing autumn leaves at their peak in this beautiful state. And how much I love spending time with my husband and kids while basking in the fresh air. And that I need to be gentle with myself and make time for fun.

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is roughly an hour south of the Twin Cities, about a 20 minute drive from Northfield. (I cover a bit more about Northfield later in this post.) The park is named for Nerstrand, the small town nearest to the park, and the Big Woods, which are now only a fraction of their former majesty. These woods used to cover most of southeastern Minnesota until European settlers discovered the land is great for farming. This small state park is about all that is left of the Big Woods now.

Another unique feature of Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is that it is home to the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily, a species of lily found in three Minnesota counties, and no where else in the world. We would like to go back to the park in the spring to see these rare flowers sometime!

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Fun for the whole family at the playground!

Even my husband felt the need to let loose and have a little fun here at this play area on the way to the hiking trail!

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Hidden Falls, Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park, Minnesota

Our hike quickly led us to Hidden Falls, on Prairie Creek. Really, these falls are just lovely. With the autumn trees in the background, what’s not to love about a view like this?!

From Hidden Falls we checked out parts of the Beaver, Fox, and White Oak Trails, logging in about 4.25 miles in all. There are some hills, but mostly it was a fairly relaxing, low-key hike. We started around 9:00 a.m., so we mostly had the trails to ourselves. By the time we got back to our vehicle, the parking lot was full.

Here are some highlights from our hike.

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park


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Lunch and Exploring in Downtown Northfield

Northfield, Minnesota is a fascinating town of about 20,000 on the Cannon River, about 40 minutes south of Minneapolis. It’s absolutely deserving of its own post, but because we were only there for lunch and a little bit of wandering around, and because I didn’t get many pictures, it will just get a mention here as a fantastic Midwestern destination all its own.

With a motto like “Cows, colleges, and contentment,” you know you’re in for a treat when you visit Northfield. It’s got two well-respected private colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf, and the college town vibe to go with them. It’s got a well-preserved historic downtown with fun, quirky shops. And it’s got a great annual celebration for when the townspeople banded together back in the 1800’s to chase Jesse James and his brother out of town while stopping his gang from robbing the First National Bank. How many towns can boast all of that?

A few highlights from our walk around downtown…

Froggy Bottoms, Northfield, Minnesota

Northfield, Minnesota

We ate at Froggy Bottoms, not because it’s the best cuisine in town, but because it had a menu that would appease our family’s (picky) food tastes. In fairness to it, Froggy Bottoms is a charming basement pub with a lovely patio overlooking the Cannon River.

Northfield, Minnesota

After lunch, we treated ourselves to cookie dough and a cupcake at Cake Walk. Yum! 

Northfield, Minnesota

Next, some shopping. We spent some time in Makeshift Accessories, an eclectic store featuring upcycled accessories made from everything from coins to brass cash registers to silver services. Oh, and Minnesota license plates. 

We were back home by mid-afternoon, but I can tell you that this little escape did so much good for this over-scheduled family. Time to plan another backyard adventure!


Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park Northfield, Minnesota


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