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!

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!

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.

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…

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.

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

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!

 

 

18 Comments

  • Reply
    Jai
    November 11, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Looks amazing- I haven’t been to Minnesota in years. Maybe time to plan a visit.

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 11, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      Definitely time for a return trip. Minnesota is beautiful!

  • Reply
    Missy Debnar
    November 15, 2018 at 8:26 am

    The hidden falls and changing of the tree leaves colors makes for a wonderful hike. We were not aware of this hike and have added it to our list. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      I hope you’re able to come to MN and enjoy it. It’s a beautiful area!

  • Reply
    Pam
    November 15, 2018 at 10:21 am

    What a lovely day – that’s exactly my idea of a perfect family afternoon!

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      Yes! It was so fun and relaxing. 🙂

  • Reply
    Tricia Snow
    November 15, 2018 at 11:57 am

    I love doing stuff outdoors in the fall. We just got back from hiking in TN. I miss it in this FL heat!

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      Fall is definitely my favorite time of year!

  • Reply
    Shirley
    November 15, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    I love the license plates! So cute! If I ever make it up to Minnesota, I will be stopping by!

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      Northfield is a super cool town. So charming. 🙂

  • Reply
    Dominique
    November 15, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    I’m glad you finally got the time to take a mini vacation with your family! And your fall forest pictures were really great!

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks! It was really good for us.

  • Reply
    Karie
    November 15, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    I have heard Minnesota has some amazing places to see. It does look so charming. I would love to go one day.

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 4:04 pm

      You should! The north shore of Lake Superior is absolutely stunning! Craggy cliffs, lots of river gorges and waterfalls…so beautiful. Other parts of MN are lovely as well, but if I had to give you one place to go, it’s definitely the north shore.

  • Reply
    Julie
    November 15, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Looks beautiful. Would love to see the Lilies too!! My girls and I love to just wander and hike.

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks, it really was lovely. Just very peaceful and lovely.

  • Reply
    alison
    November 15, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    I have never been to Minnesota! I am so glad you got out and even better, got to sit down and write about your adventure. Sorry for the loss of the job and I hear ya with the aging parents. It’s not fun getting older sometimes. Good for you for thinking of yourself and doing what you love, even if it was just for a morning.

    • Reply
      Kristie
      November 15, 2018 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks! It’s hard to make time to take care of yourself sometimes…

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