Blue Mound State Park: Preserving the MN Prairie
Red cliffs rising from the prairie, yellow flowers flowing in the breeze and bison grazing in the tall prairie grass alongside prickly pear cactus. These are the sights the first settlers saw as they crossed the state by wagon over 150 years ago, and the same untouched views of the prairie visitors to Blue Mound State Park in Luverne will still see today.
A Park on the Prairie
Heading toward Blue Mound, you’ll know you’re on the prairie. The land is nearly flat, and you can see for miles ahead. Once inside the park, you’ll find 15 miles of trails along prairie, forests and 100-foot cliffs. And each segment of the trails offers a different view.
Trails begin in the northern section of the park, near a small bison range that lives on 250 acres. A viewing stand with a telescope provides close ups of bison grazing. Hundreds of years ago, bison once roamed much of the country, with a population numbering as much as 50 million at its peak. They were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century through a combination of government policies encouraging free range for cattle and hunting of bison to weaken Native American tribes who depended on the herds for survival. At the same time some Native American tribes were believed to have hunted more than would have been sustainable in a year.
Today, conservation efforts like those in Blue Mounds have brought bison populations up to a quarter million across the country. But bison aren’t the only animals to call Blue Mounds home. A small number of coyotes lives in the park and their howls can be heard year round.
Further south, the park’s three main trail segments each offer a different view of the park. The upper Mound Trail takes hikers through rolling prairie and along the bison range. Along the way, you’ll walk through wildflowers and tall grasses, and you may glimpse patches of pear cactus, which bloom with bright red flowers in June and July of each year.
Two other trails take hikers along the 100 foot Sioux quartzite cliff line. The northern cliff line trail offers views at the top of the cliffs and provides access to five separate rock climbing areas –among the best rock climbing spots in the state. The lower cliff line views just below the stunning cliffs and into the historic quarry. Some believe Native Americans may have hunted bison by driving them off of the cliff, and bison bones found in the quarry may support this idea, though experts have yet to determine if it was a common hunting practice.
At the southern section of the park where the trails converge, you’ll find a Minnesota mystery centuries old hidden among the tall grass. A 1,250 foot line of rocks stretches across the southern section of the park, and every spring and fall equinox the sun is perfectly aligned with the stones. Minnesota’s own Stonehenge, its exact origin and purpose remains a mystery today.
Beyond hiking, the park offers camping, bike trials and snowmobile trails in the winter. Two small lakes, created when two dams were built as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project in the 1930s, are the only lakes in the county and offer swimming, fishing and canoeing.
Whether you come for hiking, rock climbing or just to enjoy peaceful views of the prairie, you’ll find a park unlike any other at Blue Mounds, preserving not only nature but also an important part of our state’s history.
If You Go:
Blue Mounds is open year round. A yearly or daily park pass is required to enter the park. Those looking to rock climb can get permits in the park office.
The park is located in southwest Minnesota, about 45 minutes northwest of Worthington or 30 minutes south of Pipestone.
From Worthington, take Hwy 90 west to Hwy 75 north, and watch for park signs just north of Luverne. From Pipestone, take Hwy 75 south.
While You’re There:
While you’re in the area, make sure to visit Pipestone National Monument, one of the state’s historic gems. Walk the grounds to see creeks, waterfalls and the sacred red pipestone that drew Native American tribes to the area and also provided a source for trade. Local carvers demonstrate pipe carving, and the stone continues to be quarried Native Americans today.
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