Upper Sioux Agency State Park: Tipi Camping
a path to the park's spectular sunset overlook.
Upper Sioux Agency State Park: Preserving Minnesota's Historic Prairie
For hundreds of years these lands were home and hunting ground for Native American tribes. Golden tall grasses and bright yellow and lavender flowers seem to float in the breeze and the sunset turns the land fiery orange as far as the eye can see. It’s not hard to understand why they called this place home. Today, the land is preserved and honored once again as one of Minnesota’s unique and beautiful state parks, offering camping, hiking, fishing, skiing and snowmobiling, and the chance to glimpse Native American life by spending the night in a real tipi.
Park on the Prairie
Just minutes from Granite Falls, MN, Upper Sioux Agency State Park sits near the transition from forest to prairie. Its 18 miles of trails wind through tall prairie grass, into hardwood slopes and along wetlands as they edge the Minnesota River. In the summer months, the park offers hiking and horseback riding, while winter months offer skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
The park is also known as one of the most unique camping opportunities in the state. Three authentic Native American tipis are available for nightly rent in the park’s Yellow Medicine Campground. The 18-foot diameter tipis are large enough to sleep up to six, according to park officials. Inside, a wooden platform keeps campers off the ground, so it’s best to bring sleeping mats. Each tipi site includes all typical campsite amenities like a fire ring, picnic table and parking area.
Beyond tipis, the park offers traditional campsites on the prairie, horse camping sites, and walk-in sites along the Yellow Medicine River. Rustic sites are available along the Minnesota River, offering picnic tables and fire rings.
While you’re there, be sure to hike to the Upper Sioux Agency historic site. One historic agency building still stands, as well as the foundation ruins of a warehouse and housing buildings. Interpretive signs tell the history of the area. About half a mile east of the Upper Sioux Agency site is one of the park’s most spectacular overlooks and an excellent spot to see the sunset. Both hiking trails and a dirt road to the lead to the overlook.
If you visit in the winter, the park offers a thrilling sledding hill near the park’s main office. Park officials caution “this is definitely not a bunny hill.”
Commemorating Minnesota’s Early History
Upper Sioux Agency State Park was created to preserve a significant – but troubled – period for our state.
For hundreds of years before the first settlers arrived, the Dakota, or otherwise known as the Sioux Indians, lived in this area, fishing and hunting bison. The first Europeans in the area were likely fur traders, and their arrival marked the beginning of changes in the Sioux lifestyle.
As a growing number of settlers sought to farm in the area, the U.S. government began signing treaties with the tribes that would push them further west and onto smaller and smaller reservations.
The Upper Sioux Agency was established after signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, between the United States and the Sioux Indian tribes living in southern Minnesota. Through the treaty, the U.S. government promised cash payments and annuities, and gave the tribes two reservations that were each about 20 miles by 70 miles along the Minnesota River. Two agencies – the Upper and Lower Sioux – were built along the river to administer payments and food to the reservations, and offer classes in farming to encourage the Sioux to convert from their nomadic hunting lifestyle to a farming lifestyle.
But problems occurred when food supplies on the reservations ran low. Tribal leaders were also tricked into signing away parts of their treaty to fur traders who made claims to lands in the area. The change in lifestyle and low payments led to conflict, which broke out into the Dakota War of 1862.
During the conflict, the Yellow Medicine Agency and many of its surrounding buildings were destroyed. The site is preserved as a Minnesota State Historical Society site.
Today, the park preserves the region’s significant history, restored to the native prairie that the Sioux tribes once called home, and allowing visitors to experience the region the way it was for hundreds of years before the first settlers arrived.
If You Go:
Plan early to reserve a tipi site in the Yellow Medicine Campground. Be sure to hike to the park’s overlook to see the amazing prairie sunset.
The park is just 15 minutes southeast of Granite Falls, MN and easy to get to on Hwy 212.
While You’re There:
Visit downtown Granite Falls, MN. Each evening, the town’s Kiwanis Club hosts a popcorn stand featuring freshly popped popcorn with real butter and 1919 root beer. In nearby Montevideo, MN, visit Historic Chippewa City, a village of 23 preserved historic buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Each building is elaborately decorated with antiques relevant to the buildings’ themes, like a bank, fire hall and dress shop. Find other things to do on a Weekend Away in the Prairie Waters region.
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