By: Don Begalle
At 450 acres (someday perhaps to grow to its 1654-acre statutory size), it is a small park with basic offerings. A shaded picnic area provides a pleasant rest stop for U.S. 61 travelers and a small walk-in campground offers a jumping off point for the area’s other parks. For a hiker, the park’s single trail to the top of Mount Charity can be a rewarding challenge.
The trail begins in the picnic area (a rare flat spot between the park's bluffs). It is a steep climb to the top so the trail soon turns to a CCC-built staircase. Feel free to count: 1,2,3…138,139,140…356,357,358…596, 597,and 598. Whew. There are a few benches along the way and even the fittest may need a reprieve from the relentless climb. At the top of the steps a short, rocky scramble puts you on the summit. After all that, you have only hiked half a mile! But the views are spectacular. The Mississippi River flows far below and you can see for miles. Take a break, some pictures and when the time comes, retrace your “steps” back down.
At more than 100 miles from the Twin Cities, John Latsch State Park and its one-mile hike hardly qualifies as a destination. But this is Minnesota’s bluff country and other parks are just a short drive away. On the ride down, stop to climb Red Wing’s Barn Bluff or hike along the river in Frontenac State Park. Whitewater State Park is 25 minutes to the southwest of Latsch. Roll them all into one endurance-filled day or saunter somewhat more easily through a weekend. Either way, pounding out those stairs will anger your calf muscles, but provide ample bragging rights.
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