By Jim Umhoefer
Rice County. About 11 miles southeast of Northfield on Highway 246 (follow the signs to the park). Highway map index: K-19.
The mature, dense hardwood forest at Newstrand has always been a place of refuge. Dakota Indians lived and hunted here, and settlers depended on the trees for fuel and building material. Today, people come to the same forest for a different type of refuge. Nerstrand is the last sizable glimpse of the Big Woods, a deciduous forest that once spread over all south-central Minnesota. Growing towns and farms have nibbled at the woods so much that only scattered parcels remain.
The park's 13 miles of hiking trails are popular on weekends, especially when the trees ignite in the reds, oranges and yellows of fall. The busiest trails lead into the hills and valleys behind the picnic/campground area. If you prefer more solitary walking, come back in midweek or explore the less-used trails across County 40.