By Jim Umhoefer
Houston County. 4 miles west of Caledonia on County 1 off of Highway 76. Highway map index: O-21.
Depending on priorities, Beaver Creek Valley State Park is a hiker's park or a trout angler's park. The creek bubbles out of an artesian spring and threads its way through a picturesque wooded valley beneath 300-foot bluffs. Brown trout can be found in the quiet pools below the sandstone and limestone bluffs. Experienced trout fishermen are sometimes spotted tiptoeing up to a stream because they know that the browns have an uncanny "feel."
There's a parking lot for fishing enthusiasts on the park's northern edge where the creek widens into a long, skinny pool. The Schech Mill, built in 1876, is a historic site downstream from the parking lot. This two-story gristmill still uses waterpower and features the original millstones and New Process milling equipment. The mill (privately owned) is open to tours.
Whether you're after trout or photographs, you can hike along Beaver Creek on park trails. The creek flows for about 2 miles through the park and continues to the Root River (which empties into the Mississippi). The other trails in the 8-mile system like Plateau Rock Trail, Switchback Trail and Hole-in-Rock Trail, offer bluff-top vistas if you're willing to make the uphill climb. Even these trails are not too strenuous if you take your time. Wildflowers add a fragile beauty to the rugged slopes.
From any of the overlooks (or at the park entrance), the countryside looks mostly level. But between you and the farm in the distance could be another hidden valley that drops swiftly from the plateau into a wooded ravine like the one at Beaver Creek Valley. The water that formed these valleys by eroding sandstone and limestone also can form caves by eroding similar rock formations underground. Southeastern Minnesota has caves of all sixes. Some of the biggest caves are popular attractions, like Mystery Cave (in Forestville State Park) and Niagara Cave; others are "wild" caves that experienced spelunkers like to explore. Contact the Minnesota Speleological Survey for more information (P.O. Box 13436, Dinkytown Station, Minneapolis, MN 55414).
The park's main development lies along Beaver Creek near the central parking lot. The picnic area and shelter are on the other side of the swinging bridge that spans Beaver Creek. Trailheads and the kids' wading pool are also nearby.
The 42-site semi-modern campground at Beaver Creek Valley State Park is popular on summer weekends (16 electric sites available). The park also features six walk-in sites and a large primitive group camp that can be reserved by special organizations.
Although Beaver Creek Valley State Park is known for its hilly terrain, the 3 miles of beginner cross-country ski trails stick mostly to the bottomlands. Snowmobiling is not allowed in the park, but there are extensive trails nearby.
Hiking and snowshoeing are part of the winter fun in the park's hilly terrain. Some people hike into the campground to try snow camping for a weekend. Ask the manager about water. All winter visitors can warm up in the enclosed shelter.