By Jim Umhoefer
Wabasha County. 4 miles south of Plainview on County 4.
Highway map index: M-19.
The hardwood/softwood forest at Carley State Park provides good cover for ruffed grouse and a variety of birds and wildlife. Beaver lodges can be spotted from hiking trails that follow the North Branch Whitewater River, one of southeastern Minnesota's famous trout streams.
The small park's five-mile trail system is woodsy and quiet, especially on weekdays. You can explore the bottomlands and the steep-sloped river valley, and one trail leads through a grove of white pines, unusual this far south.
The picnic area is the main family gathering spot in the park. Many people who camp at Carley tried unsuccessfully to get sites at nearby Whitewater State Park, which has a swimming area, naturalist area, and higher visibility. These people now choose to camp in Carley's wooded sites and drive the short distance to Whitewater for swimming or activities. Carley's 20 rustic campsites are separated by trees, adding to the park's intimate appeal. The campground usually has sites available, but it's best to register early on peak weekends. The primitive group camp (capacity 75) also fosters a feeling of being out in the woods.
Carley State Park offers snow fun for the family. You can cross-country ski on six miles of intermediate to advanced trails. Beginners like to stick to the flatter bottomlands. Kids gravitate to the park road near the campground (unplowed in winter), where they inner tube or slide down the hill. Snowmobiling is not allowed in the park, but local Grant-in-Aid trails weave through the Richard J. Dorer State Forest.