By Jim Umhoefer
Jackson County. 9 miles northeast of Lakefield. The park entrance is 5 miles east of Highway 86 on County 24. Highway map index: F-21.
Kilen Woods State Park is attractive to families because of its day-use activities. Picnics are always popular in the green, shaded picnic area. Kids like the field by the parking lot for ball games. Another favorite with children (and their curious parents) is the small interpretive center in the enclosed picnic shelter building. Looking, touching and questioning are encouraged here, where you can feel the texture of beaver and fox pelts or examine the skulls of deer, wolf and cougar. The room is stuffed full of antlers, fish, duck wings, native prairie grasses and more.
The Rock Creek Trail follows the Des Moines River for most of its route through the park. To get a good view of the river, climb up to the Dinosaur Ridge Overlook. These bluffs are about 150 feet high and continue to flank the river to Jackson. You can also get a broad view of the river valley from the lookout tower near the picnic area.
From the Sioux Trail, you can see how the creeks have cut U-shaped valleys into the prairie and savanna to reach the river. To the west and south of the park is the "coteau des prairies" (slope of the prairies) that influences the flow of water. Water on the eastern slope, like the Des Moines River, flows into the Mississippi River, while water on the western side flows into the Missouri River.
The park's semi-modern campground is small (33 sites; 11 electric) but rarely crowded. Just downhill from the campground are four wooded walk-in sites that are about 100 yards from a hilltop parking area. The amphitheater and the picnic shelter are gathering spots fro the park's interpretive programs.
Although this region is full of pioneer lore, it also has a rich Indian heritage. Near Jeffers, north of Windom (Cottonwood County), are the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a collection of ancient Indian rock carvings surrounded by native prairie. An interpretive center, administered by Minnesota Historical Society, focuses on the carvings and the prairie landscape.
Cross-country skiers can glide from the parking lot into the valley and along the river on a 1.5-mile trail (ski rental is available). Snowmobilers also start from the parking lot, traversing the prairie and descending to the river bottom on a 3.5-mile trail network. Snow-tubing on the sliding hill and hiking are other popular winter activities at Kilen Woods State Park.