Blue is King at Carley State Park

Apr 13, 2023Events, Guest Blog, State Parks

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Brainerd is in the heart of Minnesota's Lake Country

By Rudi Hargesheimer

Each spring, wildflowers display a kaleidoscope of colors at Carley State Park, but blue is king.
For just a few weeks, Mertensia Virginica, or Virginia Bluebells, bloom profusely on the flood plain of the North Branch of the Whitewater River. They crawl up the hillsides toward the tall white pines on the limestone bluffs, spill onto the forest floor in hues of pink and purple and provide a feast for butterflies. They also draw the attention of human visitors who gather to celebrate the delicate flower at the annual Carley Bluebell Festival, hosted by the Lions Club of nearby Plainview, MN and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR).

Closeup view of blue, pink and purple trumpet shaped Virginia Bluebell flowers

Activities include a family scavenger hunt, Mother’s Day card making for kids, archery for ages 8 and older, and wildflower walks. This time of year, many blooming wildflowers make appearances along the park’s five miles of hiking trails. A large bend in the Whitewater River curves below the bluffs and the Wildflower Trail follows the river on the flood plain. Concrete block stepping-stones across the water allow access to the bluffs, home to stands of White Pine, an unusual sight this far south in Minnesota.

The oval wooden entrance sign to Carley State Park is mounted on rough-hewn timbers

Carley State Park is named after State Senator James A. Carley. His family and the Ernestina Bolt families donated the land to the state of Minnesota in 1948. Today, 209-acre Carley State Park might be considered a sister to Whitewater State Park, its much larger neighbor to the east. Both are in the Whitewater River watershed, but Carley is located in the upper reaches of the North Branch. The bluffs at Carley are not as tall as those at Whitewater and the camping is more rustic, but crowds are rare and the trout fishing is just as good, if not better. In the fall, the maple forest glows with reds and yellows.

Carley Bluebell Festival
May 13, 2023
Carley State Park
Plainview, MN
More info on the MNDNR website

About the Author

About the Author

Rudi Hargesheimer is a long-time North Shore enthusiast. He discovered the new Superior Hiking Trail in 1986 and was soon a Superior Hiking Trail Association volunteer board member, serving twelve years – six of those as President. Rudi was a 40-year employee and manager at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. He traveled extensively all over the world, coming to realize that the best adventures of all were on Minnesota’s North Shore and the Superior Hiking Trail as his photos will attest. He has written many articles about adventure in Minnesota as a contributor to Minnesota Trails Magazine, Lake Superior Magazine and other regional publications. His current business is North Shore Photo Art.

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
The Scenic Shore 150 Bike Tour is a two-day, 150-mile, fully supported cycling event that is open to riders of all ages and abilities.
The Mesabi Trail connects Minnesota's Iron Range with the Boundary Waters
Brainerd is in the heart of Minnesota's Lake Country
Love the Life in Luverne, Minnesota and take a spin on the Loop Trail around town and into Blue Mounds State Park
Ride the Tomassoni Tour and cycle for ALS, on the beautiful Mesabi Trail in northern Minnesota.

Keep up with the latest MN Trails news and events in our newsletter

About me

I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.


Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Miles of winter smiles wait for you in Park Rapids, MN, the source of the Mississippi.

More stories:

Must-Do Bike Rides in 2024

Road, trail, gravel, you name it. Take a look at our list of 2024 bike rides and mark your calendars!

Adventure Report: Heart of the Lakes Trail

Our work on the way up was rewarded with glorious roll after glorious roll, the ribbon of trail disappearing into the distance and around the next curve.

Trail Pairings: Rendezvous Brewing

If you’re into loop rides and craft beers, you should visit Paul Bunyan and his sweetheart, Lucette.

Trail Pairings: Stillwater

The iconic 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge has been reimagined as a bike and pedestrian crossing. Imagine pairing a ride on the new loop trail with a visit to two Stillwater breweries.

Life is Good on the Root

This photo essay takes you on a trip into southern Minnesota’s Bluff Country.

Adventure Report: Lake Shetek State Park

A spontaneous trip to southwestern Minnesota gives our snowshoes a workout.

Trail Pairings: Southern Minnesota Gravel

When it comes to the road less travelled, there’s one between Sleepy Eye and New Ulm you should try. There’s a reward at each end.

The Superior Hiking Trail Story: The Trek Continues

This sequel to Rudi Hargesheimer’s 2020 book, The Superior Hiking Trail Story, takes a deeper dive into the trail’s history and covers the closing of the Gooseberry Gap.

You’re Invited: Redhead MTB Park Grand Opening in Chisholm, MN

The soft opening happened in 2020, but now there’s ten more miles on the ground at Redhead.

The Year of the Fat: First Quarter

The Year of the Fat in which I’ll ride only my fat bike.

Trail Pairings: A Trip to Hastings, MN

In our first outing of the year we explore the trails of the river city at the confluence of the St.Croix and Mississippi.

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Fergus Falls is the gateway to the scenic Central Lakes State Trail.

Please join our newsletter mailing list!

It’s your source for sneak previews of the next print issue, new trails to explore, upcoming events and the latest blog posts. We promise to keep it brief, entertaining and relevant and you can unsubscribe anytime. We will not share your info with anyone.

* indicates required