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Minneopa State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
The word Minneopa means “Water falling twice” in the Dakota language. The trademark of Minneopa State Park is a lovely set of two waterfalls that formed as Minneopa Creek cut into and eroded layers of sandstone at different rates. They plunge a total of 45 feet into the rocky gorge of Minneopa Creek in the Minnesota River Valley. The park’s other landmark is the historic Seppmann windmill, built of pasture stone and wood from surrounding groves.
Minneopa State Park is located three miles west of Mankato on the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Blue Earth County.

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The bison at Minneopa are descendants of those reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park and the Minnesota Zoo

The bison at Minneopa are descendants of those reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park and the Minnesota Zoo

The lower falls as seen from the river bottom at Minneopa State Park

The lower falls as seen from the river bottom

A short walk takes visitors to the waterfall viewing area at Minneopa State Park

A short walk takes visitors to the waterfall viewing area

Seppman Mill as seen from Bison Drive at Minneopa State Park

Seppmann Mill as seen from Bison Drive

 

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Trails
You can hike 2.5 miles on gravel road through oak savanna to Seppman’s Windmill, though the total number of hiking trails is closer to 4.5 miles. For a good view of both falls, take the trail that starts from the large picnic area and crosses the creek between the falls on a footbridge. A short distance down from the bridge, an opening in the trees reveals a vista of the 15-foot upper falls and the 30-foot lower falls. The trail then drops into the deep gorge until it reaches stream level. You may either continue following the creek or cross over another bridge and circle back up to the picnic ground.
Bring your bicycle when you visit Minneopa State Park. The paved Minneopa Trail will take you into nearby Mankato where you’ll have access to an extensive system of bike trails, including the scenic Red Jacket Trail with its historic trestle bridges and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail all the way into Faribault.

Hiking along the outside of the bison enclosure at Minneopa State Park

Hiking along the outside of the bison enclosure on the Seppman Mill Trail

The falls area is a popular day-use destination at Minneopa State Park

The falls area is a popular day-use destination

Hiking trails give you access to the river bottom at Minneopa State Park

Hiking trails give you access to the river bottom

Camping/Lodging
Since Minneopa State Park is primarily a day-use center, visitors usually will have no difficulty in selecting a campsite. The Red Fox campground offers over 61 semi-modern campsites spread over a mixture of open and wooded land. The park also has four primitive group camps for up to 15 each. For a more luxurious stay, you can rent the camper cabin, which sleeps five.
Seppmann Mill
The handsome structure, built in the European style by Louis Seppmann and a neighbor in 1864 was one of Minnesota’s first gristmills. Farmers hauled their grist as far as 20 miles by wagon and sometimes stayed overnight in the granary, which is still standing. After lightning struck in 1873, the two arms, or sail stock, were replaced. But when a tornado destroyed them again in 1880, it was no longer profitable to operate windmills, and the arms were not replaced. Today you can hike to the windmill and see preserved mill pieces and interpretive signs.

Historic Seppman Mill is a popular attraction at Minneopa State Park

Historic Seppman Mill is a popular attraction

Taking a break at Seppman Mill at Minneopa State Park

Taking a break at Seppman Mill

Interpretive Signs tell the story of the bison at the overlook near Seppman Mill at Minneopa State Park

Interpretive Signs tell the story of the bison at the overlook near Seppman Mill

Bison
Another attraction at Minneopa is the 331-acre bison enclosure. The so-called Bison Drive through the enclosure is open select days of the week spring through summer and allows you to get a glimpse of the bison herd from your vehicle. You cannot hike through this area, but hiking trails around the fenced-in pasture offer scenic overlooks where you may try to spot one.

The goal is to eventually have a herd of about 40 bison here at Minneopa State Park

The goal is to eventually have a herd of about 40 bison here

On Bison Drive at Minneopa State Park

On Bison Drive

The 331-acre enclosure at Minneopa is one of two in the Minnesota State Park system

The 331-acre enclosure at Minneopa is one of two in the Minnesota State Park system

Area History
The main body of Minneopa State Park is across Highway 68 from the waterfalls area. This is a large prairie area that the Dakota called “Tinta-inya-ota” or “Prairie with many rocks”. The big boulders, known as glacial erratics, were transported from a hundred miles away and deposited here by glaciers some 15,000 years ago. Some of these boulders, scattered around the park’s grassland, are split in two, possibly from seasonal cycles of freeze and thaw. The land surrounding the campground is being restored to native prairie by periodic controlled burning and replanting.
Winter
Birdwatchers visit Minneopa State Park in the winter to observe the year-round residents as they hunt for food in the river valley. Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park.

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