Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
By Jim Umhoefer
The mature, dense hardwood forest at Nerstrand has always been a place of refuge. Dakota Indians lived and hunted here, and settlers depended on the trees for fuel and building material. Today, people come to the same forest for a different type of refuge. Nerstrand is the last sizable glimpse of the Big Woods, a deciduous forest that once spread over all south-central Minnesota. Growing towns and farms have nibbled at the woods so much that only scattered parcels remain. This park is the only place where you can find the endangered Dwarf Trout Lily in the wild.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located about 11 miles southeast of Northfield in Minnesota’s Rice Count
The hike down to Hidden Falls along Prairie Creek is a treat for the senses. Stop to smell the earthy aroma of moist vegetation. Feel the sponginess of the trail, blocked from the sun by the tall trees. As you descend into the valley, campground and picnic area noise melts into the sound of wind rustling through the leaves. Soon, what you thought was the wind turns into the rushing voice of the waterfall. As you cross the footbridge behind the falls, notice how pitch and tone shift with your position. The air feels warmer as you climb up the valley trail, and the sounds merge from waterfall to wind and back to picnic area.