Traveler - Giving Thanks for Minnesota Public Lands

minnesota department of natural resources


giving thanks for public lands banner

November, 2017

Park Highlight:  Great River Bluffs State Park

view at Great River Bluffs State Park

Located 20 miles southeast of Winona, Great River Bluffs Sate Park is situated in beautiful bluff country!  The experience of standing atop the 500-foot-high bluffs and looking out over the scenic Mississippi River Valley can provoke feelings of appreciation and thankfulness for the abundant beauty our natural resources provide to all Minnesotans.

In addition to camping, hiking and birdwatching, in this park you will find a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), King's and Queen's Bluff SNA, offering breathtaking views. The river valley is a major flyway for waterfowl, eagles, and hawks.  Visit in November while tundra swans are gathered by the thousands at the nearby Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge at Brownsville.

The List:  Scientific and Natural Areas


Scientific and Natural Areas banner with bluff landscape in background

 King’s and Queen’s Bluff Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is only one of more than 160 SNAs in Minnesota.  So what is an SNA anyway?  SNAs are minimum use sites that have been set aside to protect natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value.  SNAs are open for hiking but visitors must be aware that there are no trails, facilities, signage and sometimes there are not even parking lots at these locations.  Visitors should research on-line before visiting a site to download maps and get information about special use rules.

Below are some family-friendly SNAs to explore;

  • Wood-Rill SNA: One of the few SNAs with trails. Great example of an old-growth forest in the Big Woods.
  • Lost 40: A small, yet significant old-growth white pine-red pine stand. Includes Minnesota's biggest red pine.
  • Bluestem Prairie SNA: A high-quality tallgrass prairie. One of the few places where you can still get a sense of the vastness of the prairie landscape.
  • Iona’s Beach SNA: An interesting pebble beach on Lake Superior. It lies between Gooseberry and Split Rock Lighthouse state parks.
Learn More
Explore the list of SNAs in Minnesota.

Game Time:  Public Lands Challenge


kids with hiking sticks

Did you know there are different types of public lands in Minnesota?  The State of Minnesota, through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), oversees the management of 75 state parks and recreation areas.  But there are also other types of units, each established by law to meet different objectives and to allow for different uses.  There are more than 1,500 locations outside of state parks where you can find adventure and create family memories to last a lifetime!

You can make a public lands passport or journal and challenge your family to explore one of each of the following types of state lands in Minnesota.  Document your travels as you go!

Nature Sightings:  Tundra Swans


tundra swans in flight

Each November, tundra swans gather in huge flocks along the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge between Weaver and Brownsville, Minnesota.  Unlike our year-round resident, the trumpeter swan, tundra swans can only be seen passing through Minnesota during their spring and fall migrations between Chesapeake Bay and the arctic tundra.  

Fall is the best time to view these birds when up to 50,000 swans gather to feed on starchy bulbs or tubers of plants like arrowhead (duck potato), wild celery and sago buried in the river bottom.   A drive down Highway 61 from Great River Bluffs State Park to the observation deck at Brownsville is worth the time to witness this phenomenon.  Check out the Upper Mississippi River Refuge website for swan observation reports.

Learn More
Find more information about tundra swans.

Traveler Tip:  Special Hunts in State Parks


group hiking in blaze orange vests

Numerous hunts are scheduled to take place at Minnesota state parks this fall, as a way to help control the deer population in the parks. Our goal is to ensure healthy natural communities. If too many deer are in one area, the native plants and animals are negatively affected.  Access to the parks during these hunts varies around the state. Some state parks remain open to all visitors, some have limited public access, and some are open only to hunters with special permits.

If you will be visiting a state park during hunting season:

  • Wear blaze orange or other brightly colored clothing, even if you will not be hunting.
  • Check with the park office when you arrive, to see if there is any additional hunt-related information.
  • Watch carefully for any hunt-related signage in the park, and follow it!
Learn More
Find dates and locations of special park hunts.

Thank You Notes

handmade thank you card from student

Every year, hundreds of visitors to our state parks and trails send letters and cards to show appreciation for the experiences they’ve shared at these special places.  Here are a few thank you notes from visitors.

Great park! Well maintained, walking paths with great overlooks. Bathrooms are clean and the showers were a life saver! Very impressed!”   -Visitor from Great River Bluffs State Park

"Our 5th graders were very excited and had a lot of fun. Many of them had never 'hiked in the woods' before and were super excited to tell their families about our day. We appreciate your time and energy, as well as your dedication to sharing the Dakota story with our students." - Visiting school to Fort Snelling State Park

I can tell you all take pride in this park by how well you take care of it.  I also appreciate that you patrol the camping areas at night.  Thank you for your hospitality and having a wonderful nature center to give us history on this area and show us some of the different wildlife that’s here. ”  – Visitor from Whitewater State Park

Free Park Friday Events

parks and trails event calendar

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, the kids are full of energy and you still feel as stuffed as a turkey following that 4,000-calorie meal the day before. Want to exchange that sluggish feeling for pep? Take a hike, free of admission charge, at a state park on Friday, Nov. 24.

Many parks will offer Free Park Friday programs, including:

Learn More
Find more programs and events.

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