Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Waterfalls in the winter are absolutely magical.
We always try to do something fun for my sister’s birthday. We’ve been to Vegas, Mexico and surprised her with a day trip to Red Wing to see Boyz II Men in concert. This time we stayed a bit more local and went to Minneopa State Park in Mankato which was a little over an hour from Prior Lake. I had been there one other time in the summer a couple years ago. We didn’t tell her where we were going, only to dress warm.
Minneopa State Park
Minneopa comes from the Dakota language which means “water falling twice”. This park actually has 2 different spots to go that are across the road from each other. The first one we stopped at was the Bison Drive and the second one is the Falls. If you want to learn more detailed information about the park visit the state website here (https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00235#information).
It costs $7 for a day pass or you can purchase a year pass if you plan to go to any more of the 75 state parks in MN.
The last time I came we didn’t see any Bison so I didn’t get my hopes up. We drove up to the entrance and there were quite a few cars parked there. Usually when there are a lot of cars parked in one area there is something to see and sure enough the Bison were by the fence a little bit up the trail. The Bison roam free in 331 acres of enclosed land which is why you can’t see them all the time. There is a walking trail all around the enclosed area. The Bison Drive is where you can drive inside the area where they roam but stay in your vehicle for this part! While driving, you can tune your radio on the specified channel and they share facts with you while you drive. Note that the drive is not open on Wednesdays and closes at 3:30 pm so check the website prior to going just to be sure it is open.
We parked by the entrance and walked over to the area where the bison were. There were quite a few bison and some calves as well. If we got too close to the fence there was one that would come charging over, so we stayed our distance and wanted to respect the Bison. I managed to snap a few photos while keeping my distance. It was getting pretty cold so we headed back to the car to drive through the enclosed area. We didn’t see anymore Bison but we listened to some facts on the radio. The Bison had left the area near the fence after we did the drive so I’m glad we caught a glimpse when we did. On to the Falls side of the park.
The falls is only a short walk from the parking lot, but it was extremely icy, so we had to watch where we were walking. We got to the bridge and the water looked amazing. The spray from the falls frosted over the tree branches around the river and it was so pretty. I had never seen a waterfall in the winter, and I must say I think I like it better. In this instance at least. The frozen water on the rocks looked like quartz. We then walked down the path more to see the second, bigger falls. It looked so cool because some of the falls on the side were frozen but the main waterfall was rushing down. The flowing water is so powerful it’s hard to believe it freezes over.
We chose not to walk on the trails below due to the icy conditions. My 6 year old son and I went down the stairs a little bit but it wasn’t very safe so we turned around. It was starting to get cold, so we decided to head back to the car. I took a little longer time getting back because I was taking photos. I couldn’t get enough of the magical water flowing over the frozen rocks.
I plan to go back this spring or summer to do more hiking close to the falls. Although, I think this park is perfect to visit in the winter. This trip was at the end of December.