This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.

Just an hour south of the Twin Cities and 45 minutes southwest of Red Wing is a small oasis called Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

“Our big draw here is the waterfall,” said Brad Frazier, assistant park manager. “That is what most people want to come and see.”

Frazier said as many as 90% of visitors ask for directions to Hidden Falls. The trail to the falls is only four-tenths of a mile, so most visitors find the task of getting there easy and rewarding. A total of 11 miles of trails wind through the park, giving visitors many options for walking possibilities.

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Frazier said he wants visitors to realize “what a jewel this park is. It is so near the Cities and farm country. To have this contiguous forest here is just a miracle, that it wasn’t burned down or plowed under in the past.”

“Most of our visitors are from the Twin Cities,” Frazier said. “Some people want to look for birds. Some people want to look at plants. What they enjoy is being away from the Cities.”

A log playground near the picnic area awaits young visitors at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
A log playground near the picnic area awaits young visitors at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Visitors can see over 200 varieties of wildflowers as well as many species of animals such as raccoons, fox and deer, and birds including woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, bobolinks and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

The trails are family-friendly, and a log playground and picnic area are close to the entrance station. Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.

Many people enjoy camping at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, which features 51 drive-in sites with 27 having electricity. Four rustic walk-in sites are located within 200 yards of the parking area.

Campers have often reported a special nighttime treat.

“You can hear the barred owl almost any night,” Frazier said.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is a place to escape, slow down and appreciate the quiet.

“I guess it is a place for people to come and be restored, to be restored from their daily lives,” Frazier said.

If you go...

Name: Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Address: 9700 170th St, E., Nerstrand, Minn.

Phone: 507-384-6140

Email: nerstrand.statepark@state.mn.us

Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00241#homepage

Hours: Office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Park closes daily at 10 p.m.

Admission: $7 per day per vehicle or $35 for a year-round Minnesota state parks permit.