Bison Enclosure Loop

Minneopa State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, August 5th, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, August 14th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★☆☆☆☆(1/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 5 miles roundtrip
Time 2.5 hours
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Disappointment is the word that comes to mind with this hike and state park. After a less than stellar visit to the Waterfalls Area in this park, I was hoping seeing a herd of live bison would redeem my experience here. Boy was I wrong.

First, to even get to this hike, you have to drive through the middle of the enclosure almost its entire length -- I didn't see any bison. Then, near the historic Seppmann Mill, you are on top of a hill overlooking the entire enclosure (I couldn't see any bison here). Finally, this hike circles the entire perimeter of the bison enclosure (still no bison). I finally saw a glimpse of bison in the distance on the drive out, but they were too far to take a picture. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed here.

Worsening this matter was that this hike is extremely uninteresting. Other than the hope that you may see bison any second now, there isn't much else to look at on this hike. The trail is flat and overgrown; my girlfriend and I joked the entire time that the person who usually mows the lawn must have quit in the middle of doing his job. There were even some portions of trail that were so overgrown we had to take a different route. By the last two miles of the hike, we were both wishing for it to be over.

From the parking lot, head southeast towards the old mill. This area is probably the highlight of the whole hike. The mill is pretty cool, even though it's a reconstruction. The view from the top of this hill is also nice because there are no trees, and you should see many prairie flowers like the purple and yellow ones in the picture below.

The view from the top of the hill

The view from the top of the hill
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Now descend the hill, and begin the long, flat walk around the bison enclosure. The best part will be the many prairie flowers and grasses taller than yourself growing on either side of the trail (see picture below). After a couple bends, the trail will be completely straight.
The pretty prairie flowers adjacent to the trail

The pretty prairie flowers adjacent to the trail
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Eventually, the trail will turn to the left and you will see the park sign as shown below. The trail may be so overgrown in places you will have to walk on the dirt road running parallel. Watch for cars as you pass the entrance gate to the bison enclosure. Turn left at the trail junction ahead to continue around the bison enclosure.
The Minneopa State Park sign

The Minneopa State Park sign
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You may have noticed an icon for an overlook along this trail on the official park map (see link below). This is yet another disappointment, as you will soon find out. The view here is, unsurprisingly, overgrown as you can see in the image below.
The overgrown overlook

The overgrown overlook
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Continue on the trail until you reach a split. If you are interested in collecting the Hiking Club password or taking the shorter route (by 0.1 miles), head to the right. If you really hope to see some bison, go to the left. Once these two trails meet, there is an additional side trail that goes to the Minnesota River, adding an additional 0.4 miles to the hike. At the time of writing, the trail was closed because the bridge was out (why was I not surprised). Keep hiking around the bison enclosure until you reach the dirt road. The trail resumes on the other side, but you may have to continue hiking on the road instead if the trail is flooded (it was for me).

In my opinion Blue Mounds State Park is a much better experience if you want to see bison (their herd is giant at about 100). Although the drive to Blue Mounds might be much further than here, it is definitely worth the trip, with interesting geology, a giant bison herd, and the opportunity to stay overnight in a teepee. Maybe I came to Minneopa State Park on the wrong day and a perfect storm of disappointing things ruined my experience, but I do not recommend doing this hike. However, I think driving to the Seppmann Mill through the bison enclosure could be a worthwhile endeavor if you are in the area and actually see the bison. If you do this hike, please use the comment section below to let me know how your experience went!

Directions

From the Twin Cities, take U.S. Highway 169 towards Mankato. A bit outside of the city, turn right on Minnesota Highway 68 (there will be a brown sign pointing to Minneopa State Park that tells you to turn here). Turn right to enter the park, then stop at the kiosk on the right to pay your park fee. Turn left to continue onto the road through the bison enclosure and follow the road until it ends at the parking area.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). The dirt parking lot isn't particularly large, but people come and go frequently, especially if you can't see the bison from the top of this hill.

External Links

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