Hidden Falls and Hiking Club Loop

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Sunday, September 10th, 2017
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 19th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 2.3 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is an oasis of trees in the midst of nothing but farm fields. The park's location deep in the country away from major highways combined with the densely forested rolling hills makes this a peaceful escape into nature without requiring a long drive or strenuous hike. While most people opt to do only the Hidden Falls Trail, the remainder of the Hiking Club loop allows you to go deeper into this magical old growth forest to fully experience this patch of wilderness. This is probably one of the most beautiful places near the Twin Cities to see fall colors and spring wildflowers -- the park hosts the endangered Minnesota dwarf trout lily, a plant found nowhere else in the world except for three Minnesota counties.

Dogs are allowed on leash. This is a perfect family friendly hike: the Hiking Club program is a great way to introduce your kids to hiking and there are ample opportunities to play in the sand and shallow water near the waterfall. Winter use of the trail is unclear based on the park's official website and map; hiking and snowshoeing is permitted on ungroomed trails but they do not specify which trails are groomed during winter. The Hidden Falls Trail has portions with stairs -- not ideal for skiing -- so you should at least be able to hike to the falls in winter. I did this trail on a lovely Sunday afternoon, and I saw only a handful of people on the White Oak Trail and Beaver Trail while the Hidden Falls Trail was quite popular. I had to wait a while before getting a people-free shot of the falls.

If you're a frequent reader of my hikes, you know that I like to save the best part for last. This hike is no different, so follow the White Oak Trail at the south end of the parking lot so you too may save Hidden Falls for the end. The trail starts by walking past the park office, then bending right and winding adjacent to the park road. Ahead, turn right following the blue Hiking Club sign to stay on the White Oak Trail.

Once you start walking away from the road, it feels like the hike has truly started. Take a right at the intersection ahead, then stay right at the next intersection. Here the trail begins drifting downhill to Prairie Creek, whose waters eventually cascade over the ledge creating Hidden Falls. Cross the wooden bridge and view the creek as pictured below, then turn left at the intersection after the bridge.

The muddy Prairie Creek in the big woods

The muddy Prairie Creek in the big woods
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The trail climbs uphill, and once the trail levels you will be surrounded by impressive tall trees -- somehow the forest here feels even nicer than the bit previously. Your view ahead will look like the photo below, and on the right you can see to the bottom of the hill. Continue straight at the next intersection, then the trail will begin a descent back toward Prairie Creek. Turn right at the intersection ahead, then turn left at the next intersection; you should be able to see the creek and hear the falls (and probably see more people).
The trail cutting between tall timbers

The trail cutting between tall timbers
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Hop across the big concrete blocks to cross Prairie Creek, then take the stairs down to Hidden Falls. If you're here on a nice afternoon, there will probably be kids playing in the water and people standing around taking pictures. Find a place to sit and have a snack while you wait for your turn to photograph the falls. When you're done, head back up the stairs and follow the Hidden Falls Trail back to the picnic area by the parking lot -- this section has uphill with some stairs, but the climb isn't as long as the previous climb on this hike.

I hope you enjoyed this great nature escape near the Twin Cities. With a waterfall and majestic tall trees, this is definitely a destination worth your time. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!


If you want to avoid dirt roads, you must enter the park from the east side where the park road is paved. Be wary if your directions are much different than mine! From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35 south. Exit at County Road 1, then turn left toward Dundas. Follow County Road 1 as it winds through town: turn left on Railway Street, right on Hester Street, then left on 2nd Street. Turn right onto Minnesota Highway 246, and turn right again in about 5 miles to stay on Minnesota Highway 246. Follow the sign for Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and turn right at County Road 40 (170th Street). Turn right at the park entrance, pay your fee, and drive straight to the parking lot.

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). There are flush toilets and a covered picnic area a short walk from the lot.

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Chimney Rock
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A flower filled meadow awaits you after an uphill climb
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