|Distance||3 miles roundtrip|
|Best Seasons||Spring, Summer, Fall|
- Butterflies and prairie flowers
- Free admission to Zollman Zoo with exhibits focused on Minnesota native animals
Oxbow Park is a hidden gem just outside of Rochester, just far enough away from main highways that road noise will not interrupt your peace and quiet. The trails here are well-maintained and beautiful with a variety of landscapes to satisfy your eyes. The best part of this park is the free Zollman Zoo which focuses entirely on animals native to Minnesota; while you might expect that a small, free zoo in the middle of nowhere doesn't have much to offer, they have everything: small mammals, wolves, bears, eagles, cougars, elk, and even a small herd of bison! This entire park was the most pleasant surprise I've had in a while.
This park is not dog friendly; dogs are not allowed on any of the trails across the river or in the zoo. While this particular hike is not kid friendly due to the longer distance and steep hill to climb, Oxbow Park is one of the best destinations near Rochester for cheap but exciting family time. In addition to the free zoo, the park also has an accessible play area referred to as the Path of Imagination Playscape.
The park website nor the park brochure specify whether or not the trails are available for winter hiking, but the park and zoo are both open year round (the zoo is closed for New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). My guess is the trails are not maintained in winter but you are permitted to hike. The park is pretty busy on weekends when the weather is nice, but I only saw a handful of people on the trail and I didn't see a soul once I arrived in the meadow.
I recommend starting by visiting the zoo -- you probably won't want to walk around in the sun to view the animals after you've hiked. After you've seen all the animals, exit the zoo through the nature center, then turn right and follow the trail along the fence on the north side of the zoo. When you reach the big open field, walk towards the bridge near the picnic area. Cross the bridge (dubbed the 3rd Bridge) over the South Branch Middle Fork Zumbro River (what a mouthful, also see the picture taken from the bridge below) and follow the trail to the left along the river. Ahead the trail intersects the North Meadow Trail and is clearly marked; turn sharply right and follow the North Meadow Trail uphill. The terrain is steep in some sections, and the climb on this section of the trail is what bumps up the difficulty of this hike from easy to moderate.
From the Twin Cities, take U.S. Highway 52 south towards Rochester. Take the exit for Pine Island (County Road 11). After driving through town the road bends right, then turn left onto County Road 3. Turn right onto County Road 5. After about 10 miles, turn left onto Valleyhigh Road, then immediately turn left again onto County Road 105. After you enter the park, follow signs for the Zollman Zoo.
From Rochester, take U.S. Highway 14 west, then turn right onto 60th Avenue. Turn left onto Valleyhigh Road, then turn right onto County Road 105. After you enter the park, follow signs for the Zollman Zoo.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free! The Zollman Zoo, flush toilets, and a picnic area are adjacent to the parking lot.