North Meadow Trail

Oxbow Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, August 19th, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, September 11th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 3 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No


Hike Summary

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.

View of the South Branch Middle Fork Zumbro River from the 3rd Bridge

View of the South Branch Middle Fork Zumbro River from the 3rd Bridge
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Once you reach the top of the hill, you will be treated to the meadow that gives this trail its name (pictured at the top of the page). Here the grass grows up to your shoulders and flowers bloom, like the purple coneflowers pictured below (if your mother ever gave you echinacea for your cold as a child, those plants are where it comes from). At the intersection ahead, you have two options. You can continue on the North Meadow Trail which curves around the outside of the meadow through dense forest without meadow views and with additional uphill and downhill sections, or you can take the Prairie Shortcut Trail, which travels straight through the meadow and allows you to enjoy this environment in all its glory (which do you think I recommend?). Eventually both options meet again further down the trail. While there is a map here to help aid your navigation, it does not show the Prairie Shortcut Trail at all and so many people have pointed at this intersection on the map that all of the details have been rubbed away. Take the trail heading into the forest, otherwise you will end up back at the start of the meadow.
Purple coneflowers in the meadow

Purple coneflowers in the meadow
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The next section of trail wanders through dense forest with a little more uphill and downhill. Watch for interesting mushrooms like the ones pictured below. At the intersection, turn left to take the Maple Trail, then stay straight at the next intersection. Cross over the bridge (called 2nd Bridge), then turn left on the other side. Cut through the middle of the campground (be sure not to walk through someone's site) and follow the trail next to the bathrooms back to the parking lot.
Mushrooms on the forest floor

Mushrooms on the forest floor
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I hope you enjoy Oxbow Park as much as I did! This is truly an excellent destination to spend a day and is definitely worth the drive from the Twin Cities. Let me know what you think using the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!


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.

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