Fort Ridgely State Park (Minnesota) 22-Jun-2022

The heat dome came, steamed us like an overwrought sauna, then drifted off to beleaguer the East Coast. For at least two nights, the temperature here barely got below 80℉ (26 ℃). Gag. πŸ˜“ Flashbacks to hot nights on the San Juan.

But we pushed on with our home repairs during the early morning hours and in the cool of the downstairs during the heat of the day. Doing so brought new meaning to sweat equity. But then a cooler, less humid day was forecast and we decided to down hammers and get on with our state park quest. πŸ˜ƒ

The three parks we chose for this adventure were Fort Ridgely, Flandrau, and Minneopa, strung out along the Minnesota River northwest of Mankato. Rather than drive back and forth individually to these parks that are over an hour drive from Minneapolis, we did them all in one day in one long out-and-back drive. This saved us several hours on the road (and quite a bit on gas). To accomplish three in a day that kept getting hotter, we stuck to doing just the Hiking Club route in each park.

We started this state park trifecta day by driving through the green Minnesota countryside to Fort Ridgely State Park near Fairfax. We parked at the Chalet and went counter-clockwise on the Fairway, Upper Prairie, and River View Trails. This loop circles the historic fort site, so we visited that after we’d finished with the hike.

Starting on the Hiking Club loop
Approaching the open meadows of the Fairway
Narrow-leaved Purple Cornflower
Hiking up the Fairway
Crossing the upper (restored) prairie
Prairie Rose
Blue Verain
A butterfly stops for minerals off my sweaty back
The view to the west
Tall grass fronds
Salsify seed head
A field of Common Yarrow
Butterfly Weed
And back to the trailhead…

Fort Ridgely is known primarily for the pivotal role it played in the Dakota War of 1862. The Dakota lost this war (seemingly because the fort had cannons) and this loss set in motion the largest single execution in U.S. history and the genocidal removal of most of the Dakota people from Minnesota. While we are intimately familiar with the depredations levied on Western tribes during (and after) the inexorable waves of European settlement, it was a shock to find that these same wretched things took place here too. To quote the University of Minnesota, “…the Dakota War of 1862 continues to be a difficult period of history for many Minnesotans to explore.” πŸ˜₯ But it doesn’t get any less difficult if you don’t explore it.

The 1896 Monument and a restored building at Fort Ridgely
Window detail, Fort Ridgely
The 1896 monument

The Hiking Club route is officially 2.6 miles (4.2 km) long with minimal elevation gain. The trails were obvious and well marked, with maps at all the major junctions. This hike was a great way to see wide swaths of restored prairie interspersed with stands of tall oaks. 😁 We managed it in the cool of the morning under blue skies and with a good breeze. This breeze was not only cooling but also kept a fulsome abundance of flying insects at bay (usually, but not always). These flyers weren’t the biting kind but rather those that want to fly directly in your ear or up your nasal passage – which is almost as irksome than being bitten. πŸ˜’

The Jiking Club route at Fort Ridgely State Park
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7 thoughts on “Fort Ridgely State Park (Minnesota) 22-Jun-2022

  1. “Weed” really doesn’t do it justice. It’s native here and a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. It’s bright orange splotches really enliven the green prairie. 😊

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  2. I’ll have to see about getting a copy of The Seed Keepers. Familiar though we are with tribal issues in the West, the Dakota War still came as a surprise. The somewhat conflicting stories told by the signs (perhaps from different eras and not updated?) at the fort only made us more curious about what went on there in 1862. It’s far from a happy story, so we can see why folks might shy away from (or ignore) it.

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  3. You were in my home territory, which is even farther to the west in Redwood County. Thank you for highlighting the US-Dakota War of 1862, such an important part of Minnesota history and unknown to many, even Minnesotans. I encourage you to read “The Seed Keepers” an award-winning fictional book, but rooted in history, by Diane Wilson. I reviewed it this week on my blog: https://mnprairieroots.com/2022/06/21/the-seed-keeper-an-award-winning-book-every-minnesotan-should-read/

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  4. I agree it’s definitely a good way to see a new state! But I’d say visiting all the wildernesses in Oregon is a much better way to see the diversity in the state! We do have some nice state parks too but I’m partial to the wilderness.

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  5. No, we never made it to all of Oregon’s state parks. πŸ˜₯ But we did visit and/or hike in all of Oregon’s wilderness areas (save the 2 that are closed to humans). 😁 We figure trying to visit all the ones in MN is a quick way to see a lot of our new state. Beats staying at home. πŸ˜‰

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  6. Reading about all these lovely state parks in Minnesota made me wonder, did you guys visit all the State Parks in Oregon while you were here?

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