From Carley, we made our way over to Whitewater State Park, which sits astride the Middle Branch of the Whitewater River. This and other watercourses have deeply incised this southeastern edge of Minnesota, making for a delightful drive through valleys bounded by steep, heavily wooded slopes.
The Hiking Club route at Whitewater goes only to Coyote Point, one of four named points in the park. But we wanted more. So we crafted a loop that took us over Coyote, then circled back past Chimney Rock and over Inspiration Point. We got to cross the Middle Branch and Trout Run Creek. And climb a bunch of stairs too.😅
After parking at the Nature Center, we took the Dakota Trail up many stairs (200?), past an impressive limestone cliff, then up more stairs to an expansive view from Coyote Point. From there, we followed the Coyote Point Trail, through forest and past prairie lands, as it descended to a crossing of the Middle Branch near the campground.
The Coyote Point Trail dropped us at the north end of the Cedar Hill campground. We wandered through various campsites until we found a trail that would take us to the start of the Chimney Rock Trail. We knew we’d reached that trail when we saw yet another stairway (100+ stairs ?) heading steeply upward. Panting and gasping ensued.
Chimney Rock proved to be a free-standing column of St. Peter sandstone, with a weather-resistant cap of calcite-infused rock. There’s also a keyhole through its base. After speculating (silently) that Chimney Rock is likely the “family friendly” name for this geological protuberance, we pressed on toward Inspiration Point. 🙄
At this point, we were inspired to call it a day. But first there was the little matter of negotiating a REALLY STEEP set of stairs down to where we could work our way down-canyon on a narrow trail with even more stairs!
The stairs finally relented and we crossed Trout Creek Run to a nice, level walk back to the parking lot. After purchasing trinkets at the Nature Center, we drove back to Rochester for dinner and sleep to regain our strength for yet more parks (but fewer stairs) on the morrow. 😴
Our loop came to 4.0 miles (6.4 km) with 700 feet (213 m) of elevation gain. Not a long hike but a very aerobic one given all those stairs. But the views, forests, cliffs, creeks, and geology we encountered made all the panting and sweating well worth it. 😁