Whitetail Woods Regional Park (Dakota County, MN) 30-Aug-2022

Our faithful 60 Hikes guide was suggesting a hike at the Miesville Ravine, which is part of the Dakota County parks system. But when we went to their website, our gaze fell on a longer hike at Whitetail Woods Regional Park. This hike is not in the guide and we weren’t sure what we might find out there. But the unknown has always been alluring. So, in a moment of impetuous abandon, we decided to visit Whitetail instead of Miesville. 😊

Thus, with caution trailing behind us, we motored out to the park’s Camper Cabin Trailhead. The 465 acre (188 ha) Whitetail Woods was established in 2014, the first new park in Dakota County in some 25+ years. The newness of Whitetail is reflected in the architecturally impressive camper cabins that sit near where we parked. They’re apparently quite popular and thus difficult to rent. Fortunately, we were just here to hike.

Prairie camper cabin
One of the Prairie camper cabins (note Parks Canada style red chairs)

Obtaining a park map from the kiosk, we plotted a loop south around the lake and back past the Main Trailhead on the southeast side of the park. Trails run between numbered intersections and there are trail maps posted at each of these points. We suppose you could get lost here but, given the excellent signage and the neatly mowed trails, you’d really, really have to work at it (perhaps with a headlamp-free night hike during a blizzard πŸ€”).

From Intersection 13 at the Camper Cabin Trailhead, we went through Intersections 15, 14, 5, 9, 4, 2, 3, and then out to the overlook at Intersection 1. The weather cooperated with our efforts by being hiking perfect all morning. 😎

Leaving Intersection 13 at Whitetail Woods State Park, MN
Heading out from Intersection 13
Hedge Bindweed (native)
On one of the mown trails through the prairie
Prairie grasses
The prairie was going all out with color during these last days of summer
Black Eyed-Susan
A rolling terrain with prairie and stands of forest
A boardwalk on the paved trail crossing the marsh near Intersection 4

At Intersection 2 on the paved trail, we found a spur trail that would take us to Intersection 3 and then out to an overlook at Intersection 1. So, of course, we had to go see what was to be seen. The park’s website had mentioned that goats were working in this area and the electric fence we were following – plus a distinct odor on the breeze – confirmed this.

We soon came upon the flock 🐐🐐🐐 and saw that each goat had two ear tags – one with a number and the other with their name. Each goat had a name! Wonderful – easier to remember than a number. There was also a helped wanted sign for goatwatchers. Outdoor work, fresh air, little critters to keep you company – tempting. Think shepherds, not The Men Who Stare at Goats. πŸ™„

Along the goat fence toward Intersection 3
Goats
Working goats holding their safety meeting
On to the overlook at Intersection 1
Looking south from Intersection 1

We doubled back from Intersection 1 and then went along Empire Lake past Intersection 16 and across the dam that creates the lake. Then up past the facilities at the Main Trailhead and back to our trailhead past Intersections 24, 19, 28, 14, 15, 18, and 17.

Past a vast field of Goldenrod on the way back from Intersection 1
Empire Lake comes into view
On the dam
Empire Lake at Whitetail Woods State Park, MN
Empire Lake
Past thick lines of Black-eyed Susans on the way to Intersection 15
On the way to Intersection 17 – some of the Camper Cabins are in the pine forest straight ahead
Fall is coming

Our loop came to 4.5 miles (7.2 km) with a cumulative 300 feet (91 m) of gain. We found that Whitetail comprised a delightfully rolling landscape, one contoured by glacial retreat and, later, agricultural uses. We experienced prairie land glowing with late summer color, patches of pine and oak forest, surprisingly open vistas, and Empire Lake – a small, picturesque waterbody created by an earthen dam. We had chosen wisely in going with our gut, and not the guidebook, on this one. πŸ˜‰πŸ˜

Map of hike at Whitetail Woods State Park
Our loop around Whitetail Woods

We would discover later that adjacent to Whitetail is the University of Minnesota’s UMore Park which contains the 11 miles (18 km) Lone Rock Trail – a longer path through similarly gentle, rolling prairie and woodlands. This trail is open to hiking from January 1 through October 31. Something for us to keep in mind. 😊

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