Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (Minnesota) 08-Feb-2023

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park preserves an island of woods (sugar maple, basswood, oak, hickory, aspen, elm, ash, ironwood) in the vast oak savanna prairie that once covered much of central Minnesota. One of the principal attractions within the park is Hidden Falls, where Prairie Creek drops about 15 feet (4.5 m) over a limestone ledge.

Nerstrand was one of the first state parks we visited after moving to Minnesota. We did the Hiking Club Trail here in May, and despite an ongoing drought, enough rain had fallen earlier in the year to put the falls into action for us. It’s an elegant little waterfall and we were charmed by it. As were the many other people who were also visiting the falls then.

We made a mental note to stop back during the winter to see what the falls looked like frozen. Today, which offered a brief bout of particularly good weather (sunny 😎 with a high of 40℉ (4℃)!), seemed the ideal time to make good on this note. Fortunately, despite the unseasonable warmth, we found the falls were still frozen. And, unlike our visit last May, we had them to ourselves.

Having already done the Hiking Club loop, we constructed an alternate loop out of the Hidden Falls, Fawn, Hope, Beaver, and White Oak Trails. These were all well-packed snow with a crunchy, high traction surface. We did, however, need our microspikes to get safely across the sheet of ice covering the parking lot. 🤨

Starting out on the east side of the Hidden Falls Trail
Descending to Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls I
Hidden Falls (May 2022)
Hidden Falls II
Hidden Falls III
Hidden Falls IV
Oak leaf in ice
Oak leaf almost in ice
Hidden Falls V
Crossing the floating bridge on the Beaver Trail
The floating bridge (May 2022)
On the Fawn Trail through the Big Woods
Starting the loop on our namesake trail
On the Hope Trail
On the Beaver Trail
Returning on the White Oak Trail
In death is the promise of a new season
On the bridge shortly before reaching the parking lot

Our loop came to 5.6 miles (9.0 km) with 590 feet (180 m) of gain – the falls being at the bottom of a broad canyon. The weather for this hike was almost too good to be true except that it was. 😁

As we were driving back, I was struck by two thoughts (which is a lot for me): (1) No matter how beautiful winter can be, living in a full four season climate is making us truly appreciate the warmer seasons and (2) In just a few short months, the miles and miles of snow covered farm fields we were passing through would be coming alive with greenery and new crops. Seasons seem truly miraculous. 😊

Our loop through Nerstrand Big Woods past Hidden Falls

3 thoughts on “Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (Minnesota) 08-Feb-2023

  1. I especially enjoyed this post since you were in my county of Rice. I love how you show the same scenes in various seasons. And, yes, I think we Minnesotans appreciate our variety of seasons more because of winter.


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