Upper Sioux Agency State Park (Minnesota) 15-May-2023

Upper Sioux Agency State Park was our last stop on this iteration of our state park~Hiking Club quest. This park encompasses a delightful piece of land at the confluence of the Yellow Medicine and Minnesota Rivers and we couldn’t have arrived on a nicer day for a hike here. It’s a beautiful landscape, but one with a dark past.

An agency was established here in 1854 to administer the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux between the U.S. government and the Upper Dakota Sioux, who had been moved to a reservation here from Iowa and elsewhere in Minnesota.

Failure of the government to faithfully honor this treaty (and others) lead (in part) to the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, one of the darkest chapters in Minnesota’s history. Most of the agency buildings here were looted and burned during this war – a conflict we knew nothing about until our visit to Fort Ridgely State Park last year. 😒

This park was established in 1963 primarily to “…preserve and interpret the remains of the old Agency site.” This Spring, 2 bills to authorize the transfer of these state park lands to the Upper Sioux Community were heard by the Minnesota Legislature.

A transfer at some point in the future would acknowledge β€œa historic wrong inflicted upon the Dakota people.” Discussions are still ongoing between the interested parties – we sincerely hope they can all reach some kind of amicable agreement.

That said, we turned from the troubled history here to a good walk through the various habitats that fill this land. It was a clear, sunny, and warm day – and for some unknown (but not too closely examined) reason, one free of mosquitos (so far). 😊

Starting out on the Valley Edge Trail
Employee Duplex #1 (built 1859-60) – the only remaining original Agency building
On the Valley Ridge Trail
Hiking under the vault of Heaven

It wasn’t until we reached the junction with the Mink Trail that we noticed a discrepancy. Not to go all hiking geek here, but our Hiking Club booklet (dated 2019), the 2021 park map we downloaded, and the posted signs (dated 2009) all had different routes and mileages for the HC route. Consternation ensued. 😡

We finally decided to hike the route as shown on the 2009 maps as the mileage for that route most closely matched the mileage given in the official booklet. We were aware that there was still some flooding out there but we figured we’d just go see how far we could get.

On the Mink Trail to the Yellow Medicine River
On the Mink Trail
Looking upstream along the Yellow Medicine
Looking downstream
There are 3 tipi-style Camper Cabins for rent here
Climbing around the southeast end of the bluff on the Terrace Trail
Looking northeast across the valley of the Minnesota River
Heading back north on the Terrace Trail

The Terrace Trail was a long green tunnel but it was alive with bird life. In a short time, we’d spotted Baltimore Oriels, Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow Warblers, Nuthatches, and more than a few Robins. It was The LovedOne’s best birding day this season! 🐦😊

On the Terrace Trail

The Terrace Trail took us to a junction with the Agency Trail where a Hiking Club sign said we should turn and follow that trail up past Employee Duplex #1 (the remaining historic building) to the parking lot. But we were committed to trying to follow the original HC route, so we pressed on.

Eventually, we reached the dirt road going to the backpack/watercraft campground on the Minnesota River. A short ways down that road we found it blocked by a huge fallen tree and partially covered with water. We’d gone as far as we could. So we turned and followed the dirt road back to the parking lot.

Very flooded
But the flood had eyes on us
Up the road to the parking lot

Our route came to 3.1 miles (5.5 km), shorter than what was listed in the HC booklet (4.3 mi/6.8 km) but longer than the route shown on the online map (about 2.5 mi/4.0 km). We’re guessing that the HC route got truncated at some point – likely to avoid flooding near the Minnesota River – but that all the different maps and guides haven’t yet caught up with this change.

And so, this 3 parks in a day part of our State Park Quest came to a close. We got to see the headwaters of the Minnesota and the biggest Cottonwood in Minnesota and hike under a huge blue sky at a place riven by history. And let’s not forget being attacked by a whole bunch of crazed mosquitos! 🦟🦟 A great day, nonetheless! 😁

Our route at Upper Sioux (“P” = parking, “T” = rental tipi, “!” = flooded)

6 thoughts on “Upper Sioux Agency State Park (Minnesota) 15-May-2023

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  1. Thanks for visiting our site! πŸ˜„ Yes, mosquitos… 🦟🦟 Lac qui Parle was are first real exposure to them this year. Can’t say we were thrilled by that but we’ve got the repellent (and head nets) ready now!


  2. How nice to see so many birds! So glad there weren’t any mosquitos, they just popped out at our home overnight. And made themselves annoying while visiting outdoors. Thanks for sharing a bit of history of the park. It’s interesting to learn that so many parks have so much First Nations history and connections..


  3. Judging from the differences we found between the various maps and the Hiking Club brochure, it looks like they changed (shortened) the Hiking Club route here. Now the password is on a pole right next to the trail and completely out in the open.


  4. Great place to visit. I’m glad you got to this one too. If I remember right, when I hiked the trail. the hiking club password was on a small loop that you could easily miss.


  5. You’re making me lonely for my native prairie today. I grew up in Redwood County, southeast of Yellow Medicine County. The Lower Sioux Agency is located in my home county. I’m always surprised when people don’t know anything about the US-Dakota War of 1862. Even people who are native Minnesotans. Given I grew up in the area of warfare and atrocities, I’ve always known about it. I encourage you to visit Mankato some day to see the memorial site for the 38 Dakota warriors who were hung in a mass execution there on December 26, 1862. It’s difficult and hard, but so necessary to remember this awful part of our state’s history.

    Liked by 1 person

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