Hiking to Lone Rock (Dakota County, Minnesota) 21-May-2023

Two weeks ago, we hiked the Wetland and Lone Rock Loops in the Vermillion Highlands (UMore Park) near Rosemount. After that hike, we took a closer look at the map and noted a feature labeled “Lone Rock” – but with no trail shown leading to it. We’ve learned a bit more about the Rock since then and, today, we ventured out to visit it.

Lone Rock is an outcropping of Saint Peter sandstone that has been protected by a shielding cap of Platteville limestone. It is shaped like a fin running north and south, with its highest point at its north end.

Historically, before this area was altered by extensive farming, Lone Rock stood tall and visible in a sea of prairie grass. It was an important landmark for Indigenous peoples for thousands of years and certainly for the Mdewakanton band of Dakota Indians for at least the last 300-400 years. It is considered a traditional cultural property by indigenous people.

The geographically important area where it sits, north of the Vermillion River and south of the confluences of the Minnesota, St. Croix, and Mississippi Rivers, has attracted non-indigenous explorers for a long time, starting with Father Hennepin in 1680.

Zebulon Pike passed through here during his exploration of the Mississippi valley in 1805-1806. Stephen Long retraced Pikeย’s journey in 1817 and returned in 1821. Lewis Cass came through in 1820, along with Henry Schoolcraft, who, guided by a group of Ojibwa headed by Ozaawindib (“Yellow Head”), found the true source of the Mississippi River in 1832.

It fell to the French astronomer and cartographer Joseph Nicollet to put Lone Rock on the map so to speak. He had carved his name in its soft sandstone in 1837 (that carving has since eroded) and camped there in 1838. He called it Sandstone Hill then but it appeared on his famous 1843 map as Castle Hill (not to be confused with Castle Rock {Inyan Bosdata} – now collapsed – to the southeast. In later years, Castle Hill became Lone Rock.

Joseph Nicollet’s 1843 map showing Castle Hill (Arrow)

As late as 1903, Lone Rock was still stood tall and easily visible. Since then, however, the soft sandstone pillar has been diminished by erosion and farming has replaced the open prairie with plowed fields and stands of forest and brush. Today, Lone Rock is barely visible above this encroaching vegetation.

Lone Rock in 1903 (MNHS photo collection)

We again started our hike from the Wetlands Loop Trailhead and went clockwise around the loop to Intersection 6. Once there, we could see a single-track use trail heading west toward the Rock.

Passing Intersection 10
It was so very GREEN today! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ
Past one of the open fields

There were all kinds of birds singing merrily in all the trees and bushes along the trail. We could hear them singing but we rarely saw them – and neither of us are dedicated enough birders to recognize most birds solely by their songs. Fortunately, some more wildflowers had appeared to distract us from our shortcomings as birders.

Bird watching (red arrow = bird, black arrow = haze from Canadian wildfires ๐Ÿ˜ข)
A pollinator scours a Dandelion

After just 1.75 miles (2.8 km) we reached Intersection 6. As we suspected, there was a pretty obvious use trail directly across from this signed intersection. We easily followed that trail for 0.3 miles (0.5 km) to where Lone Rock came into view – barely above the trees.

At Intersection 6 (arrow points to the use trail)
The use trail was also very green
Our first view of Lone Rock

The use trail from Intersection 6 lead to some short use trails that we followed to the flat top of Lone Rock (and, later, to the lower end of the fin of rock leading to the summit).

Scrambling up Lone Rock
On Lone Rock’s flat top
It’s hard to imagine this was once all open prairie (KCMP radio tower in the distance)

Although Lone Rock is not as tall or as exposed as it days past, it still stands high enough above the trees and brush to afford a great view out over Dakota County. With a little imagination, one can visualize what this view must have been like 200 years ago when all one could see was prairie for miles and miles in all directions.

After visiting the top, we found that the use trail continued on to form a loop with itself before taking us back to Intersection 6. From there, we returned to the trailhead via Intersections 7, 8, 9, and 10. Now it was time for wildflowers ๐ŸŒผ and a fungus.

Canada Mayflower
Dryad’s Saddle
On the Wetland Loop east of Intersection 7
Western Canada White Violet
Wild Strawberry (with ant)
Prairie Violet
Narrow-leafed Puccoon
Walking through a sea of Dandelions
Golden Alexanders
And back to the trailhead

Our loop to Lone Rock came to 4.5 miles (7.2 km). This was fine since our goal today was to visit Lone Rock and not go on a long hike. And, despite it being a deliciously warm and sunny day – with only a few, easily dissuaded mosquitos ๐ŸฆŸ – the poor air quality due to the Canadian wildfire smoke argued successfully for a shortened hike.

After restoring ourselves with pizza ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿ• ๐Ÿ˜‹ at Carbone’s in Rosemount, we headed home, having learned a little more about Minnesota’s history. ๐Ÿ˜

Our route to Lone Rock (“6” = Intersection 6)

2 thoughts on “Hiking to Lone Rock (Dakota County, Minnesota) 21-May-2023

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  1. The forest here goes from brown sticks to enveloping green lushness seemingly overnight. We’re reveling in it after last Winter’s excessive snow. And Lone Rock is still a place – even after eroding and being surrounded by trees – where you can get a view out to the far horizon. ๐Ÿ˜€

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