The Third-Oldest state park in Minnesota offers spectacular scenery, double waterfalls, camping, free-roaming bison and is only a short drive away.

“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play.
Where seldom is heard, a discouragin’ word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”

We had been wanting to get to Minneopa State Park in South-Central Minnesota for years. To and from Mankato on Highway 169 we would pass the offramp to the park and each time remind ourselves we needed to go someday and see the bison and the waterfalls in the park.

Someday finally arrived. We finally took that offramp!

Following a for sale property showing north of Mankato Kim took off her REALTOR® hat and put on her “let’s have an adventure” hat and we were off to find where the buffalo roam.

Now having been there we don’t know why we waited so long.

Minneopa State Park is a beautiful and feature-packed Minnesota State Park within a short drive from anywhere in the South-Central Minnesota, North-Central Iowa region.

FIND IT: GPS coordinates – Lat:44.156337, Lng: -94.091356

Minneopa State Park is located between Lake Crystal and West Mankato. It is a quick drive from State Highway 169 on Highway 68/Gadwell Road to the park. Two of the major attractions for visitors at the park are viewing the free-range bison, or buffalo if you prefer, and seeing the double water falls of Minneopa Falls.

The only way to travel from one section of park to the other is via a county road.

Minneopa State Park is divided into two sections. The largest area, added to the park in 1969, is to the north and borders the Minnesota River on one side. This is the section that includes the bison, the campgrounds, and the Seppmann Mill. The original section to the south is separated by private property, railroad tracks and roadways bordered by State Highway.

The only way to travel from one section of park to the other is via a county road.

More about both of those in a moment. First a little history lesson.

Minneopa State Park is Minnesota’s third oldest park and was established in 1905 to protect and preserve the double waterfalls. The area in and around the park has a long and colorful history.

In the late 1860s, the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad laid track along Minneopa Creek and one of the property owners convinced the railroad to establish a station stop at the falls. The railroad agreed. The railroad station agent, J.B. Hodge, made great efforts to promote Minneopa Falls as a tourist destination.

His plea was so convincing, the railroad company eventually advertised the destination and offered four trains daily from Mankato during the summer months. Group excursions as large as 5,000 people came from the Twin Cities area, and even as far away as Winona, MN. Visitors also arrived by horse, wagons, and a paddle wheel steamer up the Minnesota River.

Even outlaws stopped by the area for a spell. According to Wikipedia, the infamous James-Younger Gang hid out along Minneopa Creek following their disastrous September 7, 1876, bank robbery attempt in Northfield, MN. After two weeks of rough travel while evading the law, the gang made camp under the Minneopa Gorge railroad trestle. They were eventually discovered and after a shoot-out were taken into custody. 

Brought back from near extinction

Native American Plains Bison once thrived on the Minnesota prairies. However, by 1900, settlement and slaughter by market hunters and the U.S. Army combined to reduce bison numbers to a handful of captive animals. During the ensuing decades, the bison recovered from near extinction.

The bison herd at Minneopa State Park were reintroduced to the park in September 2015, as part of a joint project to increase the state’s population of genetically pure bison. The local herd began with the initial release of 11 females. Bulls are rotated in and out to keep genetic diversity.

The herd now numbers over 130 head and is divided between Minneopa State Park, Blue Mounds State Park in western Minnesota and the Minnesota Zoo in Minneapolis.

Opposed to a typical zoo setting, these Minneopa State Park bison free roam on a 330-acres of fenced enclosure. If you’ve always wanted to see these great American treasures in their native habitat up close from the safety of your vehicle, Minneopa State Park is your chance to do it.

Visitors are able to drive through the natural habitat along Bison Drive Road to get a view of the bison.

The gravel road through the bison enclosure was very dusty, even after recent heavy rains. You have to drive and remain in your vehicle at all times. This road is not for hiking or biking. There are trails that circle all the way around the fenced in bison compound.

Be sure to tune your radio to 1610 AM while within the park boundaries for broadcasted information on the park, the bison, and interviews with Native Americans from the region.

We slowly followed a short line of other cars curving through the range as we kept our eyes peeled for the large animals. It was quite a ways in before we spotted the herd. A small group was bedded down near the road while other bison grazed next to a shaded tree area.

We pulled over along the shoulder of the road along with other drivers and brought out the iPhones and cameras. Next time we go, JK will be bringing his super telephoto lens to get some really close up shots. Remember, visitors are not allowed to leave vehicles to get up-close and personal selfies.

We did spot several buffalo among the herd with thick pointed horns protruding from their dark furry heads. There also looked to be a light brown newborn calf lying on its side in the prairie grass near some of the other bison. One of our friends who works at the park later told us there are now nine baby bison in the current herd!

Brand-new members of the herd always attract media attention and we spotted the local Mankato TV station news car heading out to the range likely to get some footage of the baby bison.

Bison and great camping, too

The Red Fox Campground is just past the bison range entry gate and offers 61 drive in sites, six with electric hookup. The campground’s recommended maximum length of motorhome or tow vehicle and towable is 60-feet.

The campground is very wooded and has a nestled feeling which we have found is typical for state park campgrounds. An abundance of trees and bushes offering some view blocks from the adjacent campsites and shade from the summer sun. Red Fox Campgrounds also has one camper cabin and a group camp area available to reserve.

Showers and flush toilets are centrally located on the grounds. Three potable water hydrants are dispersed throughout the campgrounds as well. There is a RV sanitary dump station outside the campgrounds area but still within the park boundaries.

Reservations for Red Fox Campgrounds and other Minnesota State Park campgrounds are made through the Minnesota State Parks website.

Check website for current availability and camping fees.

Double the fun. Double the falls!

The word “Minneopa” comes from the Dakota language and is interpreted to mean “water falling twice,” referring to the two beautiful waterfalls of the Minneopa Creek. And since we were already at Minneopa State Park, we had to go and see the double falls for ourselves.

We drove about a mile on County Road 117, crossed the railroad tracks and turned off of County Road 69 into the Minneopa Falls parking lot then we walked into the park. Since the state park is dog friendly, we brought our “fur babies” Willow and Tia along with us for the adventure.

Parking at the falls looks like it could be frustrating on busy weekends, with a limited number of parking spots. We visited on a Sunday afternoon and were able to find an open space. A large Class A motorhome with a Jeep tow vehicle had managed to make the tight turnaround at the end of the parking area and parallel parked their rig mostly out of the way of the other vehicles.

It’s a short walk from the parking lot along narrow paved sidewalks to get to the falls. The paved walkways allow for handicapped access to view the falls.

Minneopa Falls offers plenty of picnic tables and two large shelter houses for groups. Flush toilets are also available taking a paved walkway up a slight hill. There’s also a horseshoe pit and volleyball court for visitors to use.

The falls were roaring the day we visited. We guessed the amount of water going over the falls was a result of the severe weather and heavy rains earlier in the week.

Needless to say, the sight of the cascading torrents flowing over the smaller upper falls, racing under an historic cement foot bridge to then drop again some 40-feet, was breathtaking. Spring weather, blue skies and fluffy clouds couldn’t have made for a better “Kodak moment” that day.

Travel on foot or on bicycle

Besides bison camping and waterfalls, Minneopa State Park also features three different hiking trails and one bike trail to stretch your legs on.

The Waterfalls Area Trail consists of 0.18 miles (one way) of cement, dirt trails and steep stairs, 70 steps down and 70 steps back up in fact! But if you can handle the calf muscle burn, you will see the double waterfall from lower water level and witness historic trail construction work done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers during the Great Depression.

The Minnesota River Bluff Trail is 1.6 miles one way and follows a fairly level route over grass, dirt, and rocks with some hilly sections. Hiking this trail includes some hilly sections resulting in great scenic views of the river valley and tallgrass prairie.

The Minneopa Creek Confluence Trail is 0.4 miles one way and takes hikers up a steep hillside on gravel, rock, and dirt to the Minneopa Creek Gorge to view its confluence with the Minnesota River.

Cyclists will enjoy the challenge of the Mankato Area Bike Trails South Route Trail. The 6.7-mile (one way) trek features asphalt and cement bike paths with some steep sections. The trail connects with the park’s South Route Trail to access 50 miles of paved bike trails in the Mankato area. An additional 2.5-mile paved biking and walking trail connects Minneopa to Sibley Park in Mankato.

Park Information

There is a $7 day use permit fee collected at the self-pay kiosk at the northern park entrance, or you can pay in person at the park ranger station office at the Minneopa Falls entrance. The day use permit is good at both the falls and the bison viewing areas. An annual pass is $35.

Minneopa State Park is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and pets on a 6-foot leash are welcome to visit while walking through the park grounds. Be sure to bring doggie bags to clean up after your pet and leave no trace. Only service animals are allowed in park buildings.

The Bison Drive Road access into the bison range is open Thursday through Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is patrolled by sheriff and state park law enforcement. The road through the bison area is closed every Wednesday for maintenance. Park visitors are asked to exit the bison range before the posted closing time.


  1. Thank you…we have lived in this area over 35 years and have never visited this beautiful place yet. Will most certainly try to do that this year. Beautiful photos and great info. Are motorcycles allowed on the bison road or too dangerous with animals close by? Thanks again.

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