We didn’t see any blue in the mounds, but we had a great time Fall van camping at Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park

We picked the best time of the year to visit!

It was our last chance to have one more Fall colors van camping trip for the year before all the leaves were gone. We love Fall camping and fall colors. Our latest trip did not disappoint.

Neither one of us had visited Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, Minnesota yet, so we decided this would be a great opportunity to see what everyone was talking about.

Blue Mounds State Park is located 30-miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota near the Minnesota city of Luverne, in western region of the state. It was about a 2-hour drive from our front door.

Where the buffalo roam

This park consists of protected Midwestern prairie lands and is one of the state’s largest prairie remnants. It’s also home to a sizeable, free roaming and protected American bison herd.

Blue Mounds State Park is known for the abundance of shiny Sioux Quartzite that protrudes just above the ground in the tall prairie grass and rise up in cliff outcroppings.

Although we didn’t see much blue in the quartzite rocks (the rock outcroppings looked to us more a mauve-terra cotta-purple color) the park is named for a mile-long cliff of Sioux Quartzite in the area.

The story goes the cliff appeared blue to settlers going west in the 1860s and 1870s, and they named the landmark “the Blue Mound,” according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

How it all started

In 1937, the Minnesota State Legislature established Mound Springs Recreation Reserve on the site. Later, in 1961, the name was changed to Blue Mounds State Park.

Blue Mounds State Park is open year-round. It draws people from around the region to take advantage of the many recreational activities offered within the park.

Camping, bike riding, hiking and wildlife watching are all part of the fun activities. Reservations for guided prairie and bison tours are offered until October 23, 2022. Check with the park for times and available dates.

We talked to some fellow campers who were heading off to do some rock climbing at one of the quartzite cliffs within the park. A free Minnesota Parks climbing permit (available at the park ranger kiosk) is needed before scaling the cliffs.

Fall colors were at their height

We, on the other hand, had come to take in the vibrant fall colors and enjoy some cool temperature camping.

During our recent extended weekend, the campground was nearly empty when we arrived. Saturday saw a handful more campers arrive, but not enough to make us feel cramped or crowded.

The campground consists of 73 campsites on three loops. Along with the nightly camping fee, the park charges a daily use fee. A yearly pass can be purchased to gain access to Blue Mounds State Park as well as all the other Minnesota State Parks.

The road into the campgrounds is paved, but the campsite parking pads are hard-packed gravel. We found our site perfectly level. The park also offers 14 cart-in tent camping spots away from the main campground area.

An electric 30-amp, 50-amp, and a 110-volt household plug-in pedestal is offered at each site. An on-the-ground fire ring with swing-away grill, and picnic table are always at each campsite.

Maximum RV length is 50-feet. There are two accessible campsites with electricity, and both are adjacent to the showers/restroom facilities. An RV dump station is also on the property.

If you are keeping a Minnesota State Parks Passport, the stamp for the park is located under the building overhang at park building at the main entrance gate.

We reserved a campsite across the road from the shower / restroom. The building was well maintained and cleaned daily.

Make your reservations by clicking here: https://reservemn.usedirect.com/MinnesotaWeb/

So what are we in for?

Having never been to Blue Mounds State Park, we really didn’t know what to expect.

We certainly didn’t expect a fall color wonderland! To say we were overwhelmed by the abundance of fall colors and falling leaves from the hundreds of trees within the campgrounds would be an understatement.

Overnight temperatures had dipped into the low 20s during our first night.

Those kinds of cold temperatures keep the bugs away, the hot coffee brewing and the firewood blazing.

With all that cold air, the vibrant yellow color display of the oaks in the park popped to full peek. In the windy days following, we witnessed a literal downpour of leaves that blanketed the grass and roads.

The downside was, when daytime temperatures rose into the 70s, the No-See-ums and flies returned with a vengeance, which made being outside unpleasant.

Because we planned to stay at the same location for our entire time away, we were able to pull out our camp chairs, tablecloth, camp kitchen and oven, and settle in for a while.

We roasted hot dogs over open coals and toasted marshmallows for s’mores.

We made pizzas in our Coleman camp oven and enjoyed corned beef hash and eggs for breakfast one morning.

Just because we were going to stay at one campground for the weekend didn’t mean we didn’t venture off from the campsite to see the park.

One of the joys of having a van is the ease of leaving the campsite. All we have to do is unplug an extension cord and we are rolling!

One morning, after breakfast, we drove into the city of Luverne to check out the town and find the local grocery store to get a few items to restock the van’s pantry.

On the way into town we stopped at a tiny roadside chapel. This one sits off of County Road 75 north of town, next to a herd of grazing cattle.

The small white clapboard Blue Mound Wayside Chapel’s door was open and we savored the moments of prayer and reflection while bathed in the sunlight pouring through the stained glass windows.

Luverne has had its share of fame and notoriety.

Luverne was one of four towns profiled in the 2007 Ken Burns documentary “The War.”  

There is a marvelous military museum in town that veterans will appreciate and that we all should visit. (We will highlight this extensive, two-floor museum in an upcoming blog post.) The large Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne provides care and housing for about 1,000 of our American military veteran heroes.

Fans of the TV series “Fargo” will recognize downtown Luverne as the main setting for the second season of the popular show.

The city is the hometown of internationally renowned wildlife photographer and former National Geographic magazine staffer Jim Brandenburg.

Brandenburg is known for documenting “his own backyard” and has, over the years, pointed his camera at the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of the Blue Mounds State Park and the nearby “Touch the Sky Prairie.”

A collection of his images from the local area – as well as his other home area of Ely in Northern Minnesota – can be viewed and purchased at the Luverne Chamber of Commerce-owned Brandenburg Gallery. For more information, click here: https://www.cityofluverne.org/index.asp?SEC=7592A6F3-D1CD-45FE-BD64-9B83B72EBDDC&Type=B_BASIC

Getting some fresh air

There are many opportunities to get some exercise and fresh air at Blue Mounds State Park. Paved bike and walking trails are abundant around the campgrounds.

Most of the hiking trails can be accessed from the campgrounds. It’s a short stroll to view the nature pond and small dam.

If you need a bit more reward for your hiking efforts, take the Upper Cliff line Trail which winds above a historic quarry. This trail is well over a mile in length.

The Mounds Trail (0.2 miles), the trail we hiked, starting from the Eagle Rock Vista parking area and passes the park’s old Interpretive Center.

The grass and rock covered trail has a slight gain in elevation, reaches Eagle Rock, the highest spot within the state park.

The overall elevation gain from the valley floor is about 300-feet, but Eagle Rock is maybe…15-feet tall. We might have said aloud, “Really. That’s it?”

You can see South Dakota from here!

It was a little underwhelming to us but allowed for stunning panoramic views of the vast bison prairie to the north and farmland surrounding Luverne to the south.

We didn’t spot any bison from that vantage point, either, unfortunately.

Photos of the Quartzite rock cliffs and outcroppings areas look tall and massive in brochures and online. Admittedly, we were a little disappointed when our expectations didn’t match the hype.

Perhaps, we were a bit jaded and expecting lofty peaks and huge rock formations, especially after our recent journey out west through the Rockies, and the North Cascades National Park. We admit our expectations were a little unrealistic.

The cliffs, where ever they are hiding, may be more impressive, but we didn’t see them on our trip.

Nonetheless, we had an incredible four-day visit and enjoyed the park very much.

All the fall colors, cool temperatures, good food, and relaxing by the campfire made for a great camping experience in western Minnesota.  

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