Spanning 1,567 acres, Blue Mounds State Park, located just 40 minutes east of Sioux Falls in southwestern Minnesota, is both gorgeous and unique. The park's close proximity to I-90 makes it a must-stop for RVers traveling cross-country.
Blue Mounds State Park sits on a patch of tallgrass prairie, one of the few remnants left in the state. In addition to hosting a rich variety of plant, bird, and insect life, the prairie also boasts a small bison herd. The park's truly dramatic feature, though, is its "Blue Mounds," a 100-foot cliff-line rising dramatically above the flat grasslands below. Thought to be named "Blue Mounds" because they looked blue when viewed by far-off settlers, the "mounds" (or cliffs, more accurately), actually have a wonderful, red-pink hue. The rocks from which the cliffs are made are nearly two billion years old, belonging to a class called Sioux Quartize. In addition to offering spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, the rocks mounds also draw climbers and boulderers.
Though bison are a main draw for many visitors, Blue Mounds boasts a striking variety of wildlife. Deer, foxes, coyotes, jackrabbits, and a host of migratory bird species can be found here. The park is also home to Mound Lake, built in 1937 when the Works Progress Administration dammed Mound Creek. The lake provides ample opportunities for aquatic recreation including fishing, canoeing, and swimming. The park abounds with hiking opportunities, sporting over 14 miles of trails. Human history is rich here too; exhibits on native American and settler histories can be found at the park's interpretive center (which itself was once the residence of famed author Frederick Manfred).
Open daily throughout the year, the park is a wonderful stopover spot or a destination in its own right. The park's campground is open from spring through fall. It is RV-friendly and well maintained, and it offers electrical hookups, modern restrooms, and more. Group camping areas and tipi rentals are also available.
Other nearby natural attractions include Split Rock Creek State Park in Minnesota and Good Earth State Park in South Dakota.
Blue Mounds State Park is easy to access by car or RV. It sits just a few miles to the north of Luverne, MN, which is located just off of I-90. From the interstate, US-75 and a well-maintained county road take you straight to the park's main entrance. Roads to and within the park are paved, and there are no hills or sharp curves to speak of. There is only about a mile's worth of road within the park's northern section, where the main entrance is. One short spur heads towards the campground, and one spur heads towards the cliff-line and several trailheads. The park's southern section has its own entrance, with just one short road leading the park's interpretive center and some additional trailheads.
The campground will put you within walking distance of the park's amphitheater as well as the dam. Take a little longer stroll and you'll find yourself at the lakeside picnic area and playground. You can also hop on to some of the park's trails by taking a half-mile connecting path that leads from the campground.
Heavy thunderstorms are not uncommon in the summer, and winter can bring blizzards. Heavy winds are possible throughout the year. Take extra precautions when driving along US-75, which directly exposes drivers to the strong westerly winds that whip across the prairie.
All spots at Blue Mounds are back-in, but there is ample space between spots and maneuvering shouldn't pose much of a challenge. There is also parking available at the playground/picnic area and at the trailheads which start at the park's northern end. Two parking areas along the park's southern edge let visitors access trails as well.
Blue Mounds State Park Campground, which is open from spring to the fall, features sites that are set in a lovely wooded area, with bur oaks, silver maples, elms, box elders, and more, providing partial to full shade. Some campsites are near large boulders and mini-outcroppings made out of the same beautiful, pinkish quartzite which composes the "Blue Mounds" themselves. Diverse patches of prairie are also interspersed among the sites, and the placid Upper Mound lake sits just a few hundred feet to the east.
Blue Mounds' campground has a total of 73 semi-modern campsites, including 40 30-amp electric sites and 33 non-electric sites. The maximum vehicle length at the campsite is 50 feet. No sewer and water hookups are available, but adequate dumping and sewer facilities are provided, including two sanitation stations. Several clean water spigots are available too. (And, in case water is temporarily unavailable at the park, water can also be fetched from a nearby aquatic center, located just eight minutes away).
Sandboxes, fire rings, picnic tables, and grills are provided at all campsites. A picnic area and picnic shelter can be found near the campground too. You can also bring along your pets into the campground, so long as they are kept on a leash.
The campground also has two modern restrooms with flush toilets and showers. A limited number of ADA-accessible sites are also available, and these are situated near the ADA--accessible toilets and showers. There are drive-in sites and walk-in sites, as well as a group campsite.
The group site is built adjacent to the Mound Creek, and it is capable of accommodating up to 75 people. It also has its own vault toilets. The group site is only open during the peak season, from April to October. Reservations for all spots can be made up to one year in advance.
There are no first-come, first-served campgrounds at this state park.
If you want to try something a little different, you can reserve one of Blue Mounds' wonderful tipis. These shelters, built in a style imitating those of the Plains Indians, are surprisingly spacious, fitting up to six people. Tipis are only open during the peak season.
Southeastern Minnesota may be one of the last places you'd expect to go rock-climbing. Prairies and farmlands stretch out for miles in every direction, without so much as a hill in sight! But Blue Mounds, with its towering quartzite cliffline, proves the exception to this rule.
Bouldering and climbing are both popular here, and the park boasts five different climbing areas, all of which are accessible via the easygoing Lower Cliffline Trail. At Blue Mounds, you'll be scaling some of the toughest rocks in the country; these two-billion-year-old stones are very hard and super erosion-resistant. They remain nearly unchanged even after thousands of years of scouring winds whipping across the prairie.
Climbing here requires a permit. They are free, however, and can be acquired at the visitor center. There, rangers can also let you know about current climbing conditions and any relevant restrictions in place. Before heading out, make sure you familiarize yourself with the Minnesota State Parks' climbing regulations.
Each season at Blue Mounds brings its own cast of fauna. You'll be sure to see something interesting at any time of the year. Spring and autumn see the migration of neotropical species and a great many waterfowl. In summer, other migratory birds take up their nesting grounds at the park. Tallgrass prairies, full of seeds, insects, and berries, provide rich forage for dozens of species. Warm-season visitors may see rose-breasted grosbeaks, burrowing owls, Say’s phoebe, spotted sandpipers, meadowlarks, horned larks, and bobolinks, just to name a few.
Among the park's permanent residents are white-tailed deer, coyotes, white-tailed jackrabbits, and foxes. Your best chance to catch a glimpse of one of these critters is during winter, when the park is far less busy. Shuffling along the vast drifts of snow, the park's bison also make quite the dramatic site in winter!
Featuring breathtaking views unlike any in the region, Blue Mounds State Park's trails are a pleasure to hike.
If you're in the mood for something light, take the one-mile paved nature trail which sets out from the Visitor Center. Interpretive signs offer lots of great info on local flora, fauna, and geology. Longer trails (there are 13 miles in total) lead trekkers over and onto the imposing quartzite cliffline which gives the park its name. From atop the 100-foot bluff, take in an expansive view of forest, prairie, and farmland. You'll also see the Mound Lakes glittering in the distance.
If you brought your bike, paved trails within the park connect to a route which leads to the nearby town of Luverne. It's a charming ride, especially when the weather is nice.
And although the park's campground closes for the winter, the park, and its trails, remain open. When there's a healthy layer of snow on the ground (as there usually is during an upper-Midwest winter), snowshoeing and cross-country skiing become great ways to take in the solitude and maybe even catch a glimpse of some wildlife.
In 1937, the Works Progress Administration built two dams on Mound Creek, a small stream that meanders its way across farmland and prairie. Those two dams formed Upper and Lower Mound Lakes, which now reside in Blue Mounds State Park. The Upper and Lower Mound lakes offer great opportunities for recreation including swimming, sunbathing, and canoeing. Anglers can also try their luck casting near the Upper Lake dam, a popular fishing spot that often yields black crappies. If you do decide to cast a line, make sure you have a valid Minnesota State Fishing License.
There is also a small beach area at Lower Mound Lake where you can swim to your heart’s desire or just soak the sunlight on a hot summer day. The Upper and Lower Mound lakes are also home to many endangered aquatic species, including Topeka Shiners, Pond Mussels, Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs, and Plains Topminnow.
With views of forest, prairie, and a lake, Blue Mounds State Park is one of the most scenic spots to park your rig and take a picnic in all of Minnesota. A picnic area with 14 picnic sites can be found adjacent to the park’s campground. This is the perfect place to enjoy lunch or dinner while sitting underneath the shade of stately bur oaks. Maybe even take a siesta while watching the tall green grass sway in the distance.
The park's picnic spot is also ADA-accessible, and it offers both tables and fire rings (so there's no excuse not to make s'mores!). Firewood can be purchased at the park office. There is also a small playground right next to the picnic area, where kids can expend a little energy before meal-time.
If you want to do something other than just grab a bite, there are games available too. The picnic area has a lovely horseshoe pit, and horseshoes can be rented at the front office if you didn't bring any yourself. A volleyball court has also been set up near the picnic grounds. Summer evenings, often mild and adorned with fireflies, are a particularly good time to play.
Blue Mounds State Park offers safari style, ranger-led tours during thw peak season. The 90-minute-long tour is engaging, informative, and offers an experience that can be found at few places besides Blue Mounds. The park is one of only two in Minnesota that hosts a bison herd (the other is Minneopa State Park, located about a two-hour drive to the east).
While on the tour, you will feel the modern world fading away. Transport yourself back to a time when great herds of bison stormed across the landscape. Park rangers will discuss the bison's natural history and the efforts which have gone into conserving and reintroducing them over the past century. They can also answer your questions about some of the many plants or birds that call the tallgrass prairies home.
The tour runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is recommended that you pre-book your tickets, which can be reserved up to 24 hours in advance. Also important to note is that the tour vehicle has open sides and no roof, meaning you'll be experiencing whatever weather the prairie is - dress accordingly!