Carley State Park is a small and lightly used state park in Plainview in Wabasha County, Minnesota. In fact, it might just be the perfect, quiet escape you’ve been looking for. Take time to relax in your cozy, tree-covered campsite with a good book and a fire or go get your blood pumping with an adventure in the woods.
With 20 rustic campsites (big enough for a tent or a small RV), group camping facilities, several miles of trails, and natural beauty to spare, you’ll be able to enjoy the lovely woods, rivers, and meadows at a slow, peaceful pace with no distractions from the outside world. However, if contemplative relaxation is not your game, the park offers a bit of adrenaline-spiked adventure as well due to the multiple stream crossings required to complete some of the hikes. Flowers and berries all summer, beautiful birds, and impressive trees add to the allure of these trails.
Carley State Park is actually governed by Whitewater State Park, which is nine miles to the east. The 2,700-acre park is popular with anglers and whitewater fans who enjoy the racing rapids of the Whitewater River. Between both state parks, there are miles of river to enjoy as well as trails to explore. Whether you’re looking for tranquil relaxation, ambitious flora and fauna exploration, or a fun and challenging hike, Carley State Park has a little something for everyone.
Carley State Park is in southeastern Minnesota, between Rochester and Winona, and about 35 to 40 minutes from each. Located on County Road 4, just off of US-14 and US-63, the park is easy to reach from I-94 to the north and east, I-90 to the south, and I-35 to the west. If you were thinking of visiting Minneapolis while you are in the area, it is just 97 miles to the northwest.
The roads into Carley State Park are mostly wide and level, with no sharp curves as CR-4 is a virtually straight line. In fact, almost all of the roads in the park's vicinity are straight and easy to drive on no matter what size rig you are driving or how big a trailer you are pulling. However, it is always a good idea to drive slowly and to watch for wildlife that may be out and about.
The park is only open to rigs 30 feet or less to accommodate the smaller spaces and narrow roads. However, the park mainly contains one, main straight road from the park entrance to the large campground loop, so there aren’t many twists or turns. The spots are fairly small, though. However, if you are confident in your maneuvering abilities and if you follow the length guidelines, you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating the area.
The Rochester / Marion KOA campground is perfectly stationed near Amish areas and the beautiful midwestern Bluff Country (tours of both are available), the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, the Mall of America and the Wisconsin Dells. Mount Rushmore is a just day’s drive away on I-90. Golf, hiking, biking, and other recreational opportunities are also nearby. The Rochester / Marion KOA campground offers Wi-Fi and ethernet connections, restrooms and showers, a swimming pool, a playground, a pavilion, and picnic tables. You'll also have access to a nature walk, bike rentals, sports and recreation facilities, a heated and air-conditioned meeting room, a dump station, and a dog park.
Amid an oak forest with huge old-growth white pine, Carley State Park offers 20 primitive sites for RVs 30 feet in length or less for visitors looking for special camping memories. The spots are not large, but most are level, private, peaceful, and wooded. Each of the sites has its own large picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill to cook on. Pets can come along too but you must keep them on a leash or otherwise restrained at all times during your stay.
Reservations are needed and can be made up to a year in advance online or by phone. The campground closes seasonally and opens on Memorial Day through mid-October. After they lock the gate during this period, the running water to the whole park is also turned off. However, you may still visit the park by walking in, and there are vault toilets available year-round.
In the southwestern corner of Carley State Park, you can find two separate group campsites. Group Campsite 1 can accommodate up to 20 people with tent pad dimensions of 15 feet by 15 feet. The vault toilets are only 75 feet from camp and there is a potable water spigot nearby as well. Just a short walk from the parking lot, you will have to walk in and leave the rig behind. Group Campsite 2 is a bit further and can only accommodate up to 15 people. The toilet and water spigot are about 250 feet from this site.
Both of the campsites are wooded and have shade as well as several picnic tables. Group Camp 1 also has two benches along with the three picnic tables. There is a large campfire ring with a grill to cook on at each site, but you may want to bring in a camp stove or portable grill just in case. Pets are welcome but must be restrained by a leash at all times during your stay. Reservations are required and can be made up to a year in advance.
In Whitewater State Park just next door to Carley State Park, Cedar Hill Campground has 75 sites, many with 20, 30, and 50-amp electric hookups and one that is ADA-accessible. These are large sites that can accommodate rigs up to 50 feet long. Although there are no water or sewer hookups, there are two restrooms with hot showers nearby and a half-dozen water spigots with potable water. In addition, there is an RV sanitation station just off of the main campground road.
For cooking and eating outdoors, all sites include a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill. The kids will love the Visitor Center and nearby river to splash and play in. The amphitheater near the Visitor Center also has programs for the kids as well as the adults throughout the summer months. Pets are welcome, just as long as they are supervised and restrained while in the park. Reservations can be made online or by phone up to 12 months in advance.
Just to the east of the Cedar Hill Campground, the Minneiska Campground has 73 campsites that are spaced out a bit more than those at its neighboring campground. Although they are still limited to motorhomes and trailers up to 50 feet in length, the space between campgrounds gives you more privacy and space to spread out. Almost all of these sites have 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electric hookups as well as a shower house with restrooms and several water spigots. In addition, there are seven ADA-accessible sites.
To help make it easier to cook outside, the park provides a campfire ring with a grill to cook on. And there is no need to try and balance your plate on your lap in a camp chair because there is a large picnic table where the whole family can enjoy a meal. Bring your furbabies along too but make sure to bring a leash for them and keep them on it while you are at the park. You can make your reservations up to a year in advance online or by phone, so choose your site as early as possible.
The river flowing through the campground is home to many clever and tasty brown trout. Get your licenses and gear in order (this park does not loan out rods), and head to the water to see if you can outsmart the trout to cook over your campfire for the night. In the cooler months, the trout will be biting most around dusk, so be sure to be back from your hike by then! Fly-fishing is extremely popular and very successful with trout anglers in the park, so dig out those flies and start practicing that toss.
Pack some snowshoes in your motorhome before heading to Carley State Park. The enjoyable trails that make hiking in warm weather so pleasant also serve as exciting snowy corridors. Don’t miss visiting the park after a heavy snowfall - trails are still easy to follow, and unlike many parks where the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoers are discouraged, you’ll have this whole park to yourself - well, to yourself and the deer.
Within this sylvan paradise of a park, there are five miles of hiking trails. Paths wind through yellow waist-high prairie grasses, dense green woods, and back and forth across rivers and streams. These trails might not be as well-maintained as those at other parks, so a sense of adventure is a requisite if you want to complete each one to its end. Bridges aren’t always available where you would expect them to be, so it’s advisable to be prepared for a bit of exciting river forging - perfect for a hot summer day. In the winter, the water levels go down enough that you shouldn’t have to worry about getting immersed.
Bring a tube or a canoe to explore the park via the Whitewater River. Depending on the season, the water flows high enough to let you float or paddle along with ease. You can float the horseshoe-shaped bit of the river which follows the trail and then hike back up and do it again. If you’re tempted to get super coordinated with a second vehicle and arrange a shuttle so you can float further down, be sure to call Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources first - they will be able to tell you if the route you’re considering is known to be a good one.
Minnesota state parks make it a cinch to enjoy the wildlife abundant in the trees and skies while camping. On the Department of Natural Resources page, you can find and download or print a handy list specific to each park of the birds you might see there. It includes information about how likely it is to spot each species by season, so if you have your heart set on seeing a fiery orange Baltimore Oriole or a leggy Spotted Sandpiper, you can plan your trip according to their seasons. Bring some binoculars, a guidebook or app, and a pen to mark off all the amazing birds you’ll see from your list.
In the spring and summer, Carley State Park cannot be beaten for stunning natural beauty when the wildflowers bloom. Walking on easy trails through the forest, you will see a profusion of bluebells (Mertensia virginica) carpeting the ground in addition to a variety of other flower species. It is a breathtaking sight, so be sure to pack your camera in the RV. In the fall, the trees are in the spotlight as the dense forest turns on a spectacular display of reds, oranges, and yellows.