Home of historic catlinite quarries, with a rich cultural and religious history and unique geology, Pipestone National Monument is one of Minnesota's most historically significant sites. The monument got its name due to the beautiful red-colored "Pipestone" or catlinite that was quarried at the site for centuries. The quarries are of huge historical and religious significance to Native Americans who used the soft stones to carve ceremonial pipes used during celebrations and ceremonies.
Located in southwestern Minnesota, just north of the city of Pipestone, the quarries also have religious significance to other numerous North American tribes and were neutral territory where ancient tribes would come to quarry stones. The site was made a National Monument in 1937, protecting the stone and commemorating its rich history with only Native Americans allowed to quarry.
The monument has a wide range of activities to keep visitors busy during their visit. The site has a visitor's center available, as well as a small museum with an interpretive film and some displays detailing the site's history and significance. Demonstrations of pipe making by experts are available to visitors as well as a wide variety of gift items made of Pipestone. Hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities are also available making a trip to Pipestone a very rewarding experience for visitors.
Pipestone National Monument is best accessed by road. The resort is located just north of the city of Pipestone and can be easily accessed off state Hwys 30 and 75. Hwy 75 offers the most comfortable route as it can be accessed easily from different parts of town. Directions and sign posts can be found on the highway and also within the park premises. The Visitor's Center is about half a mile from the park entrance..
There is parking at the Visitor Center for cars and larger rigs.
There are no camping options within Pipestone National Monument. The best local option to camp with your RV or trailer is at Split Rock Creek State Park. Located seven miles southwest of Pipestone, this park features 35 campsites, some with electric hookups.
There are plenty of activities here too. Go for a swim at the creek's swimming beach or rent one of the onsite fishing boats, kayaks or canoes. The kids will also enjoy the playground.
The amenities here include showers, flush toilets, and a dump station.
Kids at Pipestone National Monument have the opportunity to become junior rangers by enrolling in the Pipestone Junior Ranger Program. The program is usually reserved for children between ages 8 and 12, although adults are welcome to join in the fun too.
The activity involves carrying out a series of tasks contained in the junior ranger handbook aimed at teaching young kids the importance of preserving National Parks and Monuments as well as wildlife and plants.
Tourists who are leaving the Visitor Center can take the 3/4 mile Circle Trail that begins and ends at the visitor center that takes you through various points of interest at the monument. Experience the Pipestone quarries, native tallgrass prairies, and Winnewissa Falls. Several benches are available along the trail and it is wheelchair accessible as well.
Pipestone National Monument Trail is also close by. A 1.1-mile hiking trail, it features a scenic waterfall, some wildlife viewing opportunities, and is suitable for people of all ages. The trail is primarily used for hiking and birding although bikers also make use of it. The trail is pet-friendly and maps to all trails in the region can be found at the Visitor Center.
The pipestone might only be quarried by Native Americans, but visitors to the resort can still watch the process of quarrying. Visitors can learn more about quarrying and can quarry themselves only if they have the necessary permits.
The Native Americans also explain the significance of quarrying to their culture, the history of the Pipestone National Monument and how it became a national treasure following its handover to the government.
Pipestone National Monument offers visitors the chance to view the unique plant and animal life that have formed the region's ecosystem pre-dating its recognition as a National Monument. By virtue of the monument's protected status, it has some of the last remaining native tallgrass prairie habitat left in southwest Minnesota. The trail brings you across the prairie fields, with 35 species of freshwater plants and over 100 wildflower and grass species growing here.
The region also has a diverse animal population, with over 25 mammal species, 100 bird species, and nearly 30 fish species. Several squirrel and rabbit species can be spotted in the open fields while hiking as well as other small rodents like raccoons and minks. Swallows, blue herons, eagles, woodpeckers, and wild turkeys are just a few of the 100 plus types of birds that nest around the monument.
Interested visitors can learn the process of crafting pipestone and catlinite into different objects like the Native Americans used to do. This activity is carried out by American Indian craft workers.
These craft workers make souvenirs and small gifts from the pipestone and sell to visitors to the site. Demonstrations are only available during in-season months.
The Visitor Center offers a whole host of indoor activities to visitors and is the best place to pass the time when it's too hot or cold to explore the outdoors. "Pipestone: An Unbroken Legacy", an interpretative documentary on the history of the region, is displayed at the museum throughout the offseason. There is a small museum containing weapons and artifacts from the war also located in the building.
Park Rangers at the Visitor Center also give detailed explanations of events from the movie and the significance of some of the artifacts displayed in the museum. Park brochures and trail maps can also be purchased here and the building also acts as a launch point for the Circle Trail.