Elegant Snow Geese ruffle their feathers. Stately four-foot tall Sandhill Cranes stretch their bright red faces into the sun. You slowly paddle your canoe among brightly colored birds and varied water plants as you head to your campsite across the lake. These are the experiences easily available to you while visiting Rice Lake State Park in Claremont, Minnesota.
Rice Lake is a scenic park in south-central Minnesota where Native Americans used to grow wild rice in the marshy shallows. Nowadays, its unique, shallow depth draws birds by the thousands on their spring and fall migrations, making it an exceptional bird watching hotspot. Visitors will also enjoy the opportunity to enjoy magnificent spring wildflowers, canoe to hidden camp spots, and frolic in the snow on well-groomed trails all winter.
Any time of the year, the park hosts 40 spots suitable for 55-foot or less RVs, and out of those, 18 have electric hook-ups. May through October RV guests have access to comfortable flush toilets and bath houses with hot showers.
What more could you want for a fun weekend getaway only an hour from the Twin Cities?
Rice Lake State Park is conveniently located one hour south of Minneapolis and is between three and four hours from Des Moines, IA, Sioux Falls, SD, and Madison, WI. From the next nearest town, Owatonna, it is a quick seven miles east on County Highway 19.
Some describe the park as “for another age” - when campers were smaller. Although the official RV length limit is 55’, it often seems more appropriate for a 25’ camper due to sharp turns, low branches, rocks and logs littering the small camp spots, and narrow roads that only allow one vehicle to pass at a time - this includes if anyone is filling up at the water station - everyone else might have to wait to get by.
Before embarking on a trip to Rice Lake with your big rig, take a moment to honestly assess your maneuvering skills or you might begin the trip frustrated.
Rice Lake State Park offers 40 RV spots spread out over 2 loops. The 18 spots in Loop B have 50 amp electrical hookups as well as boxes with 20 and 30 amp outlets. The park is open year-round, however, the RV loops have flush toilets and showers with hot water only May through mid-October.
The spots are sufficiently spread out enough to give a sense of space between neighbors, but are somewhat small. Some visitors found the spots to be unlevel or have many logs and large rocks scattered around. The RV spots are in the woods, while tent spots tend to be right on the water of the lake. Being in a marshy environment with many trees, the insects and damp can pose challenges depending on the time of year, so come prepared with bug repellent, citronella candles, and rain gear to ensure a relaxing time.
Reservations can be made up to a year in advance and include a fee for making them online or by phone, but are free if made the day-of.
Only approved firewood may be burned and is available to be purchased in the park by the bundle.
Due to its shallow depth and surrounding marshy areas, Rice Lake is a magnificent bird watching destination. Spring and fall are host to enormous migrations of thousands of fascinating waterfowl, eagles, and passerines. If you don’t have your own setup, stop by the park office to check out their Birding Kit - a bag with binoculars, a guidebook, and a bird list specifically for Rice Lake. Get your pen ready for marking boxes, because you’re about to see more birds than you even knew existed!
While in 1961, the community was excitedly supporting a possible new state park due to the hope that the lake would be dredged and turned into an attractive boating and swimming lake, several human and natural factors eventually made this impossible. Today, the lake is only about three feet deep, making it only suitable for small, man-powered water crafts. This makes kayaking or canoeing on the lake very peaceful, however, and there is even camping in some areas only accessible by canoe! Canoes are available for rental at the park office.
If you are visiting the lake with children, you absolutely must take advantage of the Kids Discovery Kits. These are super-fun kits that can be borrowed from the park office for the duration of your visit to help learn about aspects of the park. Those available at Rice Lake include Wildlife by Water, Around the Campfire, and Camping Skills. Your kids are sure to stay entertained while also gaining understanding of their surroundings through hands-on learning.
Of the park’s four miles of trails, three and a half are groomed for cross-country skiing each winter. This means that you can simply snap on a pair of skis, get on the trail, and effortlessly glide through sparkling trees and snowy scenery for hours. Each year in mid-February there is an official Cross-country Ski and Snowshoe event hosted by the park where you can rent gear, use the warming hut, and get free hot chocolate and cookies. If you choose to snowshoe instead of ski, just know that you may go anywhere except the groomed trails.
One and a half miles of trails are maintained for winter snowmobiling at Rice Lake State Park. Cruising around the lovely area, thawing your toes in the warming hut, or unloading your machine in the large boat parking lot make experiencing Rice Lake via snowmobile easy and enjoyable. If you don’t have your own machine, there are several companies in town who rent them out by the day.
At least once per winter, Rice Lake State Park hosts a very special night time adventure. On the night of a full moon, the park opens for several hours in the evening for guests to snowshoe, cross-country ski, or hike one of the many trails in the park - all the by the light of the moon and hundreds of candles and lanterns placed on the trail to illuminate your way! You can get a hot beverage or snack at the park office, join the bonfire, or hang out in the warming house between trails.