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 readily 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.
Between April and mid-October, the park's campground hosts 40 spots suitable for RVs less than 55 feet long. Nineteen of these have electric hook-ups, and three are ADA-accessible. If you're camping with friends, then consider tent camping for a night or two in the group camp. The park also has a few other camping options if you want some added adventure. There is a small number of walk-in sites to the north of the park, carry-in sites on the west side of the lake, and boat-in sites on the opposite side of the lake. The different camping sites all offer easy access to the walking trails across the park.
The park's trails are all mostly flat and will take you through the woods or around the lake. They are short walks that provide excellent opportunities to enjoy the natural wonders in the park. You'll be able to see different birds and vegetation in the different seasons all year-round. 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. Driving a rig in this region is easy, as there are generally no restrictions to worry about. From the next nearest town, Owatonna, it is a quick seven miles east on County Highway 19. Here you'll find all the supplies you need, like gas and ATMs.
Driving a rig in the park is a bit more of a challenge. Some describe the park as “for another age” - when campers were smaller. Although the official max RV length limit is 55 feet, it often seems more appropriate for a 25-foot camper due to sharp turns, low branches, rocks, and logs littering the small camp spots. Park roads are narrow and 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.
The park is small enough that you can park at the campground and walk to the playground and picnic areas. Each camp area has sufficient parking for its visitors. There are also parking lots on the western side of the park near the boat launch, playground, and picnic area. All the hiking trails can be accessed from the different parking areas around the park.
Open between the beginning of April and mid-October, Rice Lake State Park offers 40 camping sites spread out over two loops. While most of the sites are suitable for smaller rigs, there are a couple of sites for larger rigs in both loops. The 19 sites in Loop B have 30-amp electrical outlets. Sites A20, B11E, and B17E are ADA-accessible.
There are a few water spigots in the camp, which are centrally located. The restrooms with showers are in Loop A, just a short walk from the sites in Loop B. The campground restrooms only have hot water showers from May through mid-October. Keep in mind that there is no dump station at this park.
The sites are close together and shaded by tall forest trees. A few of the sites in Loop B get afternoon sun otherwise, this campground is well shaded. 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. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill, so you can enjoy some relaxing meals at your campsite.
Being in a marshy environment with many trees, 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. Only approved firewood may be burned and is available to be purchased in the park by the bundle. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance.
There are five walk-in sites to the north of the campground. They are pet-friendly and can accommodate up to six people. Fully shaded, the sites each have a picnic table and a tent pad covered in woodchips. There is a grassy parking area where you can park your car, and the sites are just a short walk from there. There is a primitive toilet in this camping area, and visitors can use the restrooms in the main campground.
Head across the lake in a kayak or canoe and treat yourself to a quiet night of camping at the boat-in sites. There are five sites here, each accommodating up to six people. Multiple tents are allowed to camp on each site. These partially-shaded sites also have a picnic table and fire ring, so you only need to pack in food, water, and camping gear. For added convenience, there is a primitive toilet nearby.
On the water's edge, there are four cart-in sites on the west side of the lake. Ideal for tent campers and just a short walk from the parking area, campers can cart their camping supplies to the sites. For easy access to the water and breathtaking views across the lake, these are the best spots by far! There is a water spigot in this camp area, and the closest restrooms are about 700 feet away.
If you'd like to go tent camping with a group of friends, there is a group camp to the northwest of the park, close to the hike-in sites. There is a paved parking area which can accommodate up to 15 cars, and from there it is a short hike into the group campsite.
The campsite can accommodate up to 40 people, is fully shaded, and has five picnic tables and fire rings with grills. The council ring is the perfect place to spend evenings around the fire together. There is also a primitive toilet closeby.
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.
One and a half miles of trails are maintained for winter snowmobiling at Rice Lake State Park. Unload your machine in the large boat parking lot and enjoy a ride cruising around the lovely area. When you take a break from the cold, visit the warming hut to thaw your hands and toes. Exploring Rice Lake via snowmobile is easy and enjoyable. If you don’t have your own machine, there are several companies in town who rent them out by the day.
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.
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 kids learn about different 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 an understanding of their surroundings through hands-on learning.
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 watercraft. This makes kayaking or canoeing on the lake very peaceful! There is even a boat-in camping area across the lake that can only be accessed by canoe. Canoes are available for rent at the park office.
Due to its shallow depth and surrounding marshy areas, Rice Lake is a magnificent bird-watching destination. Spring and fall host enormous migrations 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!