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In the southeastern corner of Minnesota, sits Beaver Creek Valley State Park, an underrated, often-overlooked gem. Fed by the “Big Spring” found upstream, the water is exceptionally clear and cold. The banks are lined by moss-clad stones and gnarled old oak, basswood, and walnut trees.
Once inhabited by Native American tribes that roamed this part of the state, the first European settlers arrived in the area in the mid-1850s. Though they had intended to take advantage of the rich soil by creating farms, they found that the terrain was too steep and rocky, and thus Beaver Creek was preserved. Beaver Creek Valley State Park was officially established in 1937.
Surrounded by industrious farmlands growing a variety of crops ranging from corns to wheat, hotels are few and far between. It’s almost a requirement to rent an RV in Houston County to enjoy the wilderness. The closest large town is Caledonia, about five miles east.
A babbling creek winds and serpentine's through the heavily-forested valley. Ferns, moss and other small plants line the banks, mirroring the lush green canopy overhead formed by a mix of hardwood trees. In spring, wildflowers bloom in soft thatches of colors, temporarily adding new hues to the forest landscape. Overhead, dappled sunlight streams in, filtered by the green leaves.
Eight miles of trails meander through Beaver Creek Valley State Park, at times following the burbling, noisy creeks, and other times veering off into the low hills. Birdwatchers, take note: this park is one of the few areas in Minnesota in which Acadian flycatcher and Louisiana waterthrush birds nest. Other resident animals occasional spotted along the creek or in the deep woods include deer, badgers, minks, beavers, foxes, and wild turkeys. Anglers can expect to catch brown and brook trout.
Across the Minnesota-Iowa border is a geological curiosity: the Decorah Ice Cave Preserve near Decorah, IA. One of the largest caverns containing ice that remains frozen year-round, even in spite of the worst of the summer heat. Physically fit adventurers are able to explore the tunnels, nooks, and crannies only with an expert guide. Equipped with safety gear like a helmet, crampons and an ice ax, they embark into the dark, freezing tunnel that glows luminescent when lit by headlamps.
There’s nothing better than a freshly caught string of trout for supper, cooked over a campfire. Camping at Beaver Creek Valley State Park will let you do just that. The campground has 42 drive-in sites, 16 of which offer electric hookups. Showers and restrooms are a short walk from most campsites, and a dump station is available while RV camping here.
Beaver Creek Valley State Park also manages Oak Ridge campground at Wet Bark Recreational Area, Money Creek, Vinegar Creek campgrounds, and Reno campgrounds. If state park RV camping isn’t your cup of tea, there are a handful of private campgrounds and RV parks within a 30-mile radius.
Shady Rest Acres near Brownsville, is a quaint little farm with a camping area. Campers can visit resident farm animals like Scottish Highland cows, donkeys, sheep, and an assortment of other small farm critters, hike the nearby trails, or hit the Mississippi River for some fishing and boating fun. While there is no electric, water hookups are available, as are restrooms and hot showers.
In rural Minnesota farm country, it’s easy to think there isn’t much to do. That's not necessarily correct. There’s plenty of places to see and attractions to explore in the small towns dotting the landscape.
A rental RV makes roaming the countryside comfortable while visiting places such as The International Owl Center, located in Houston. This is the only owl education center in the United States. Founded in 1996 with a single injured owl, the center has grown to house dozens of owls, most of which are rehabilitated and released back into the wild (when possible). The rest are transferred to zoos to become residents and ambassador owls. Check online for their visiting hours; they change often throughout the year.
Hit the links during your recreational adventure at Beaver Creek Valley State Park! Ma Cal Area Golf Course outside Caledonia, MN, is one of the few fairways open to the public. A short course, it features nine holes, perfect for a quick excursion. The facility also offers a driving range, chipping and putting greens, and a clubhouse.
Minnesota’s oldest two-story railroad station is found in Rushford. Turned into a museum, it’s a treasure trove of documents, photographs, antique clothes, farm equipment and games played by children long gone a hundred years ago.
Not far from Beaver Creek Valley State Park campground is Schech’s Mill, Minnesota’s oldest still-working water mill. The 1876 gristmill (flour mill) is used to grind local farmers’ wheat grain into flour the old-fashioned way, and visitors are guided by the local expert through the process. Privately owned, the original farmhouse and barns are still standing and can be seen from the road. However, they are not open to tours.
When you choose to camp at Beaver Creek Valley State Park, you gain access to a world of outdoor adventure and wilderness. Bring the family along and make new memories in Minnesota.