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Just 15 minutes’ drive from the heart of Owatonna, the Rice Lake Campground is a family-friendly RV park overlooking a sparkling lake. It was once used by Native Americans for harvesting wild rice, with its shallow waters, wetlands, and marshlands now attracting waterfowl during their annual migrations.
RV camping at the Rice Lake Campground includes access to 42 RV sites, with electric connections at some. There are flush toilets and showers accessible to campers, and pets are welcome to stay with you if they remain on a leash. Canoes and kayaks can be rented on-site from the park office, with both solo and tandem options available.
Aside from the RV sites at Rice Lake Campground, there are also primitive campsites that are accessible on foot or by canoe, as well as various picnic sites nestled beneath the park’s tall hardwoods. Wildflowers ignite the landscape during the spring months while the winter snow turns the area into a wonderland for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Camping at the Rice Lake Campground is a good base for visiting the Mineral Springs Park, which has been a popular resort area since the late 19th century. It’s home to a children’s playground, a disc golf course, and a sand volleyball court where you can get active, as well as various picnic facilities and shelters. If you want to stretch your legs, there are also a series of short, wooded trails following the course of the Maple Creek.
On the other side of Owatonna is Kaplan's Woods Park, where you’ll find a range of hiking, trail running, and mountain biking trails to explore. They range in difficulty from easy to intermediate, with rolling hills and heavily wooded tracts to negotiate. After your walk, you can cool off with a swim in Lake Kohlmeier or take advantage of the children’s playground and picnic facilities. Kaplan’s Woods Park connects to the 1.5-mile paved Kaplan’s Woods Parkway, which continues north to Morehouse Park and offers access to a series of off-terrain trails.
A 30-minute drive north of the Rice Lake Campground is the Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, which is named for the forest that covered much of central Minnesota before the arrival of European settlers. It’s blanketed in oak stands and prairie, with endangered dwarf trout lilies endemic to the area and native wildflowers blooming in the spring months. There’s an extensive network of hiking trails traversing the park, as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails that are accessible during the summer months.
The campsites at Rice Lake Campground are just 15 minutes' drive from the center of Owatonna, where you’ll find supermarkets for stocking up on grocery supplies. There are also numerous gas stations here if you need to fill up your RV rental and plenty of fast-food restaurants, cafes, and eateries if you want to dine out.
While you’re in Owatonna, don’t miss a visit to the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum, which occupies the former State School grounds. Watch a short film taken in the 1930s of the children living here and wander through a restored cottage, then browse the exhibits detailing the history of the orphanage. Owatonna is also home to the Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo, where more than 150 reptiles and amphibians from across the world are exhibited. Come face-to-face with “Big Al,” their 12-foot-long alligator, and watch the daily Everglades Encounter show featuring animals native to Florida’s swamps. If you’re interested in the local history, head to the Steele County Historical Society, which features rotating exhibits and preserves a series of 19 historic buildings that detail life in the late 18th century.
Owatonna campers are just 45 minutes’ drive from the heart of Rochester, where you’ll find the Rochester Art Center overlooking the Zumbro River. The city is renowned as the birthplace of the Mayo Clinic healthcare organization, with its campus dominated by the 1928 Plummer Building. The estates of co-founders Dr. Charles Mayo and Dr. Henry Stanley Plummer are both open to the public for guided tours, with their period-furnished rooms offering a glimpse into late-19th-century life in Rochester.
The Rice Lake Campground can also be used as a base for visiting Minneapolis and St. Paul, with these “twin cities” bisected by the Mississippi River. Experience 5,000 years of world history at the Minneapolis Institute of Art or browse the contemporary works on display at the Walker Art Center. Serious history buffs should head to the Minnesota History Center or the Mill City Museum, which focuses on the city’s industrial past. Scenic walking trails await in Como Regional Park, which is also home to the landmark Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and the Como Park Zoo.
Whether you want to explore the cities of southeast Minnesota or get active in the parks of Owatonna, book an RV in Steele County and start planning your next vacation.