Fort Snelling State Park

Celebrating the long 4th of July weekend, we made our first-ever visit to Fort Snelling State Park. Even though we frequently passed by this state park en route to the Twin Cities, we constantly reminded ourselves to visit it one day. Still, it quickly became an afterthought when we headed up there. So, this time, it became our first priority to see the state park and the fort itself.

The Historic Fort Snelling was recently reopened to the public in May this year after more than 2 years of rehabilitation and improvements. Part of the 1904 cavalry barracks houses a new visitor center. Because we were too cheap to pay for the $6 fee at the historic fort’s parking lot, we used our annual pass by parking near the state park’s actual visitor center under the Mendota Bridge. Then, we hiked half a mile to the historic fort’s visitor center to purchase admission tickets. Considered one of the most popular state parks in Minnesota due to its proximity to the Twin Cities, the history behind Fort Snelling was complicated and dark, to say the least. Behind its strategic location at the confluence of two rivers, this site was a concentration camp for 1,600 Dakota following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Back then, the U.S. Army supported slavery at the fort by allowing its soldiers to bring their personal enslaved people to handle domestic chores. In World War II, many second-generation Japanese Americans were recruited here to serve as translators and code breakers.

We watched a few demonstrations by the costumed interpreters within the fort’s wall. The funniest moment was after several soldiers reenacted a skirmish in an open field, and one lost a fake grenade. An announcer on a PA system calmly narrated that this was the first time the soldiers had lost a grenade, and they had to scour through the field looking for it. Although we could have easily spent half a day at the fort, we left after an hour when it began to drizzle. Instead, we decided to do a 4-mile brisk hike around Pike Island. Our initial idea was that the tall trees would shield us from the rain, except that it rained so heavily halfway in. Unfortunately, some parts of the trail did not have enough trees to serve as rain shelters. The good news was we remembered to bring our small dry bags along this time to prevent our cameras and bottled water from getting wet. The bad news was we didn’t bother to bring umbrellas or wear rain jackets. As a result, we were already drenched in rain when we made a mad dash out of the trail. We ended our wet adventure by having hot and spicy Thai cuisine for lunch in St Paul.

A bird’s eye view of within the wall of Fort Snelling from the Round Tower.
The costumed interpreter at a blacksmith shop promised a great picture before pumping the air into the oven, and she was absolutely right.
Old growth in Fort Snelling State Park.
The brown lines represent our hiking paths.

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