Continuing our state park adventure 2 days in a row, we visited Minneopa State Park in Mankato. Although the area expected scattered showers in the morning, we figured it wouldn’t be any worse than the previous rainy hike in Fort Snelling State Park. This was our first visit to this state park. The distance dissuaded us from making a trip previously because it was about an hour and a half drive from our place — about the same distance to the Twin Cities. Between these 2 places, the choice was relatively simple because we could at least use an excuse to find delicious cuisines in the Twin Cities. Since we had nothing better to do in a long 4th of July weekend, we used the opportunity to do more outdoor activities in Mankato. This city used to be called Mahkato, but the early spelling error was never corrected.
Minneopa State Park is Minnesota’s 3rd oldest state park — after Itasca and Interstate. Minneopa means “water falling twice” in the Dakota language, most likely referring to the rather impressive Minneopa Falls. The 2-tiered waterfall and the bridge across the waterfall vividly reminded us of Multnomah Falls in Oregon, albeit the latter was much on a grander scale. After the hike, we drove to another part of the state park for a more extended adventure. Many visitors chose to drive through the bison range, which we also checked out later, but we hiked the 5.2 miles loop around the fenced bison range. Our idea was to walk clockwise in the morning because it was more exposed under the sun on the west part of the loop. Still, our super scientific strategy didn’t pan out because it became cloudy and breezy in the afternoon.
As we reached a hill overlooking the valley at Seppmann Mill, a park volunteer approached and educated us about the bison in Minnesota. The state park currently has 50 bison — the maximum number of roaming bison allowed, given the land size. Out of the 50 bison here, 18 were breedable females, and the park had a record of 19 bison calves born this year, meaning one bison had twins. Each bison was genetically tested to ensure none of them carried cattle strain. When the herd grows over time, some bison are either transferred to other locations for breeding to preserve the pure wild bison species or sold for their meat. For comparison, Blue Mound State Park has the most bison in Minnesota — about 100 of them — and it is one of the world’s last remaining herds of purebred bison. We were fortunate to witness a large herd of bison resting lazily on the other side of the fence during the hike. It was amusing to see many vehicles moving at a snail’s pace in the bison range, hoping to spot the bison. Unfortunately, most of these majestic beasts gathered far away from the dusty road. As we drove through the bison range after the hike, we rolled down the window to capture the flora. The vehicles behind us immediately stopped and looked in the same direction, thinking our laser eyes had located the elusive fauna. After our late lunch at 3:30 PM, we briefly explored Old Town Mankato and Mankato State University before heading home.