New Ulm — proclaimed “the most German town in America” — has intrigued us for many years. This small city only has a population of 14,000, and it was named after the city of Neu-Ulm in Germany because many original settlers came from that area. When we made a day trip to Mankato earlier this year, we joked about the possibility of spending a night or two in New Ulm. In contrast, most people would rather spend their vacation doing exciting things in the bigger cities. Fast forward a few months later, and what started as a joke became a reality. We planned to cover two state parks that we had never visited before. We spent a night in New Ulm on a weekday because we didn’t want to deal with the crowds during the Oktoberfest weekend and the astronomical hotel price.
We started our day by heading to Fort Ridgely State Park for a hike. It was so cold in the morning that the rain turned into snow flurries when passing by Mankato. Fort Ridgely is the fourth oldest state park in Minnesota. It served as a military post to keep the peace as the settler-colonists pushed into the Dakota homelands in the mid-1850s. This fort was named “Ridgely” to honor three army officers of the same name who died during the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. We hiked 3 miles below the freezing point before heading to New Ulm for some fantastic hot German dishes for lunch. In the afternoon, we explored the historic downtown and visited several small local attractions before hanging out at Schell’s Brewery — the second oldest family-owned brewery in the US. We continued with more German dishes for dinner at a different restaurant before calling it a night. Last year, our visit to North Dakota introduced us to various German food and expanded our already-broad taste palate. At least we can now comfortably order German dishes other than bratwurst and sauerkraut.
The next day, while having our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we overheard chatters beside our table that the Twin Cities had snowed. Unfazed by the snow heading in our direction, we proceeded to hike 5.5 miles in Flandrau State Park in the morning. While the temperature was as cold as the previous day, the hiking experience was much more pleasant because we didn’t have to battle the brutal wind. We were glad the snow didn’t make it here. After our light lunch in downtown New Ulm, we headed home.