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Minnesota State Parks

Cannon River Wilderness Area
Escape from city life to the Cannon River Wilderness Area, a community park and nature reserve. Bounded by rolling hills, bluffs, farmland and woods, the Cannon enters a remnant of the Big Woods ecosystem. Downstream, the river enters a broad picturesque gorge with limestone bluffs up to 300 fe...
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Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
Description: The Big Woods—or Bois Grand, as French explorers called this unique forested landscape—once covered more than 3400 square miles in Minnesota. Less than 10 square miles of this hardwood forest remains. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is the largest remaining high-quality tract of this once-massive forest.

Towering sugar maple and basswood trees shade a forest floor carpeted with spring wildflowers. As the season unfolds, enjoy a parade of sharp-lobed hepatica, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, cow parsnip, wild coffee, wild rose, false Soloman's seal, golden Alexander, columbine and Canada anemone. The only place in Minnesota where you might discover a rare dwarf trout lily is at Nerstrand. Hike along shaded trails lined with maidenhair, lady, bracken, ostrich, interrupted, sensitive fragile and blunt-lobed woodsia ferns to look for creatures along the way.

Geologically, the park is comprised of two nearly horizontal layers: a layer of glacial drift about 150 feet thick overlying a layer of Platteville Limestone. The clay-like material throughout the highlands of the park is the glacial drift. The limestone is visible only where the drift has been eroded away, such as at Hidden Falls and along the Prairie Creek bottoms.

Head to the “Big Woods” for great wildlife watching, photographing spectacular spring wildflowers and taking in a burst of red, orange, and gold in the autumnal maple-basswood forest.

Wildlife to Watch: The park is a magnet for migrating and nesting forest birds. Good riparian habitat is also present to provide for a wider variety of bird species. Warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, thrushes and vireos are common in the park with 31 species of neotropical warblers and vireos having been recorded. You’ll find cerulean and chestnut-sided warblers, Acadian and blue-gray gnatcatchers, ovenbirds, American redstarts, eastern wood-pewee, least and great crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, eastern bluebird, golden and ruby crowned kinglets. Bird watchers will enjoy viewing scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings. Check open areas for bobolinks, meadowlarks and vesper and grasshopper sparrows. Seven species of woodpeckers may be tallied if you’re lucky. Look northern flickers and signs of pileateds and although not an everyday occurrence, you might spot a red-headed woodpecker too. Listen for whip-poor-wills in early summer. Red-shouldered hawks are noteworthy raptors to seek out at this site as well.

You might come across other wildlife like white-tailed deer, gray or fox squirrels, raccoons or a pair of foxes. Be on the alert for the antics of resident raccoons and woodchucks. Late evening skies may yield swooping red and hoary woodland bats. Diminutive, pencil-sized red-bellied snakes are also among the woodland residents in the park.

More than 200 varieties of wildflowers, along with countless fern and mushroom species grow in the Big Woods. So, be sure not to overlook the vast array of interesting insects and beautiful butterflies, like the mourning cloak.

Special Tips: Hike or ski along the 14 miles of park trails to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Bird feeders are maintained and one of Minnesota’s most sought-after bird, the red-headed woodpecker, appears with some regularity. This park is a great location to bird during spring and fall migration.

Other Activities: Check Hidden Falls in the summer, where birds and wildlife come for respite from the heat and to take refreshment from the water.

Ownership: MN DNR 
Size: 2882 avres 
Closest Town: Faribault

RestroomsParkingTent CampingCross Country SkiingHikingPicnic tablesVisitor CenterHorse TrailsFeeTrailer CampingDrinking WaterCamp FireShowersBicycling

Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

Black-and-white Warbler - Photo by Carrol Henderson
Please use Map Link below

Driving Directions:
FROM THE NORTH: Take I-35 to State Highway 19 east into Northfield. In town, go south on State Highway 3, then take Highway 246 southeast out of Northfield; then turn right onto County Road 29 and follow the signs to the park. This site is approximately 11 miles southeast of Northfield.

FROM THE SOUTH: Nerstrand Big Woods is twelve miles northeast of Faribault. In town, from State Hwy 60 E, take County Rd 20/St. Paul Ave northeast out of Faribault; at Cannon City turn east/right on County Road 27 and follow signs to park.

Map Link

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park : Wildlife Viewing Area