|Whitewater WMA & State Park|
The Whitewater WMA contains 27,000 acres of wildlife habitat. Three sparkling branches of the Whitewater River flow together in the Whitewater Valley, converging below dramatic river valley bluffs. Wildflowers abound in the area's oak woodlands, savanna, wetlands and bluff prairies. Remnant stand...
Cannon River Wilderness Area
|Description: 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 feet above the valley floor.
Along this corridor, you’ll find upland habitat including maple-basswood forests, oak woodlands, savannas and prairies. Lowland habitats include floodplain forest, wet meadows, willow swamps and rare calcareous fens. In early spring, fragile wildflowers carpet the forest.
Canoeing is a great way to experience this winding waterway and to watch birds and animals in the process. The Cannon River is one of six designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the state. Awarded the honor in 1980, the selected stretch extends from Faribault to its confluence with the Mississippi River.
This site is one of only a few wilderness places in the area that allow horseback riding—another vantage point for wildlife watching.
For those preferring to keep their feet on the ground, you can hike along a self-guided nature trail that winds through the woods. There are a total of five miles of trails, so bring water and maybe take a picnic lunch as you enjoy the walk. Although the majority of wilderness area is on the west side of the river, a practical and picturesque footbridge provides access to some acreage on the other side.
Wildlife to Watch: In the floodplain forest, look for elms ravaged by Dutch elm disease, a tragedy that has added another habitat to the area. Watch red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers as they search the disease-stricken bark crevices for insects and nesting holes. Eastern bluebirds and wood ducks also make themselves at home in these tree cavities.
The park is a birding hotspot during spring migration and nesting season. A variety of bird species including scarlet tanagers, orchard orioles, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, wood and hermit thrushes, Acadian flycatchers and veeries, as well as prothonotary and Nashville warblers are all possible sightings. You may also discover elusive Louisiana waterthrushes flitting along the river’s edge or spotted sandpipers skittering on sandbars. Canada geese with their goslings often float down the waterway, as green herons perch patiently on overhanging snags. Overhead, you might spot a crow-sized Cooper’s hawk or circling turkey vultures.
Watch for other wildlife too. White-tailed deer, beavers, otters, opossums, raccoons, bobcats, red and gray fox, and coyotes, and smaller creatures such eastern cottontails, short-tailed weasels and diminutive deer mice, all reside in the river corridor habitat . You might come across a common garter snake sunning itself on the trail or turtles basking near the water.
Listen for choruses of Cope’s gray treefrogs and the hoots of great horned and barred owls that break the quiet as dusk descends.
Special Tips: In the evening, it’s possible to spot eastern pipistrelle bats as they fly out to feed on nighttime insects.
During the summer, the marshes, prairies and savannas burst into bloom, attracting a humming throng of dragonflies, butterflies, moths and birds.
Other Activities: A detailed DNR water trail guide/map is available, especially for those interested in canoeing the Cannon and Straight Rivers.
Ownership: Rice County
Size: 850 acres
Closest Town: Faribault/Dundas
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: