|Beaver Creek Valley State Park|
Wooded valley walls rise 250 feet above spring-fed Beaver Creek, ushering it through this beautiful park. The view from the upland oak woods is dramatic. Watch for brown and brook trout in the cold, crystal-clear creek. Watercress, a vibrant green aquatic plant, grows in the creek all year long.<...
Great River Bluffs State Park
|Description: This is visually stunning country and unlike what people may envision seeing in Minnesota—a high bluffland. Great River Bluffs State Park features half-dome bluffs with sheer rock cliffs, steep valley walls and rolling uplands that bring with it a diversity of plant communities and wildlife. Everything from maple-basswood forests, old hickory, plantation pines and goat prairies to old fields are found on this site.
Glaciers made most of the Minnesota landscape that one sees today. These ice sheets, up to two miles thick, formed lakes, filled in valleys, created hills, and moved millions of tons of rock and soil. However, this park and most of the blufflands of southeastern Minnesota, displays little glacial drift from any of the four major glaciers.
When the European settlers came to the area, much of the upland floodplain was plowed for crops. The soil type and the slope of the upland caused soil erosion. Check dams were installed, but even so, many fields had to be abandoned.
In the early 1960s, the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry purchased most of the land that now makes up the park. At the time, plantations of red and white pine, green ash, and walnut were started. The creation of Great River Bluffs State Park in 1976 overlooking the Mississippi River Valley grew from a public need for better access to the blufflands.
Two very special parcels, the King's and Queen's Bluff Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA), are contained within the park boundaries. The King's Bluff trail offers a breathtaking view of the Valley. King's and Queen's Bluff support a number of diverse plant community types, including mixed oak forest, second growth forest, goat prairie and moist shaded cliff. At least fifteen rare species of plants occur here.
King's Bluff, open all year round, is northwest of Queen's Bluff; it features goat prairies on the southwest slopes and deciduous forest on the northeast slope. Queen's Bluff is a permit-only site. King's Bluff affords an excellent view of Queen's Bluff, which rises 500 feet above the Mississippi; a bur oak savanna grows atop the bluff, with goat prairies on the southerly slopes, grading to deciduous forest at lower levels. Late summer is a good time to see the asters, goldenrods, and coneflowers in bloom. The SNA contains 178 acres combined.
The park's acreage lies within the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest. Classified as a "Natural State Park," park management is dedicated to the protection and restoration of its natural resources.
As you stop off the Mississippi’s Great River Road, explore the diversity in this park’s landscape and resultant variety of wildlife.
Wildlife to Watch: Bring your binoculars; the river valley is a major flyway for waterfowl, eagles and hawks. Red-tailed hawks are regulars and broad-winged hawks pass through in spring and fall. In the winter, visitors report seeing bald eagles coming and going near the river.
Well over 100 species of birds frequent the park, including many species of songbirds. The grassland habitat in the park makes it one of the very few places in Minnesota where the Henslow’s sparrow is regularly found. The woodland habitat provides important nesting areas for flycatchers, such as great crested and eastern wood pewee, and vireos including red-eyed, warbling and yellow-throated. Other species of interest in this forest are scarlet tanager, ovenbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, ruffed grouse and wild turkey. Chimney swifts and swallows swoop by day, common nighthawks do the same late into the evening. Belted kingfishers and great blue herons stalk for food along the water.
The park attracts more than 35 species of mammals and 17 species of reptiles and amphibians. Look for opossums and skunks in the woodland and rabbits, mice, and ground squirrels are common in the patches of prairie. Predators of these mammals include red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and red foxes, so it’s possible to see predator-prey action. The prairie draws uncommon species of wildlife too: a lizard, the six-lined racer; and a prairie bird, the bobolink.
Special Tips: While timber rattlesnakes live in the park, they are not numerous and offer little or no threat to visitors. If one should be encountered, leave it alone, do not attempt to capture or kill it. These snakes are listed as a state threatened species, and like all wildlife in the park, are protected by law.
Other Activities: The SNA Queen's Bluff acreage is designated as an educational unit and requires an entry permit. Fall colors are spectacular. Blackberries grow on park property and may be picked. Be awareness of the possible presence of timber rattlesnakes.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 3067 acres
Closest Town: Winona
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: