NEW ULM — High gas prices and a struggling economy have been two major reasons why some people are thinking about scrapping that summer vacation altogether.
But it should be known that you don’t have to drive across the state and spend hundreds of dollars on gas alone just to get away and go on a short vacation. South Central Minnesota has three state parks within 30 miles of New Ulm that offer different options for families who want to get away for a weekend.
Also, because it is the 150th anniversary of Minnesota, State Parks all over have special events and activities going on at different times of the year.
Flandrau State Park Manager Gary Heipel said that Flandrau, which is located in New Ulm, along with Minneopa State Park and Fort Ridgely State Park, have enough sites to see and things to do to keep people busy for a couple of days.
Flandrau State Park
“There’s a lot of choices in the local area,” Heipel said. “Flandrau’s got a park where we’re inside the city limits and you can walk in on the sidewalk or you can bike in it, so there’s a lot of different ways to get to Flandrau.
Flandrau park has a lot to offer campers who want some variety. There are 92 campsites and sites in the park. There are sites with electricity ($22, mainly used for pop-ups, trailers and motor homes), no electricity ($18, mostly for tents) and rustic campgrounds. These prices don’t include the $25 seasonal State Park Pass (a $5 day pass is also available).
Flandrau also offers a swimming pool and miles of hiking trails. Both the electric and non-electric campgrounds have a showering facility nearby for campers to use. The rustic campground offers a hand pump for water and an outhouse style toilet. There are no showers associated with that campground, but Heipel said those people can use the beach house showering facility if they want.
And camping isn’t the only thing that those who visit Flandrau can do. Because the park is located in town, there are plenty of shopping options and tourist attractions throughout the city and area.
“We get a lot of people that come to Flandrau that are interested in doing a number of things,” Heipel said. “We get a lot of people who tour Schell’s Brewery and they’ll come and look at the Hermann Monument. The golf course is up there as well, so we have a lot of people coming for different things.”
As far as reservations at Flandrau, Heipel said that 20 percent of the sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and the other 80 percent are reservable. Right now, you can make reservations up to 90 days in advance, but starting in June, that will change to a year in advance. Normally, the electric sites fill up first, so those who want a site should get those as soon as possible.
Also, Flandrau offers a pool, which is a nice option for those bringing children along. The eight miles of trails give the campers many sights to see and allows you to get in touch with nature, and there will be a few special presentations later this year for the 150th anniversary.
On June 6, Flandrau offers a presentation called “The State We’re In: Stories of Minnesota’s Past.” On July 12, the park offers “Build a Park on a Dollar Day.” And on July 25 and 26 there will be information on mussels living in the Cottonwood River.
Minneopa State Park
Minneopa State Park is also an alternative for campers. Located five miles west of Mankato on highways 68 and 169, it’s on the Minnesota River and Heipel said the park offers a nice campground, a nice prairie and the Seppman Windmill.
The park also features a twin waterfall and is also close to town in case of bad weather or if campers needs to pick up a few items. There are also more than four miles of hiking trails in the park.
Minneopa State Park also has a special event going on June 1. You can learn about the history of the Seppman Mill, a windmill that was constructed in the 1860s.
Fort Ridgely State Park
Fort Ridgely, located near Fairfax, is a third area option. The park just remodeled its golf course and it offers horse trails for those who seek a different kind of experience from Minneopa or Flandrau.
Also, for those interested in archeology, the park has a 1.5 mile walk called “Digging into Fort Ridgely History” at 2 p.m. June 28. Archaeologist Douglas George will lead a group to explore the 8,000 year history of the park’s area.
Also, for more information on the area state parks or other state parks, you can pick up a brochure at Flandrau State Park during the day, Monday through Friday.
A new thing for hikers this year is geocaching, and its the first time where every state park in Minnesota will have a geocache system in it. A geocache looks like an ammo box and hikers will try to find the box somewhere in the park using a handheld GPS unit.
Hikers can navigate themselves to that location in the park. Inside of the geocache will be a log book that hikers can sign once they’ve found it. Heipel describes this new trend as compass orienteering with an electronic handheld unit. For more information on geocaching, go to http://www.mnstateparks.info.'>www.mnstateparks.info.
Jeremy Behnke can be reached at
The pool at Flandrau State Park is popular with all visitors to the park.