Minnesota Destinations

Nature Destinations

These are locations in Minnesota where native plants, birds, and other wildlife can be viewed. With very few exceptions, these destinations are open to the public.

Each destination includes driving directions, photos, and lists of plants and wildlife found on the site. Many include a printable map with GPS coordinates. Many also include videos.

More than 300 printable maps show GPS coordinates of site boundaries, trails, streams, and significant landmarks. Most also include a map of native plant communities.

Visitors can share their own photos, videos, plant and wildlife sightings, and other observations.


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Recent Additions/Updates
Tony Schmidt Regional Park

Tony Schmidt Regional Park is a Ramsey County park located in Arden Hills, stretching from County Road E and Lake Johanna Boulevard along the north shore of Lake Johanna to Mounds View High School and the 35W-694 cloverleaf interchange.  It is largely a series of wetlands connected by streams and open bodies of water, nestled in among woodsy residential neighborhoods and other city parks, like Charles Perry Park and Chatham Open Area.  The park is basically in three sections – an active railway cuts across the southern portion, and County Road E2 cuts across the north portion.  There are picnic grounds and shelters, playgrounds, a play field with backstop (Perry Park has three ball diamonds), and a boat launch, swimming beach, and fishing pier on Lake Johanna.  A paved walking trail heads north from the main parking area, going through a tunnel under the railway and leading to an at-grade crossing at County Road E2.  There are also several turf/dirt trails that lead off at different points; one trail leads over to Snelling Avenue and Lake Valentine.  The campuses of two universities can be seen from the park: Bethel University across Lake Valentine, and the University of Northwestern-St Paul across Lake Johanna.  A 2011 article by Jessica Bakeman in the Star Tribune also describes how residents around Lake Johanna take great care to keep the lake clean and free of invasive species like Eurasian milfoil (http://strib.mn/17kn2Zj).  Near the beginning of the paved trail, a signpost talks about how a segment of the Arden Hills trail system was dedicated to the memory of former Governor Elmer L. Andersen.  All in all, it is a well-maintained park, offering something for all comers.

— Kirk Nelson

  Tony Schmidt Regional Park
  Photo by Kirk Nelson
Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

Representative Bruce Vento was well-known as a champion for environmental causes in Minnesota and across the nation. During his tenure in Congress, he was chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands for ten years, overseeing the enactment of 300 laws. After his death in 2000, several places in the Metro area were established in his honor: the Vento View Overlook near Cherokee Park, the Bruce Vento Regional Trail in Maplewood and St. Paul, which then leads down through Swede Hollow to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. The 27-acre sanctuary is located just east of downtown St. Paul, tucked in between the railroad tracks along Warner Road and the bluffs below Mounds Park. One cave, called Wakan Tipi (Spirit House), was a significant site for the Native Americans living in the area. In 1853, the North Star Brewery was built here, and they used one of the caves to store beer. Starting in the 1880’s, the area became a railroad and industrial area, later becoming largely abandoned in the 1970’s. In 2001, a coalition of St. Paul residents, neighborhood groups, and the City of St. Paul started work on purchasing the land, and in 2005 it became an official park open to the public. There is an ongoing effort to restore the land’s ecology and native plant communities, though reminders of the industrial history have been left in place. The sanctuary has also become a significant location for birdwatching and for educational opportunities.

— Kirk Nelson

  Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
  Photo by Kirk Nelson
Brownsville Bluff SNA

Brownsville Bluff Scientific and Natural Area, in Houston County, was designated on January 19, 2016, to protect habitat for the milk snake and the state threatened western ratsnake. Neither snake is poisonous. The site consists of 286 acres bedrock bluff covered with windblown sediment. The 39-acre south section is a wildlife sanctuary that is closed to the public. The eastern-facing slopes are moderately steep to very steep. They have a mature, moderately moist forest of sugar maple, basswood, ironwood, northern red oak, and white oak. The west-facing slopes are less steep. They have a dry to moderately moist mature forest of bur oak, northern pin oak, northern red oak, and paper birch, with some shagbark hickory, white oak, and black walnut. At the top of the bluff there is a prairie that has been used as an agricultural field. It will be restored to prairie and savanna.

An access road leads from the parking area (walk around the gate) 0.67 miles to the top of the bluff. A footpath follows the cleared fields on the bluff top to the northern boundary. Another footpath leads east from there to a spectacular overlook at the northeast corner of the SNA, a dizzying 400 feet above the road below.

  Brownsville Bluff SNA
Lawrence Creek SNA

Designated on June 12, 2017, Lawrence Creek SNA is one of the newest Scientific and Natural Areas in the Minnesota DNR’s inventory. It consists of 71.8 forested acres of steep bluffs and deep ravines near Franconia in Chisago County. Included within its boundary is a trout stream, a hunting shack, and an 11-acre state wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary is closed to the public and visitors are asked to “Stay back from cliffs and off steep slopes” to protect sensitive plant communities. There are no maintained trails, but there is a forest road and worn footpaths that together complete a 3.2-mile circuit of the site.

Visitors to Lawrence Creek SNA this week (May 6 to 12, 2018) will see Pennsylvania sedge in flower and sharp-lobed hepatica and yellow marsh marigold peaking. Other spring wildflowers in bloom this week include bloodroot, white trout lily, large-flowered bellwort, large-flowered trillium, and Virginia spring beauty. Louisiana Waterthrush, a species of special concern, has been heard here. The site contains habitat that may host Cerulean Warbler, Acadian flycatcher, and Red-shouldered Hawk. Three Helmeted Guineafowl were seen in the parking area by a surprised visitor. They apparently belong to the farm across the road and are free to roam the adjacent fields.

  Lawrence Creek SNA
Henry’s Woods Park, Rogers, MN

When settlers started arriving in south-central Minnesota in the 1800’s, they encountered a large stretch of forest about 100 miles long and 40 miles wide, basically from what is now Mankato to Monticello. The predominant mix of trees was elm, sugar maple, basswood, and oak, which contrasted with the surrounding prairies, savannas, and brushier oak and aspen woodlands. In the 1700’s, French explorers called this region bois grand, which translates to the commonly used English name – Big Woods. There is a similar region in western Wisconsin, and part of this area near Lake Pepin is the setting for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods. Over the years, the increase of farming and real estate development has reduced the Big Woods to scattered remnants and secondary stands that are mainly preserved in parks and other protected areas – about 2% of the original expanse. Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is one of the most pristine fragments. Another well-preserved remnant is Henry’s Woods Park in Rogers, MN.

An article in the July-August 1998 edition of The Minnesota Volunteer talks more about the Big Woods and features the Henrys’ farm. Rising taxes and land values encouraged many land owners to sell their land to developers, but the Henrys instead wanted to preserve their 60-acre forest as a memorial to Lloyd’s grandparents who bought the farm shortly after the Civil War (it was Hassan Township at the time). Eventually, the current 52-acre site was gifted to Hassan Township (now Rogers), and it is permanently protected in conjunction with the Minnesota Land Trust. The main parking area is off Brockton Lane, and the first things you see are a circle garden in the middle of the parking area and a restored farm building near the trailhead by the woods. A large polished stone marker in the middle of the garden talks about the Henrys’ gift and the history of the woods. The Henrys not only farmed the area, they also had a sawmill and used the woods for lumber and firewood. In addition, they tapped the maple trees each spring and made maple syrup; the preserved building on site is the Henrys’ “sugar shack” where they made the syrup. When you enter the woods, the trail starts as minimally graveled, but then turns to bare earth as it loops through the woods. A bridge crosses over a small stream, and there are two small ponds with wood duck boxes. It’s a tranquil spot not far from a large commercial/retail area. A trip to Cabela’s could result in a purchase of hiking shoes and an opportunity to use them right away at Henry’s Woods.

— Kirk Nelson

  Henry's Woods
  Photo by Kirk Nelson
Other Recent Additions/Updates

Vermillion River WMA

Tiedemann WMA

Phelps Lake WMA

Rockville County Park

Bur Oak WMA

Benson WMA

Kasota Prairie

Seven Mile Creek County Park

Edward Velishek Memorial WMA

Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA


Wrenshall WMA

Sawyer WMA

Sandstone WMA

Prairie Creek WMA, Koester Prairie Unit

Agassiz-Nelson WMA

Hampton Woods WMA

Vorce WMA

Marvin W. Schubring Memorial WMA

Zimmerman Prairie

Tribute WMA

Elgin Woods WMA

Chippewa Prairie

Chippewa Prairie Addition

Regal Meadow

Regal Meadow Addition

Ordway Prairie

Ordway Prairie Addition

Richard M. & Mathilde Rice Elliot SNA

  Prairie Creek WMA, Koester Prairie Unit
  Prairie Creek WMA, Koester Prairie Unit
Coming Soon

Dinner Creek SNA

Mississippi Oxbow SNA

Hardwood Creek WMA









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