Covering 478 acres of land along the northern bluff of Minnesota River Valley Fort Ridgely State Park has a lot to offer to the day tripper as well as an overnight camper; from a 9-hole golf course, to a MN Historical Society site, to miles upon miles of walking trails, to even a private cemetery in the midst of it.
The landscape at Fort Ridgely State Park is a nice mixture of woodlands and prairies, lowlands and highlands. Stand on top of the prairie and a strong breeze and bright sun welcomes you. Walk down the rolling hills and you’re instantly immersed in a forest. Beautiful variety which makes for a great walk- although you’ll get your exercise once you start going up and down the hills.
There are 31 normal, pull-in campsites at Fort Ridgely and 14 horse camp sites. Several of the campsites have electricity, but if it’s something you need make sure to make your reservation early, as the camping seems to fill up very quickly on the weekends.
There is so much going on at this park that walking the Hiking Club trail can get incredibly confusing. The map helps, but may also lead you completely off track with a few of its directions, as it did me. Definitely start at the beginning of the trail and walk in the direction of the signs- trying to walk the path backwards may have been part of my problem. If you follow the hiking club trail only you should be lucky enough to stay mostly on top of the higher, open meadows and won’t have to overexert yourself with ups and downs of the huge ravines and valleys. The hiking club password can be found on the western edge of the hiking club trail.
Fort Ridgely Historical Site
The Minnesota Historical Society manages the site of Fort Ridgely. There is a small but very well done museum at the fort that you can visit for free if you’re a MNHS member, or for $6 per adult. Inside the museum/interpretive center you will learn more about the Dakota Conflict in 1862 and Fort Ridgely’s involvement.
Walking along the grounds of the original site of the fort is free (there is also free parking at the site, for which you don’t need a state park sticker). There are numerous ruins to explore of old barracks and captain’s quarters. There is also a large monument that was erected in 1896 that sits prominently in the center of the 5 acre site and commemorates those that lived on the site as well as all of those who have fallen.
Fort Ridgely Golf Course
The original golf course at Fort Ridgely was originally developed in the 1920s. It’s a 9-hole golf course that is absolutely stunning. It wraps itself around the prairie meadows of the park and the historical site. They try to keep as true to the original way golf was played as possible and don’t allow carts or any motorized vehicles of any kind on the course. You’ll definitely get your exercise as you walk up and down the hills, but it’s worth it for the beautiful sights- I even watched a wild turkey cross the course!
One of the coolest features about the golf course is that at the beginning of each hole there is a sign that speaks of the historical significance of that specific area. For example, at one hole they found a 1000 year old fire pit. At hole 8, pictured, they had to move the original hole because they found a burial site in the original spot during an excavation.
The bad news is that Fort Ridgely Golf Course is slated to close during the summer of 2016. It could close as early at July or go through the season so make sure you call ahead before making the drive. ($13.00 is the 9-hole weekend rate, play 18 holes and it’s only $18.00.)
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