While visiting family up in Fergus Falls, I took a day and night to explore Maplewood State Park, the 6th largest state park in Minnesota. Since it was a weekday, I practically had the entire park to myself. I chatted with the very friendly and helpful park rangers in the information center, selected a campsite, then explored several trails in the park. There are so many options! Here are a few experiences I can share; I hope you enjoy!
Location: Pelican Rapids, MN
Management: Minnesota State Parks and Trails
Trail Surface: Natural Surface. Dirt, grass, gravel
Environment: Prairie, Deciduous Forest, Wetland
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Cell Phone Reception: Good
Parking: Plentiful, no charge
Dog Rules: Dogs on Leash, 6 foot maximum. Pick up dog waste.
Recommended Gear: A GOOD pair of hiking boots, harnesses and leashes for the dogs, a daypack, water, bug spray, and multiple layers.
Hallaway Hill Overlook
A nice short jaunt, this is a must do if you're visiting the park. There is plenty of parking at the beach, and the trailhead is right off the parking lot. The trail winds through sparse forest for a stretch, and you can catch glimpses of by-gone relics from past farming days nestled in the grass. When you come around a bend and everything opens up to prairie, you know you're near the top. Let the wind play on your face or even take a seat and enjoy the pleasant views. Then, brace yourself for the last uphill climb because it is steep! The views at the top are worth it, though. There's a bench and informational signs at the top of the overlook, plus a pretty great view. I recommend taking the same route back rather than cresting the hill. You can go down the backside of the hill, but it's an unmarked trail and could cause unnecessary erosion to the hillside. This is a great trail to stretch your legs and feel like you actually got some elevation.
Cataract Lake Loop
This trail was lovely. The right length, connected right to the campground, and it had some good scenery. I was camping in the Knoll Loop (read my campground guide here). Head to the far side of the loop, right next to the cabin. There is a trail marker for the beginning of the trail. You have options with this trail system; you can just go around Grass Lake (read the next section), or you can continue on the connecting trail up to Cataract Lake loop. If you're just visiting for the day, you can park at the trail center and hike Cataract Lake loop right from there.
I did this in two parts since I was a bit tired from setting up camp. I headed up the connecting trail (the 0.3 mile section shown above) and circled Cataract Lake, then headed back to camp on the same connecting trail. Later that night, I did the Grass Lake loop, which I describe in more detail below.
There are definitely hills on this trail, and it feels like a real hike. Most of the trail is through maple and hardwood forest with birch trees sprinkled at random. There are several lake views, but no real lake access. Plenty of wildlife to see on this loop, too! Many prairie birds, lake birds, and ground squirrels. We even saw a great blue heron. Watch for ticks in the prairie grass! We took a brief nap in the sun, laying on the soft grass, and I had to remove two ticks from my person as they crawled along my shirt.
Part of this loop is on a gravel horse trail/access road, and it gets right near the water's edge. We almost espied a muskrat, but he was quite secretive. It's very important to watch for trail markers and to bring a map! The turnoff from the gravel road back to the trail is easy to miss, and you could end up going on a much longer trail which does not connect back.
Grass Hill Interpretive Trail
This little section of the Grass Lake loop was downright magical.
I've highlighted it in yellow dots on the map above, and it is absolutely worth doing if you do nothing else in this state park. We traversed this Interpretive Trail near sunset, and the experience is something I will never forget. It is a narrow, winding trail through the trees interspersed with informational signs about the region's geography. The rest of this loop is all gravel road, but it's completely worth it to take this small section.
I climbed the bank off the main road just before the Hollow Loop campground and began my exploratory trek through the trees right next to Grass Lake. There were several scenic lake views, and I'll admit I paused for several minutes just to drink in the vistas. There is something peaceful about this trail. You never quite know where it is going. My favorite part by far was reaching the bridge crossing between Grass Lake and the small pond just north. It's a small wooden bridge, but we sat there for almost thirty minutes just listening to the frogs and checking out the landscape.
Want some quiet time for contemplation or reflection? How about here:
The climb up the steep hill on the other side of the bridge was a little more than my tired legs really wanted right then, but it was certainly doable. The loop rejoins the trail back to Knoll Loop Campground. I hope that when you hike this, you're as totally alone as I was. I could have stayed there for hours.
This was a self-made loop I put together after looking at the map. I conferred with the park ranger, and he confirmed that it would be a good trail to try. Most of it is horse trail, but my dogs don't have a problem with that. We didn't actually get to try this one out, but we did stop at the lake for a quick swim. When I go back, this is at the top of my list to hike. The park ranger said it would be a moderate-level trail. Let me know if you hike it!
Pictures From the Trail