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Get to know

The Prairie Lands

The Native Prairie Grasses

Prior to European settlement, abundant native prairie grasses here were enhanced by occasional wildfires and light grazing from bison and elk. Since early European settlement, haying and heavy grazing by domestic livestock slowly degraded and reduced Minneopa's native prairie grass populations.


Controlled fires have been used periodically in Minneopa State Park since 1970 with good results to stimulate the growth and increase the population of native prairie grass species. In addition, native grasses and wildflowers have been planted into croplands that were previously prairie. 

Minneopa State Park is a great place to learn about the prairies that historically dominated much of this part of Minnesota. The tallgrass prairie of North America was once the largest continuous ecosystem on the continent. In the last 100 years, it has been drained, plowed, and built upon to such an extent that less than 1/10 of 1% remain today. Minneopa is a tiny piece of that remaining percentage. If you visit the park, you can learn more about prairies by visiting a prairie interpretive trail.

Prairie with Many Rocks 
Dakota called the park’s prairie area Tinta-inya-ota or "prairie with many rocks." In this grassland area, a thin layer of soil covers the boulders and limestone bedrock. The presence of gopher mounds is a good indicator of where the soil is deepest. The large boulders, or "glacial erratics," scattered about the grassland area were transported and deposited here by glaciers over 15,000 years ago. These erratics were carried over a hundred miles from their bedrock source

A close up picture of the Compass Plant

Minneopa Flora and Fauna

Situated at the confluence of the Minnesota River and Minneopa Creek, a diverse selection of ecosystems can be found at Minneopa State Park including tallgrass prairie, Big Woods and wetlands.  This provides a visitor a wonderful opportunity to discover many different types of wildflowers, trees and other plants in a fairly small area.  Minneopa State Park is also home a wide variety of animals whether it is birds, mammals, reptiles, insects or amphibians.  From spring right through winter you will be able find something new blooming, growing or just passing through Minneopa.    


Traveling through the bison range will take you back in time where much of the Minnesota River Valley had been covered in prairie.  One of the main reasons Euro-Americans didn’t plow it up has to do with all of the rocks ranging from hard sandstone to glacial erratics.  There are a number of places you can observe prairie wildflowers and grasses including the trail around the bison range and at the park office on the waterfall’s side.

Here are some wildflowers and grasses found at Minneopa:

  • Black-eyed Susan,

  • Butterfly Milkweed,

  • Common Milkweed,

  • Compass Plant,

  • Cup Plant,

  • Golden Alexanders,

  • Gray-headed Coneflower,

  • Hoary Vervain,

  • Leadplant,

  • Pale Purple Coneflower,

  • Prairie Cinquefoil,

  • Prairie Smoke,

  • Purple Prairie Clover,

  • Rattlesnake Master,

  • Rough Blazing Star,

  • White Wild Indigo,

  • Wild Bergamot,

  • Big Bluestem,

  • Little Bluestem,

  • Indian Grass,

  • Prairie Dropseed,

  • Side Oats Gramma

A close up picture of the Rough Blazing Star

Woodland Flowers

Minneopa Creek’s gorge and surrounding bluffs offers an almost ideal place to find spring wildflowers blooming as the days get longer and temperatures begin to warm up.  Many of these early woodland flowers only bloom for a short amount of time before trees begin to leaf out and they lose that direct sunlight.  Others will come later in the spring and summer rising above that lower canopy.  In some places these early woodland wildflowers will cover the ground like a blanket.  Besides the waterfalls area, you will find some of these woodland flowers along the Minnesota River bluffs.


Here are some woodland flowers found at Minneopa:

  • Bloodroot,

  • Canada Anemone,

  • Columbine,

  • Dutchman’s Breeches,

  • False Solomon’s Seal,

  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit,

  • Large-flowered Bellwort,

  • Nodding Trillium,

  • Smooth Solomon’s Seal,

  • Tall Bellflower,

  • Virginia Waterleaf,

  • Wild Ginger,


Besides the American Plains Bison, Minneopa is home to a number of different mammals ranging from white-tail deer bounding through the prairie to woodchucks digging burrows into the ground.  Beaver can be found on Minneopa Creek or in a large pond they created by damning up a semi-temporary stream flowing into the Minnesota River Valley.  Gary squirrels and Eastern chipmunks chatter away down at the waterfalls area and you might even catch a glimpse of predator like the coyote or red fox. 


Other Mammals to look for:

  • Raccoon,

  • Striped Skunk,

  • Mink,

  • American Badger,

  • Thirteen-line Ground Squirrel,

  • Cottontail Rabbit

A close up picture of the Columbine

A close up picture of a resident Woodchuck


Throughout the year, there is a wide variety of birds who are making their home here at Minneopa.  Other birds fly on through while some may stick around for a few days to a couple of weeks before disappearing.  Bald eagles can be seen nesting in large cottonwood trees along the Minnesota River.  Look for colorful birds like the Northern Cardinal or Blue Jay.  Hear the sound of a Pileated Woodpecker drumming on a tree or the Red-winged Blackbird screaming because you got too close.  In the spring, you may catch a Canadian goose or Wood Duck floating on the wetland at the Group Campground area.  Wild Turkeys can appear either alone or in large flocks.


Other birds to look for:

  • Blue-winged Teal,

  • Ring-necked Pheasant,

  • Turkey Vulture,

  • American Kestrel,

  • Belted Kingfisher,

  • Rudy-throated Hummingbird,

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,

  • Tree Swallow,

  • Black-capped Chickadee,

  • Eastern Bluebird,

  • Gray Catbird,

  • Cedar Waxwing,

  • Yellow Warbler,

  • Chipping Sparrow,

  • Dark-eyed Junco,

  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak,

  • Bobolink,

  • Purple Finch,

  • American Goldfinch


The southern edge of the former Big Woods once reached down to Minneopa State Park with its large trees like the American elm (now gone from the landscape), Sugar Maple and Basswood.  On the tallgrass prairie trees like the Bur Oak and Red Eastern Cedar grow thick bark to survive wildfires.  Down in the Minneopa Gorge check out the Yellow Birch which normally doesn’t grew this far south and the more common Paper Birch.  Next to water look for the towering Cottonwood or different types of willow bunched together.


Other trees found in Minneopa:

  • Silver Maple,

  • Green Ash,

  • Quaking Aspen,

  • Boxelder,

  • Northern Red Oak,

  • Black Walnut,

  • Ironwood,

  • Northern Pin Oak

A close up picture of a Wood Duck

The mighty Burr Oak


All types of insects ranging from bees to dragonflies to butterflies are buzzing, flying and living at Minneopa State Park.  Many of these insects like beetles go unnoticed while others like the Monarch butterfly catch our attention each time we see one.  They play a valuable role in the natural ecosystem whether pollinating plants or helping decompose dead plants and animals.  Be kind to our insects by leaving them alone and letting them live out their life cycle which is very short compared to humans. 

A Monarch butterfly enjoying a Rough Blazing Star

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