Sand Dunes State Forest

First of all, if you are looking for information about Sand Dunes National Park, this is not it. Sand Dunes State Forest is in Minnesota. You will not find huge flowing waves of sand here, but you will find miles of good hiking that is not too crowded. If you have horses, this is also great for trail rides.

Why is it called Sand Dunes? From what I have read, it sounds like the typical story of people not understanding how their actions affect the land they live on. The soil here is very sandy. When farmers turned up the sandy soil with their plows starting in the 1850’s, they were disappointed with the low yields but continued to plant crops. During the drought of 1933-34 the sand blew in the wind and created drifts on roads and front porches. Tree planting began in 1941 as a way to stabilize the soil. In 1943 the Minnesota legislature created Sand Dunes State Forest. It was expanded in 1951. Currently it is about 11,000 acres (44.5 square kilometers or 17.2 square miles) A substantial portion is tree plantations that are thinned every 5 years or so. We are learning to manage our land better and I am grateful that this forest exists! Thank you to the people who figured out that trees were a better fit for this area!

This park’s website says that there are 4 miles of hiking trails. We found that there were many more. The map posted on a sign in the parking lot showed that all the trails allow hiking, so we explored as many as time allowed. When we returned to our vehicles we had covered over 8 miles (13 km).

We highly recommend starting from North Orrock Trailhead, especially in winter or spring. Our original meeting place on our first trip here in March was going to be closer to the campground. The roads were not plowed and were quite impassible for most vehicles. In the days before cell phones we would not have found each other and would have had to try again another day. We went again in May and found it was easier to get around. North Orrock Trailhead is just off the paved road that borders the north edge of the park and has a pit toilet and a picnic table. Here are two pairs of photos. Each pair is the same location, one photo from March and the other from May.

As we explored the area around the campground and beach, we kept getting turned around and returning to the same spots. That was fine with us, we were just enjoying being outside on a beautiful spring day. Finally we figured out that a short walk along the road would get us to the other parts of the park. If we return here again we can explore more of those areas.

The beach was being enjoyed by a few families, but was not nearly as busy as I would expect on such a nice Sunday. This is a hidden gem. The fact that there were so many intersections and so many choices of which way to go was a benefit in my opinion. We had no agenda other than to walk and talk. It did not matter which way we went. We were never more than a few miles from the cars and when we got hungry, we started back. If only every day could be like that!

Hmmm…. maybe it can.

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