In my post on November 25th, “Opting Out“, I indicated that I would be skipping the shopping malls on “Black Friday” in favor of spending time in nature. This was an attitude shared by many others that day and promoted by several outdoor businesses including REI and NRS. It was also a day where all Minnesota State Parks were open to the public for free.
What started out as a plan to visit one park, ended up being a marathon trek to four parks. It wasn’t that I was trying to take advantage of the free admission, I already have my annual park sticker, it became more than that. As I planned this outing, I realized that this was going to be my last chance this year for a photo adventure. It was also a road trip, a chance to see two parks I have never visited, time for some photography and I was curious how many people would take advantage of the free park entrance. Especially on a day that started out overcast with temps in the upper teens. On Thanksgiving day the area had received a snowfall that blanketed the ground in the parks to varying depths. Three of the parks had little more than a dusting, while Afton had several inches. It did eventually clear up and temps warmed to the low-mid twenties.
My day started with Frontenac State Park which is about sixty miles down the Mississippi River from St. Paul. The park sits atop sandstone bluffs from which there are excellent views of the river. As I pulled into the parking lot at the top of the bluff, I noted that I was the fourth car in the lot. By the time I returned to my car, a couple of other cars had arrived. The park offers the usual amenities, including picnic areas, camping, hiking trails and interpretive programs. A word of note, if you have any interest in hiking down to the river while in the park, be prepared for a long trip down and a long trip up. The park is heavily wooded, the trails are tricky at times and are not meant for the feint of heart. There are trails on top of the bluff that are more accessible. I couldn’t help but admire the one brave camper that was staying in the park that weekend.
There are a number of small river towns along the Mississippi, Red Wing, which is about twelve miles up river, is a very popular destination due to its old architecture and river town flavor. Hastings to the north of Red Wing and Winona to the south, are also very popular. One last note, “The Great river Road” is a trip of its own and I encourage anyone who enjoys a good drive to spend some time exploring it.