What better way to enjoy a sunny day in Minnesota than by taking a hike? Luckily for Minnesotans, we have plenty of great trails to choose from, from the super long Superior Hiking Trail to many
easy hikes across the state. They allow us to experience the beauty of nature, enjoy nice weather, and get some relief from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And sometimes, they even allow us to catch a glimpse of history. These 7 trails allow you to do just that by leading to extraordinary ancient ruins.
1. Shakopee Historic District - Shakopee
Shakopee Historic District is where ancient history collides with slightly-less-ancient history. Burial mounds are relics of ancient Native American tribes that inhabited the land long before European settlers arrived. And after Europeans settled in Minnesota, the same area became home to villages inhabited by both them and the Dakotah people. Today, visitors can see evidence of mill ruins and the remains of an old ferry landing.
2. Hegman Lake Pictographs - Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area
No one is quite sure how old they are, but the Hegman Lake Pictographs are known for being the best-preserved pictographs in Minnesota. The bright red stands out against the granite cliff, depicting a human figure, a moose, and what appear to be three canoes. Getting there does require a bit of rowing - in the warm months, at least. But in the winter, it's an easy hike across the frozen lake to see the famous markings. No matter how you get to them, it's a fascinating site - and a beautiful trip through the Boundary Waters.
3. Pipestone National Monument - Pipestone
Pipestone National Monument is a beautiful park with plenty of great hiking along the spectacular pink quartzite cliffs that make up the region. Just make sure you make a stop at a quarry, where stone for ceremonial pipes has been cut from the cliffs for many generations. Quartzite pipestone remnants have even been found in ancient burial mounds in Minnesota. The pipes were important to religious ceremonies for many American Indian tribes.
4. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park - Onamia
In addition to its natural beauty, Mille Lacs Kathio State Park preserves at least 9,000 years of human history. Excavations in the park have unearthed thousands of fragments of ancient pottery. Its most famous area, Petaga Point, has been an active archaeological site at least as recently as 2008. In this photo, a researcher excavates a hearth from an ancient settlement. The 1.5-mile Landmark Trail leads you through some of the park's fascinating history.
5. Lake Hanska County Park - Hanska
According to the Minnesota Office of the State Archaeologist, Hanska County Park contains a prehistoric Indian village once occupied by people as far back as 500 BCE. There are also a few ancient burial mounds that were discovered in the 1950s, as well as a newer ruin - the old Fort Hanska - dating back to 1863. A few trails and an interpretive sign mark this small park in Hanska.
6. Jeffers Petroglyphs - Comfrey
Tucked into the prairie grasslands of southwestern Minnesota, a band of Sioux quartzite spans 650-foot-long section of land. The rock is riddled with markings, old and new. Wagon marks from a century ago formed ruts in the stone. But the most famous markings are the ancient petroglyphs etched into the quartzite. The markings span thousands of years, but scientists estimate the oldest date back to at least 7,000 BCE. These depict an ancient hunting tool called an atlatl. Newer petroglyphs show turtles, thunderbirds, shamans, and more. Experts speculate the symbols were important to ancient ceremonies, shamanism, or recording historic events. We may never know, but it is easy to visit. A trail through the prairie takes you straight to this fascinating Minnesota mystery.
7. Indian Mounds Park - St. Paul
Indian Mounds Park is a fascinating look at ancient history right in St. Paul. The park contains a walking trail that passes alongside six burial mounds. The mounds were created around 2,000 years ago, likely by the Hopewellian people. The Dakota people later added to the display, which once included at least 31 more mounds. Sadly, these were destroyed in the 1800s. Early excavations uncovered many complete skeletons, sometimes buried with objects like shells or weapons. Today, the site is part of the National Register of Historic Places. It is protected from further development and makes for an interesting place to begin learning about Minnesota's ancient history.
Have you ever visited any of these ancient ruins? If you have, let us know your experience!