Beaver Creek Valley State Park (159454 County 1, 507/724-2107), 22 miles southwest of La Crescent , is a fine example of Minnesota ’s driftless topography. Spring-fed Beaver Creek cuts a deep, narrow valley through the bluffs, and this cool and quiet 1,187-acre park straddles nearly six miles of it.
Because the park protects the majority of land in the upper part of the watershed, the little creek and surrounding landscape are remarkably pristine. The valley is filled with virgin hardwood forests, and native patches of prairie cling to some south and west facing slopes.
Fly fishers will appreciate the challenge of the naturally reproducing trophy-sized brown and brook trout—there is a special winter catch-and-release season.
The park is a top bird-watching spot, and several species, like Cerulean warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and the rare Acadian flycatcher, that are at the far northwestern ends of their range nest in the park.
Eight miles of hiking trail follow the valley. For a complete Beaver Creek experience, climb 250 feet up the bluffs to the first overlook along the Switchback Trail for a long view down the valley, and then walk through what you’ve just been admiring along the Beaver Creek Valley Trail, a level and easy two-mile round-trip leading along the creek and out to a prairie. If you’re lucky, you might spy a five-lined skink with its bright blue tail along the adjoining Plateau Rock Trail and Quarry Trail.
The campground has 42 sites (16 electric) and a camper cabin with electricity right along the road—the valley is just too narrow for any setback—and the farther in you go the more peaceful and secluded the sites become. Half a dozen cart-in sites sit way at the end.
Just north of the park, off County Highway 10, is Schech’s Mill (507/896-3481 or 651/245-5566, 1–6 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun. summer, $5), a working water-powered flour mill built in 1876. If you call ahead someone will crank it up for you. They also sell burlap sacks and flour bags, and other rustic handicrafts.