Smiling woman leaning up against a railing.

Situated in Dakota County, Minnesota, Spring Lake Park Reserve is a tasting menu of terrain, from forested bluffs to grassy prairie land, all alongside the Mississippi River. Covering an expanse of 1,100 acres the reserve is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a range of activities to enjoy year-round. From hiking and biking trails to archery and bird-watching spots, the park is a dynamic landscape that both preserves local ecology and invites human interaction.

Man walking down a paved trail into a green forest.
Chris walking down the Mississippi Greenway Trail.
Delicate yellow flower in a sea of green.
Impatiens pallida (Pale Touch-me-not)

Geography and Ecology

Spring Lake, which the park is named after, is a backwater of the Mississippi River, separated from the main waterway by a series of islands. The park wraps along the south shore of the lake and skirts around its west point as the lake mingles with the Mississippi. The reserve features diverse ecosystems ranging from wooded areas and wetlands to open prairie and lakeside bluffs.

Rich in biodiversity, the reserve is home to various species of flora and fauna. In particular, the park’s mature oak forests and prairies support a host of native plants and animals, making it a hub for naturalists and bird watchers alike. On the west end of the park—where the reserve has been nurturing a parie environment—park officials have erected three paddocks where visitors can watch a small herd of bison.

Bison Prairie

The Bison Prairie is a relatively new addition to Spring Lake and hosts a small herd of bison. While these certainly are large mammals, they can be lost in the expansive and high grasses of the prairie. The best times to see the bison are during the cooler morning and evening hours. Learn more in our article about the Bison Prarie.

Bison head obscured by tall grasses .
The high grasses of the Bison Prairie quickly obscure the animals as they retreat deeper into the paddock.

Recreational Activities

Spring Lake Park Reserve doesn’t shy away from offering an array of activities to suit all interests. Hikers and bikers will find an extensive network of trails crisscrossing the reserve. There are many scenic overlooks for wildlife viewing. The bluffs are particularly notable for watching bald eagles fish the Mississippi. The archery range, with its multiple targets, appeals to both beginners and seasoned archers. And don’t forget the volleyball courts, playground, and picnic areas.

Winter sports are not left out; the park designates a series of trails for hiking, snowshoeing, skate skiing, and classic skiing when the season allows.

Mississippi River Greenway

Spring Lake Park Reserve hosts the beginning of the 10.1 mile paved Mississippi River Greenway, following the riverfront and eventually connecting with the 10-mile Hastings Loop Bike Trail. While we turn back after 2 miles, the trail continues up a river bluff where bikers can spot bald eagles, and bike into Hastings. This would constitute a high priority on my future to-do list.

Clustered white flowers in a prairie.
Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace)
Cluster of small bright orange flowers with an orange beatle.
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly-weed)


The reserve is well-equipped to accommodate its visitors. The Schaar’s Bluff Gathering Center is a hub for events, gatherings, and educational programs. Restrooms are available at different locations within the park, providing basic but essential amenities for visitors. Picnic spots, complete with tables and shelters, are strategically placed for those looking to spend a day in nature.

Recreation map of Spring Lake Park
Spring Lake Park Map from Dakota County Parks


Spring Lake Park Reserve is highly accessible, featuring parking lots near major points of interest and a series of paved trails that are ADA compliant. The reserve is also connected by several bike routes and public transportation options.

View of a prairie.
Spring Lake Park Prairie.

Our Experience

We roll into Spring Lake Park in the early afternoon, parking in the west lot, near the archery range. We came to see bison, we stayed for the landscape. The trail to the bison paddocks is part of the Mississippi Greenway Trail and is ideal for biking but we opt to walk to the bison. It’s a decision we quickly regret, baking under the summer afternoon sun only to discover…nothing. We only see tall grass in the bison paddock. We walk the length of the fencing with no luck. But rather than admit defeat, we continue walking in search of a view of the Mississippi.

Instead, we continue to the Ravine Bridge to take in the Great River and the colorful ravine floor. On the way back, we appreciate the variety of wildflowers and are almost too distracted by the siren call of our airconditioned truck cab that we nearly miss the bison now gathered at the paddock’s fence line. Yes, we finally get to meet the shaggy stars we walked all this way to see. With that, we can leave the park fully satisfied.

Spring Lake Park Reserve stands as a model of what a modern reserve can offer—blending recreational activities with natural beauty and ecological awareness. Whether we are hiking through its forests, fishing in its placid lake, or simply absorbing the peace and tranquility, the park invites us to embrace both nature and recreation in a harmonious setting.

Smiling woman leaning up against a railing.
Pausing at the Ravine Bridge before we turn back.
Birds eye view of a green ravine with a small creek wandering.
Looking down into the ravine and off to the Mississippi from the Ravine Bridge.

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

post a comment