[Featured Photo by Rick Pepper – North American Bison at Minneopa State Park]

Looking for something a little out-of-the-ordinary to do with the kids this weekend? Consider taking them to Minneaopa State Park, just a few miles from Mankato, to see the American Bison herd.

Photo by Rick Pepper - North American Bison at Minneopa Park.
Photo by Rick Pepper – North American Bison at Minneopa Park.

In the late 1800s, Bison were all but extinct because of over-hunting. Today, all bison are the descendants of a small number of survivors. Most bison also have cattle genes as a result of experiments to raise them as meat animals. According to the DNR website, “Genetic testing of the [conservation] herd from 2011-2014 found them largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle. This makes them rare among modern bison.”

As of the summer of 2018 there are 20 bison at Minneopa which includes five calves born in the spring.

As of the summer of 2018 there are 20 bison at Minneopa which includes five calves born in the spring. The calves are all the offspring of the lone adult bull which was brought to Minneopa from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The herd is managed in a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Zoo and is distributed between Minneopa, Blue Mounds State Park, and The Zoo. The entire herd consists of approximately 130 animals.

Photo by Don Lipps - Friendly reminder at the American Bison range at Minneopa State Park
Photo by Don Lipps – Friendly reminder at the American Bison range at Minneopa State Park

The bison roam 131 fenced acres so seeing them can sometimes be tricky. If you take your time and look carefully you’ll usually be able to locate them.

You can drive your car through the enclosure and occasionally, you’ll get really lucky and the bison will be very close by. Remember, though, these bison are wild animals and can be dangerous, especially when calves are present so stay in your car!

The drive is open from 9 am to 8:30 pm Thursday through Tuesday and is closed on Wednesdays. The gates close at 8:30 pm sharp so make sure you’re out of area before then.

A radio station, AM 1610, is available for more information once you’re in the park.

A park permit is required to visit the Bison range. Permits can be purchased for $7 at the park office in the south division of the park near the Falls parking area. Self-registration is also available at a booth near the entry to the north division of the park on the way to the bison range.