“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
-- Henry David Thoreau


Two trout fishermen cast and recast on the Redwood River in Camden State Park one recent late April day, laughing at each other’s luck and their own persistence. Just then, a fly rod dipped and the fight for a brown trout was on. Finally netting his catch, the angler grabbed his camera for a fishy portrait before returning the trout to the river.

“I come out here to have fun,” he said. “Sure, it’s a thrill to catch trout, but I head home happy and energized regardless of what happens on the river. This is my therapy.”

This is the essence of Thoreau’s thought and perhaps the reason we love parks. We need untamed places for our souls as well as our bodies.

And Camden State Park, an oasis of woods and river valley in the midst of southwestern Minnesota’s prairie farm country, is a wild spot at our fingertips.

The park

The Redwood River Valley cuts through the open prairie in the heart of 2,237-acre Camden State Park.

The park, 10 miles southwest of Marshall on Hwy. 23, is a year-round attraction. As spring evolves into summer, canoeists and kayakers put in on Brawner Lake. Anglers launch their boats (electric motors only) or try their luck for bluegill and bass from the fishing pier.

The Redwood is stocked primarily with brown trout but has some rainbows as well. A spring-fed swimming pond is popular at the park’s northern edge.

Camden maintains more than 15 miles of hiking trails, which include 10 miles of horseback and 4½ miles of mountain-bike trails. You also can bike on the newly paved trail that leads from the park to the nearby town of Lynd.

For a sweeping view of the wooded valley and surrounding prairie, hike the Dakota Valley Trail up to the overlook.

In fall, the spot offers a hawk’s-eye view of changing leaves, but it’s the sweet green of spring and early summer that nurture the soul after a harsh winter.

History, terrain

The Redwood River Valley in present-day Camden State Park has been a refuge for Indians, settlers and travelers for more than 8,000 years.

The narrow, steep valley is blanketed with dense woods and blessed with free-flowing spring water. The powerful prairie winds that occasionally blast across the open land tend to barrel over the river valley, which provides both shelter and beauty.

The park lies on the Coteau des Prairies (“highland of the prairies”), a high plateau that rises to 900 feet to the north and east. Camden’s mix of hardwoods, wetlands and native and restored prairie are home to a seasonal parade of wildflowers.

A springtime hike in the park’s woodlands offers the promise of white trillium, trout lilies, bloodroot and violets. Pasque flowers and prairie smoke come alive on Camden’s prairies.

The valley’s abundant water supply supported a rich variety of plants and wildlife for American Indians, explorers, traders and settlers.

In the 1830s, a colorful trader named LaFramboise operated a post in the valley. Settlers arrived in the late 1840s, naming their small community Camden, after their home of Camden, N.J.

The town site thrived with a general store, hotel, blacksmith shop and two grist mills.

When the railroad placed a depot elsewhere, the town faded.

Today, the Jones Mill historic site in the park is a memorial to the town.

Though Camden became a memory, the scenic river valley remained a popular picnic and family gathering destination, inspiring its reincarnation as a state park.

Where to eat

For shady outdoor seating near water and in the midst of towering valley hardwoods, nothing beats a relaxing picnic in the park.

Camden maintains three picnic areas, including one along the shores of Brawner Lake. If you prefer a broader menu of dining options, head 10 miles north to Marshall (www.visitmarshallmn.com; 1-507-537-1865).

Where to sleep

Our family loves to camp, and Camden State Park is one of our favorites in southern Minnesota.

There are 80 sites to choose from, split into the Upper and Lower Campgrounds. Marshall also offers a variety of comfortable lodging options.

What to do

The eighth Annual Fine Arts Celebration at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall runs until May 10. All events are free and open to the public (www.smsu.edu; 1-507-537-7103).

The Lyon County Historical Museum showcases the county’s rich history (www.lyon comuseum.org; 1-507-537-6580).

The Marshall Aquatic Center offers fun for the whole family (www.visitmarshallmn.com; 1-507-537-6767).

The nine-hole Savannah Oaks Golf Course is just 5 miles north of the park (www.golfsavannahoaks.com; 1-507-865-1135).


Jim Umhoefer is a travel and outdoor writer/photographer from Sauk Centre, Minn.