Prairie meets forest at Glendalough State Park

  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 12:24 PM

Glendalough State Park offers woods, waters, wetlands and uplands — plus miles of undeveloped lakeshore to explore.


Canoeing in Glendalough State Park.

Photo: Provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The first time I visited Glendalough State Park was by happenstance — I came across the park entrance on a leisurely drive one winter’s morning in the late-1990s while staying at my sister’s nearby house in west-central Minnesota next to Fergus Falls.

The night before, roughly three inches of heavy, wet snow fell, blanketing the park and the surrounding region in monochromatic splendor. Curious, and with my young black Lab riding shotgun, I made a hard-left into the park and found it momentarily uninhabited — we were completely alone, in a wild place whose existence I had just discovered only seconds before. It was the happiest of accidents.

I remember that morning well for two other reasons: The snow clung to Glendalough’s naked hardwoods and each had the look of skeleton hands. It was an eerie yet intoxicatingly beautiful sight — a mental photograph long ago archived and impossible to forget. And the white-tailed deer were everywhere, dozens of them lollygagging about or bedded near the edge of a stand of native prairie. They were completely unfazed by our presence and seemingly tamed by the fresh snow.

Over the years, I have visited the 2,761-acre park countless times, enjoying (and learning about) nearly every square inch of its woods, waters, wetlands and uplands. In fact, while I have visited numerous state parks across Minnesota, Glendalough (named after an Irish monastery) is the only one I’ve explored in every season.

“For each season, Glendalough has its own unique beauty,” said my sister Tatum Johnson, who hikes and kayaks there regularly. “It’s really an unknown gem, tucked away in the transition zone of the prairie and hardwood forest. The lakes at the park are pristine, some of them have great sandy beaches and the fishing is good. I feel very lucky to live so close to a state park that even hard-core park-goers don’t know exists.”

Glendalough State Park is in Otter Tail County, roughly 3 miles northeast of Battle Lake, a sleepy little town that turns kinetic with vacationers in late spring and throughout the summer.

The park has an unusual history. It was first acquired in 1903 as a summer retreat, then was sold in 1928 to F.E. Murphy, owner of the Minneapolis Tribune Co., who expanded the property and started a private game farm on the grounds. The largely untrammeled property was sold in 1941 to Cowles Media Co. (including the newspaper, which is now the Star Tribune). The Cowles family, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, used the property as a private and corporate retreat, entertaining presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon and other VIPs.

In 1990, the property was donated to the Nature Conservancy. Two years later, the deed was transferred to the Minnesota DNR and the property was turned into a state park.

Pristine lakes

When you enter the park, it feels like civilization stops and a new (completely natural) dimension begins. The park, it should be noted, has 9.2 miles of undeveloped lakeshore, one of the last large tracts remaining in western Minnesota. Several hiking trails, including two interpretive paths, rise and fall along five lakes — Molly Stark, Annie Battle, Sunset, Blanche and Emma — and through the park’s thick woods and managed prairie. An array of wildlife can be spied throughout the year — from deer to turkeys to loons, among numerous other bird species and assorted small mammals.

“I love the prairie sections probably the most, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom,” said my sister, who inherited our family’s affinity for grasslands. “It’s truly something special to see.”

Over the years, I’ve fished but one of Glendalough’s five lakes: the pristine and gin-clear Annie Battle. Annie Battle is a “heritage” fishery, a designation that comes with strict rules. Motors are banned. All fishing electronics are forbidden. And anglers must follow a set of special rules: Only five sunfish and five crappies can be taken daily.

One morning a few years ago, I watched two fly anglers cast yellow “bass poppers” to an emergent weed bed. Every cast, or seemingly so, coaxed an aggressive, even vicious strike. Then hoots and hollers from the euphoric fishermen, which instantly coaxed something out of me: jealousy. Curious again, and anticipating they were catching largemouth bass, I looked through my binoculars and couldn’t believe what I saw: sunfish — very large sunfish — that resembled Frisbees with lips. Thanks to the special regulations and light fishing pressure, Annie Battle is renowned for these über-large sunfish, a rarity in Minnesota waters nowadays.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had similar luck when fishing Annie Battle. Not even close. Jealousy intact, I’m hoping that changes in early September when I return to Glendalough for a few days of fishing. I plan to camp at one of the park’s 22 “primitive” cart-in campsites (the park also has three canoe-in sites, as well as four camper cabins) and exorcise a few sunfish demons.

If  that doesn’t work, there’s always winter. And the deer.

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance outdoors writer living in Prior Lake. Reach him at

  • related content

  • Minnesota DNR's under-celebrated State Fair building

    Friday August 22, 2014

    The Minnesota DNR’s 80-year-old State Fair building is a comprehensive resource for outdoor education and entertainment. If only more people...

  • Cabin Country: Shopping for the perfect cabin

    Friday August 22, 2014

    While visiting friends on an island near Lake Vermilion in 1990, we discovered a nearby cabin available for under $30,000. Maybe we could afford to have a little getaway!

  • How to ... find deer by following the acorn crop

    Friday August 22, 2014

    On a cool day last week I took a stroll through the oak flats in several of my favorite local...

  • On a cool day last week I took a stroll through the oak flats in several of my favorite local...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 97 FINAL
Portland 104
Houston 115 FINAL
Denver 111
Indiana 100 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 58 FINAL
Cal Poly 60
Central Arkansas 55 FINAL
New Mexico 76
Howard 45 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Portland 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56 FINAL
Oregon 79
Grambling St 38 FINAL
Washington 86
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question