Skalbekken Park: A little piece of outdoor heaven, so close to home

Nature enthusiasts take note– sparkling streams, wooded trails, rustic campsites, abundant wildlife, and the winding Minnesota River are just a few of the perks that await you at a little  prairie oasis known as Skalbekken Park. Just a short drive south, Skalbekken is a little piece of outdoor heaven that you won’t believe is so close to home.

The park, located about six miles southwest of Sacred Heart on County Road 10, is one of the seven parks in the Renville County Parks System, most of which are situated along the Minnesota River. Although considered “rustic” (aka no electricity), the park is dotted with clean shelters, restrooms, and fire rings with ample space to pitch a tent for the night. At the main entrance to the park there is a horse camp that sits adjacent to the Minnesota River. The river runs along the south side of the park with fishing spots aplenty along its banks. On the east side of the park, the Limbo Creek rushes through a lush river forest and to the west, the Hawk Creek.

Although only 18 miles from my driveway to the park entrance, I had never heard of Skalbekken until the fall of 2009 when the newly paired MACCRAY/RCW cross country team spent a few early season practices running through the park. My son was on the team and talked excitedly about what a neat place it was- adding that we should go there sometime. Well sometime finally came in September 2010 when I made my first visit to Skalbekken. Instantly I fell in love with the beauty and serenity of this little oasis on the prairie.

The first couple of trips to the park we stuck to the main road that runs parallel to the Minnesota, venturing off on a few trails but not too far. It wasn’t until last spring when the Minnesota had flooded the main entrance that we discovered what we love the best in Skalbekken- its incredible forest trails.

The first time we ventured off the beaten path we were completely amazed with the rugged terrain- a hiker’s and trailrunner’s dream, at least in our neck of the woods. Steep hills pepper the landscape leading down to Limbo Creek on the north and east sides of the park, our favorite place to hike.
Several trails cross the creek that eventually lead to a  breathtakingly beautiful area of prairie grass covered rolling hills and if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time of the evening, a perfect view of the setting sun. The trails then lead back into the forest and eventually bring you back to the creek. There are also trails that run parallel to the creek. After several trips to the park, we have yet to hike the exact some route twice.

Adding a bit of excitement to the sheer beauty of the trails is the abundant wildlife present in the park. A bald eagle high atop the trees, a wild turkey clucking a few feet off the trail, the flash of a white tail as a deer bounds through the forest, a hawk soaring overhead, and the loud slap of a beaver’s tail are just a few of the experiences garnered while hiking through the forests. Every trip promises something exciting and new.

Popular with horse riding aficionados the park features a horse camp that is large enough for several trailers and campers. Nearly every time we have hiked the trails we find fresh horse tracks and we have ventured upon riders more than once in the main part of the park. The horse trails also link up with the Upper Sioux State Park, just a short jaunt to the southwest of Skalbekken.

Skalbekken even has a little something for history buffs. A feature in the park is the Odean Skalbeck log house. The house was originally built in 1868 and was home to Odean Skalbeck, a former Renville County Commissioner. The house is situated down the main road across from the river and is complete with a historical marker that tells the story of the park and the log house.

For our family, this serene place has become a haven of sorts. We bring the dogs (who start to whine as soon as we head south), fill our water bottles, and hit the trails for a work out that we can’t get anywhere else near by. It’s funny because exercise doesn’t seem like exercise when there is so much beauty surrounding you. We always exit the forest trails with the amazing, soul-refreshing feeling that comes when spending time in the great outdoors. 
No matter what your outdoor fancy, you’ll find it at Skalbekken Park.  A little piece of outdoor heaven so close to home, Skalbekken is definitely worth putting on your summer “to-do” list.

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