There are 3 distinct types of prairie, tall grass, mixed grasses, and short grass. All of Minnesota falls within the classification of the tall grass prairie; however, some prairie sites can have characteristics of the mixed grass prairie. Minnesota’s prairie runs north and south on the western edge of the state.
Many years ago as a young boy I remember one day when my older sister, Sandy, excitedly brought me to the Schaefer prairie preserve in west central Minnesota. To my untrained eye the 80-acre plot looked puny and unimpressive. Today this site is 160 acres of virgin and restored prairie. When I visit it now I see an exotic gem filled with diversity and rare beauty. Getting to know and appreciate the prairie ecosystem, I believe, takes a good guide and some time. Once you have been initiated you will want to explore every preserve you can find. At less than one percent of its original size the tall grass prairie ecosystem is one of the rarest of all the ecosystems left on earth, fortunately we have many very good remnants preserved here in Minnesota.
Time to visit:
April for Prairie Chicken booming grounds, Early to mid May for prairie white lady slippers, and yellow lady slippers
Mid June to Early July for western prairie fringed orchid, Late July for cone flowers, blazing stars, and sunflowers
Mid to late August or early September for turning grasses and yellow aspen trees, general landscapes.
Glacial Ridge TNC Preserve/National Wildlife Refuge, 26,000 acres-the largest prairie restoration project in North America
Bluestem Prairie SNA/TNC site. Has great Prairie Chicken viewing blinds. Contact the TNC to reserve a blind.
Felton Prairie SNA a wonderful prairie site tucked between a couple of gravel pits.
Prairie Coteau SNA-has a lot of characteristics of mixed grass prairie.
Cottonwood Prairie SNA, Red Rock TNC, Jeffers Petroglyphs-you can visit all three of these sites in one afternoon.
Lac qui Parle, Big Stone Wildlife Refuge-lots of birds
Blue Mounds State Park-has a buffalo herd in the park and a strange stonewall that was built along the east west sunrise at summer solstice. Lots of native cacti too.
Pipestone National Monument-home to a beautiful nature walk through the natural stone quarries and prairie.