Nerstrand Big Woods State Park was once a much larger forest (100 miles by 40 miles) but much of it was cleared by early settlers for farmland. The Rice County Historical Society explains why Nerstrand Big Woods survived and how it became the state park that it is today in this short video (link). Additional background information can be found at the Exit 69 blog.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park includes 11 miles of hiking trails, a waterfall (just a short hike) and a very nice campground. The waterfall is only 8-10 feet tall but it is a long shelf and it is a nice place for a summer swim. A state park permit is needed for entry.
Rating and length – easy – <1 hour round trip
Accessibility – well built trail
How to get there – Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located less than 5 miles away from either Northfield and Faribault. A variety of routes can be taken there.
The hike – The waterfall is a short hike from the parking lot. Walk past the bathrooms toward the campground and turn left past the volleyball court. Follow this trail down to the river. You can return on the same trail or continue on a longer loop back to the campground.
Seasonality – It can dry up during the summer if it hasn’t rained for awhile
Cost – State park permit required. $5/day or $25/year
GPS – N44.348121 W93.101956