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Minnesota's Backyard: Amid the glacial lakes of the west, Sibley State Park offers something for everyone

Founded more than a century ago and expended during the Great Depression, this gem in western Minnesota features hiking, biking, boating, beaching and abundant wildlife, along with a quartet of camping options.

With miles of trails developed for hiking, biking and horses, Sibley State Park is a popular spot to get out on two legs, or four, depending on your preference.
Forum News Service file photo
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NEW LONDON, Minn. — While most of us can easily spot the difference between pine forest and tallgrass prairie, biologists have a cool map that shows Minnesota’s four distinct ecological zones. And some of the state’s most interesting landscapes are the places where one zone meets another, and you get the best of both worlds.

Take the landscape in and around Sibley State Park in western Minnesota. From the observation tower atop Mt. Tom, the viewer can see a dozen miles or more in all directions on a clear day, and can get a glimpse of seemingly everything Minnesota has to offer. There are rolling wheat fields next to clear blue lakes and stands of swaying hardwoods that give way to the water towers of several vibrant small towns that dot the region.

From the observation area atop Mt. Tom inside Sibley State Park, visitors can see more than a dozen miles in all directions on a clear day, and view the variety of landscapes that western Minnesota has to offer.
Jess Myers / Northland Outdoors

Inside the park — which is one of the state’s oldest, dedicated in 1919 — there is truly something for everyone who enjoys a slice of the Minnesota outdoors. The Mt. Tom hike is strenuous and is subject to the seemingly endless winds that sweep in from the west, but offers one of the best viewpoints anywhere in the state.

From there, one can see the park’s four (yes, four) camping areas, which include a group camp, a camp specifically for horses and two more traditional campgrounds, one situated in the woods and another featuring a view of Lake Andrew.

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With four different camping options, including a campground specifically for visitors with horses, the population of Sibley State Park has been known to grow exponentially on the weekend.
Forum News Service file photo

With miles of biking, hiking and horse trails, it is a place that fills up quickly on summer weekends, but even during the week, this is a place abuzz with activity, from the interpretive center where visitors can learn of the history of this gem amid Minnesota’s glacial lakes. And for those not content to check things out from the shore or the beach, there are kayaks, canoes and boats for rent in the summer, or snowshoes available in the winter.


In the summer, visitors to Sibley State Park often rent canoes, kayaks and boats to get out on the glacial lakes in the area. In the winter, snowshoes are a popular rental item.
Carolyn Lange / Forum News Service
Minnesota's backyard logo

Notable nearby

The regional center of this lakes area is Willmar, roughly 20 minutes south of the park, which is home to one of the largest turkey producers in the country. From there, turkeys and related products like deli meat and ground turkey are shipped all over the country, year-round, not just at Thanksgiving. The industry has attracted a diverse workforce to the region, and as a result, Willmar is home to a surprising number of eateries where visitors can find authentic Latin and Somali food, and where newcomers to the region can get a taste of home.

History happens

While the park was founded shortly after World War I and named after Minnesota’s first governor, the Great Depression spurred important expansion and development of the public lands. Between 1935 and 1938, crews from the Veterans Conservation Corps built roads, trails and other facilities in the park, under the direction of the National Park Service.

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Many visitors to Sibley State Park enjoy the most Minnesotan way to beat the heat, hitting the beach on Lake Andrew.
Forum News Service file photo

This article is part of the " Minnesota's Backyard " series which returns for the summer of 2022.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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