Minnesota Historical Society
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Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota's State Parks

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“We went for a hike. The beach was a tumble of exposed bedrock, some formations looking like model pirate ships in silhouette, but soon the gravel narrowed and an outcrop of jagged rock faced us. The girls scrambled up a well-used trail, and then I saw Grace climbing, hand over hand, up the final short rock wall. I was about to yell my customary warning, but she had summited and Bailey was on her heels. They raised their arms, the Lake Superior wind whipping their hair, and I breathed two words: their Everest.”
—from the text by Chris Niskanen


Minnesota is home to prairies and forests, lakes and rivers, bison and gray wolf—and a treasured system of state parks. Emblems of natural history, many were created to protect an ecosystem such as the giant hardwood trees at Nerstrand Big Woods, features like the spectacular waterfalls at Gooseberry or limestone caves at Forestville, and historic structures such as the early settlement of Fort Ridgely along the Minnesota River. Recreational opportunities are equally diverse— and so are the people who pursue them.

Photographer Doug Ohman visited each of Minnesota’s sixty-six parks to capture their classic beauty, storied wildlife, and wealth of activities in all seasons. More than two hundred color photographs illustrate sixteen essays by outdoors writer Chris Niskanen, who chronicles the sights, sounds, and experiences of exploring the parks through the eyes of those who know them best—rangers, naturalists, and long-time users. There is the traveling salesman who is also an avid birdwatcher; a couple so excited about their state parks adventures that they worked geocaching into their wedding theme; and daughters on a camping trip to the rocky outcrops of Lake Superior’s North Shore, a personal tale recounted by Niskanen.

The result is an elegant package of memories for those who frequent the parks—and an invitation to all comers to see Minnesota’s natural world at its best.

  • By: Chris Niskanen (Author), Doug Ohman (Photographer)
  • Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 1, 2010)
  • ISBN: 978-0873517713
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages, 8.5 x 0.8 x 11 inches

“We at Parks and Trails can’t imagine why anyone who reads Chris Niskanen’s captivating essays and sees Doug Ohman’s fine photos won’t immediately want to get off the couch and head to one of Minnesota’s state parks. These two outdoorsmen have captured the true spirit of our prairies, lakes, and forests.” Courtland Nelson, Director, Parks and Trails, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

“Niskanen’s lively writing and Ohman’s gorgeous photographs capture the recreational, visual, and historical wonders of the state’s remarkable park system. Everyone who loves exploring Minnesota’s outdoors should own this book.” Tom Dickson, author of The Great Minnesota Fish Book

Photographer Doug Ohman’s work is featured in the Minnesota Byways series, which includes Barns of Minnesota and Cabins of Minnesota.

Chris Niskanen is outdoors editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and also contributes to Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine.

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