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Circle Trail

Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota

Pipestone National Monument, located in southwest Minnesota, was created to protect several unique cultural and natural resources - a 0.75 mile paved loop, the Circle Trail, highlights many of these resources, such as the pipestone quarries, tallgrass prairies, Pipestone Creek and Winnewissa Falls.

The mineral known as pipestone, or catlinite, is the namesake of the monument - this sacred red clay stone is found in only a few places in the world, with the best quality coming from southwest Minnesota. American Indians historically, and to this day, use pipestone to make prayer and ceremonial pipes - mining the stone by hand from the quarries within the monument.

In order to see the quarries for yourself, set out to hike the Circle Trail - the path begins and ends at the visitor center, making a loop.

We hiked the trail in a counter-clockwise direction - trekking past the pipestone quarry and through the flower-filled remnant tall grass prairie. Over 500 species call this vanishing ecosystem home - watch for prairie rose, asters, goldenrod, blazing star, lead plant, plains prickly pear cacti, and swamp milkweed.

Upon leaving the open grassland, a huge rock outcropping comes into view - this 10-15 feet tall ledge is the impressive Sioux Quartzite formation.

Several highlights are found along this section of the loop - watch for stone formations such as the Oracle, Leaping Rock, and the Old Stone Face. In addition to rocky treasures, a beautiful creek and waterfall lie just ahead.

Pipestone Creek drops over the Sioux Quartzite ridge to form Winnewissa Falls and Lake Hiawatha - plentiful recent rainfall had the waterfall flowing fully upon our visit, a gorgeous sight.

You can view the waterfall from the base and climb a set of stone steps to the crest for a view of the creek plunging over the precipice - continue hiking along the creek to Lake Hiawatha where you might see beaver, turtles, and muskrat.

The remainder of the hike follows along Pipestone Creek, which you eventually cross via a footbridge before returning to the visitor center.


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