September–October 2022

Bucket List

Visit the Big Springs

Missed by the glaciers, southeastern Minnesota has springs readily accessible to the adventurer.

Jeff Green

Southeastern Minnesota was missed by the glaciers that gave the rest of Minnesota its 10,000 lakes. Among those water bodies are numerous Clear Lakes, Long Lakes, and other common names. In the southeastern blufflands, what we have instead are “Big Springs.” Three of these Big Springs—Fountain, Beaver Creek, and Canfield—are readily accessible, albeit with greatly different levels of effort.

Adventurers looking for a bit of an outing should consider a trek to Canfield Big Spring, the headwater of Canfield Creek in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, which requires a four-mile round-trip hike on the park’s Big Spring trail. The hardwood forest in the valley is lovely any time of year, but it is particularly beautiful when it displays the oranges, reds, and yellows of autumn or the vivid wildflowers of early spring. As you hike up the trail, you come to a place where a small perennial stream crosses it. The water is from Rainy Spring, a coldwater tributary to Canfield.

When you are within a few hundred yards of Canfield Big Spring, the trail goes through Canfield Creek. You will gain a new appreciation for the term “cold-water stream” as you wade through its spring-fed water! 

After crossing the stream, it is a quick hike to the Big Spring, which emanates from a cave at the base of a limestone cliff. Both Canfield Big Spring and Rainy Spring get their water from this limestone. Water from precipitation and air in the soil create a weak acid capable of dissolving the limestone. This carves channels in the bedrock that can develop into caves, springs, and sinkholes, forming the landscape known as karst.

After you enjoy the tranquility of the spring area with its scenic cliffs and the gurgling riffles, you’ll have ample time on your return hike to reflect on the unique beauty of southeastern Minnesota. 

Three Springs to See in the Southeast

Beaver Creek Big Spring, Beaver Creek Valley State Park, near Caledonia. Park in the main parking lot and hike on the Big Spring trail along Beaver Creek for half a mile. 

Canfield Big Spring, Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, near Preston. Park in the angler parking lot on the road to the group camping area and head south on the Big Spring trail. It steeply descends to the South Branch of the Root River. The trail crosses the river over a footbridge, then heads south along Canfield Creek. Aside from the steep hill near the beginning of the trail, it is flat for most of the 4-mile round trip to the Big Spring. 

Fountain Big Spring, Fillmore County. This spring is on Keeper Road outside of Fountain. Proceed west from Fountain on County Road 8 for a quarter mile, turn right on Keeper Road, and go another half mile to the Big Spring. It is on the south side of the road, flowing from a small cave. Like Canfield and Rainy, this spring can be turbid from runoff into sinkholes after heavy rain or snowmelt.