Connect with Minnesota’s Wild Places ❤︎

People exploring a natural area

 

Contact us | Events calendar | Newsletter | Facebook logo Flickr logo

 

Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in some of the wildest places in the state. The prospects of visiting one can be rewarding and challenging at the same time!

Highlighted here are a selection of SNAs for you to "visit"  without having to leave home. These virtual visits give you the flavor of these unique and uncommon places without the challenge of actually getting to them, let alone trying to navigate in them once you get there (Have you ever tried walking in a bog?!).


Enjoy a virtual visit to these unique SNAs right now!


Burntside Islands SNA

A virtual visit to Burntside Islands SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • The islands that make up this natural area protect primarily white pine – red pine forest, some of which is old-growth.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • The islands host a variety of birds including ruffed grouse, red crossbills, pileated woodpeckers, and black-capped chickadees.
  • Burntside Islands SNA is less than half a mile from the million+ acre Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. The islands share the wild character of the Wilderness.

 

Learn more:

Crystal Spring SNA

A virtual visit to Crystal Spring SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • Three other nearby natural areas protect habitat in the St. Croix River valley. Falls Creek SNA is less than a mile north, and less than 10 miles further you’ll find Franconia Bluffs and Lawrence Creek SNAs.
  • Adjacent to Crystal Spring SNA, the St. Croix River is one of the last undisturbed large rivers in the upper Mississippi River watershed. It contains exceptional natural resources as well as scenic, cultural, and recreational values. It was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1968.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, trees) and animals.
  • This site protects a significant population of state-endangered butternut tree.

 

Learn more:

Gneiss Outcrops SNA

A virtual visit to Gneiss Outcrops SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • Gneiss Outcrops SNA sits in the valley of the Minnesota River. Over thousands of years waters from Glacial Lake Agassiz scoured out a wide valley by the Glacial River Warren. Today you can see the scale of the former glacial river evident in aerial photography of the area.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals. Rock outcrop specialists include two species of cacti native to Minnesota.
  • A string of protected lands lies along the Minnesota River, both upstream and downstream from Gneiss Outcrops SNA. These include the Chippewa Prairie Preserve, Lac qui Parle WMA, Upper Sioux Agency State Park, and Swedes Forest SNA.

Learn more:

Hythecker Prairie SNA

A virtual visit to Hythecker Prairie SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • Prescribed burns set back encroaching brush and enhance a prairie's health. Here at Hythecker Prairie burns have been a regular part of management since the 1980s.
  • Since 2010 invasive species, primarily birds' foot trefoil and wild parsnip have become a growing concern. Visiting here virtually helps reduce spreading these species on the site.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • Parts of this site had been farmed in the past, and has since been planted with native seed from the adjacent remnant prairie.

Learn more:

Iron Horse Prairie SNA

A virtual visit to Iron Horse Prairie SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • At 34 acres, this natural area is one of the largest surviving mesic tallgrass prairies in southeastern Minnesota. Today, less than two percent of Minnesota's native prairie remains.
  • Railroad rights-of-way provided refuge for native plants and animals while nearby lands were converted to agriculture and other uses. Today native prairie remnants, like this one, remain along these corridors.
  • This natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals. At least four rare plants have been documented here.
  • A concern here is the encroachment of woody and invasive species.

Learn more:

Iron Springs Bog SNA

A virtual visit to Iron Springs Bog SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • This SNA is within 1.5 miles of the north entry station to Itasca State Park and within the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest. Two other SNAs Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary and La Salle Lake are within about 10 miles of Iron Springs Bog SNA
  • A long history of research here goes back to at least the 1920s when University of Minnesota professors C.O. Rosendahl and Murray Buell explored and described the vegetation. They proceeded to make the site a place for teaching and research for the Itasca Biological Station, which continues studies at Iron Springs Bog SNA today.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals. Many plants here are uniquely adapted to the constantly wet environment with low nutrients. Pitcher plants, for example, supplement nutrients by capturing and digesting insects.

Learn more:

Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA

A virtual visit to Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

Learn more:

Kettle River SNA

A virtual visit to Kettle River SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • The riparian zone at the river's edge is a place highly influenced by water, with ponds, marshes and floodplain forest. Kettle River SNA has a large riparian zone!
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • The Louisiana waterthrush is of special note. It prefers dense vegetation near running water for breeding and nesting and this natural area provides ideal habitat for this rare bird.
  • The Kettle River joins the St Croix River roughly 13.5 miles downstream from this site. Both are state water trail routes.

Learn more:

McGregor Marsh SNA

A virtual visit to McGregor Marsh SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

Learn more:

Pigs Eye Island Heron Rookery SNA

A virtual visit to Pigs Eye Island Heron Rookery SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • This SNA is leased from Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Department, who owns the land, as a means of added protection for the rookery here. The island is used as anchorage for barges.
  • These rookeries tend to change over time. Other SNAs meant to protect colonial nesting birds have seen those sites abandoned by the birds.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • If you really want to see birds nesting here grab your binoculars and bike. Head to the Wildflower Levee Park along the Mississippi River Regional Trail. The island is directly northeast across the river!

Learn more:

Red Lake Peatland SNA

A virtual visit to Red Lake Peatland SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • The Red Lake Peatland is the largest and most significant patterned peatland in the country.
  • From 1905 to 1922 ditching attempts to drain peatland for farmland largely fail to drain the "Big Bog." Many ditches remain, but have had significant impacts only in their immediate area.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • Many plants here are uniquely adapted to the constantly wet environment with low nutrients. Pitcher plants, for example, supplement nutrients by capturing and digesting insects.

Learn more:

Sand Lake Peatland SNA

A virtual visit to Sand Lake Peatland SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • The Sand Lake Peatland is the furthest east of Minnesota's 18 legislatively established patterned peatlands.
  • It is also the only one of these peatlands not altered by ditch-building attempts to drain them. An abandoned rail line does bisect the site.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • The Nature Conservancy's Sand Lake/Seven Beavers Preserve is adjacent to this natural area. Much of the rest of the surrounding lands consist of county, state or federal ownerships.

Learn more:

Seminary Fen SNA

A virtual visit to Seminary Fen SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • A calcareous fen, a grassy wetland fed by groundwater springs, is found here. Calcium and other minerals make them unique from other fen types, and they often support several rare species.
  • The springs on this natural area attracted Dr. Henry Fischer to buy the land here and build health spa in the early 1900s (on what is the now the parking area and adjacent uplands).
  • Later it became a seminary school, but ultimately shuttered, sitting vacant for many years. The main building was destroyed by fire in 1997. It took until 2008 to protect the fen as a natural area.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.

Learn more:

Two Rivers Aspen Parkland SNA

A virtual visit to Two Rivers Aspen Parkland SNA

Location of SNA in state

Snapshots:

 

What to know:

  • Is it a prairie or is it a woodland? Well technically, it is an ecotone where the landscape transitions from prairies in the west to forest as you move east.
  • The two largest members of the deer family, elk and moose, inhabit far northwestern Minnesota. The SNA hosts a mix of woodlands (aspen) interspersed with brushy prairies and wet meadows they prefer.
  • The natural area hosts a variety of plants (wildflowers, grasses, trees) and animals.
  • Over time, the aspen woodlands have encroached into prairie here. Restoration efforts to reverse that trend include prescribed burns, brush cutting, and girdling the aspen.

Learn more:

Hungry for more? There are over 160 SNAs to explore online. Follow the SNA Facebook page and subscribe to the SNA newsletter to get more of Minnesota’s wild places.