It’s cold, gray, and snowy during winter in Minnesota. Yes, the winter blues are real and may seem to never end. But when the vitamin D tank is on empty and the days are short, we must adapt and change course. The parks in this state are a perfect winter reprieve. Build a trip around them, stop along the way, and joy will unfold. South Central Minnesota is home to at least one underdog, Flandrau State Park. Located in New Ulm, this German village hosts a beautiful park in the Minnesota River Valley. Accompanying the unique landscape is a rich culture of food, beer, coffee, and all things German in this less-traveled area. Join me as we take a day trip southwest of the Twin Cities Metro.
River Rock Coffee, St. Peter: Located just over an hour southwest of Minneapolis, on US 169, is River Rock Coffee. In St. Peter, Minnesota, this cafe embodies small-town cozy. The coffee and pastries are of the highest quality. Hold out for breakfast here and make sure to caffeinate well. River Rock serves Kickapoo Coffee and Rishi Tea. I recommend the salted caramel latte, but to be honest, there is not a wrong option.
Flandrau State Park: Once fully charged, head to the crown jewel of the trip, Flandrau State Park. This state park is within the city limits of New Ulm. In the winter it hosts six miles of ski trails, which are all groomed when conditions allow. The loops are strategic and long enough to work up a sweat. Don’t have skis? Flandrau rents equipment during its open hours from 9 am to 4 pm on weekends. Grab a Greater Minnesota ski pass here too, and use it all season for 25 dollars or snag a day pass for 10 bucks. If skiing is not your jam, snowshoeing is an option. There is one designated snowshoe trail that ends right at August Schell’s Brewing property. This park can be a quick breeze or a multi-hour adventure; choose wisely.
August Schell’s Brewing: On the edge of Flandrau rests the grain brewing operation of August Schell’s Brewery. Touting its fame as the second oldest American family-owned brewery in the U.S., Schell’s is historic, dating back to 1860. The compound is massive complete with a brewery, museum, speakeasy, bier garten, mansion, deer enclosure (yes, DNR-tagged deer), and roaming peacocks. After acquiring Grain Belt in the early 2000’s, Schell’s solidified its position as a Minnesota brewing behemoth. If the timing is right, commit to a tour or at least grab a beer.
Veigel’s Kaiserhoff: After a morning and afternoon of roaming around, the hunger will ensue. Head over to New Ulm’s Minnesota Street and bring your appetite. Veigel’s Kaiserhoff is the real deal of New Ulm cuisine. The area’s screaming German roots come to an apex at this old German bar. Family-owned for generations, the bar has had a speakeasy vibe and supper club feel since before that was hip. The ribs are award-winning, as is the house-made BBQ sauce that comes with them. The bold should take on the German Sampler, pictured above, complete with two bratwurst, German potato salad, red cabbage, sauerkraut, and the famous pork ribs. The taps include everything available from Schell’s to a few other local brews. Sit at the bar, pick the music on the jukebox, and saddle up for an authentic experience.
After filling up with plenty of good German fare and pints of Schell’s, it’s time to consider heading back. Downtown New Ulm is adorable if a short walk is needed to even out. Meander through shops, antique stores, and appreciate the German architecture. Or there is one last stop in order, before the not-so-long drive.
River Rock Coffee, Mankato: Barely out of the way, zoom through Mankato on the way home. River Rock’s second location is downtown in this college town. The coffee bar, hanging menu, and art on the wall are worth the extra fifteen minutes in the car. Grab another well-prepared coffee and reflect on the day. River Rock also offers an assortment of baked goods for a sugar nightcap.
Once the buzz is back, buckle up, and hit the road. Ten out of ten would recommend waiting until the sun is setting to create a picturesque rearview setting. Often missed, the Minnesota River Valley is a pleasantly rich reprieve. Take it in, try it out, and this day trip will recharge those depleted winter batteries. Skol.