Of the sixty-six state parks in Minnesota, John A. Latsch State Park is one of the smallest and most unknown. However, while this little park might not top the popularity charts in Minnesota, it has an inspiring and interesting history.
Additionally, John A. Latsch State Park is one of the most scenic and beautiful in the state. If you want to know more about this fascinating state park and why it’s worth visiting, keep reading!
History of John A. Latsch State Park
As we hinted in the introduction, this state park has one of the most inspirational and interesting histories out of any park in Minnesota. It all began with a wealthy, generous businessman by the name of John A. Latsch.
John enjoyed spending his mornings on the bank of the Mississippi River, just outside of Winona, Minnesota. He was a successful businessman in the city but enjoyed the inclusiveness and fishing that the Mississippi offered.
One morning, however, as he pulled his canoe to shore at his usual relaxing spot, he was greeted by an angry farmer. The farmer informed him that he was trespassing on his property and ordered John to leave.
This incident greatly disturbed John and showed him that the Minnesota public simply didn’t have enough public places to experience nature. Since the state and federal governments weren’t doing anything, John decided to take matters into his own hands.
Soon after the incident with the farmer, John convinced a riverboat captain friend to purchase the farmer’s land on his behalf. While the original purchase was only a few acres on the bank of the Mississippi River, it would lead to much more.
Over the course of his lifetime, Latsche would go on to purchase hundreds, then thousands of acres of land in the area. He would do the same in other parts of the state and in Wisconsin, but we’ll get to that later.
What the Park Has Become
From the moment that Latsche purchased the land, he designated it as open to the public and free to use. Eventually, in 1925, the land was designated as John A. Latsch State Park by the state in honor of the man who donated it.
The park measures 450 acres and is a lasting legacy left behind by John Latsch, who passed away in 1934. Since its formation, the park area has remained relatively uncultivated and untouched by progress.
Things to Do at John A. Latsch State Park
Now that you know the fascinating history behind the park let’s look at some of the best things to do at John A. Latsch State Park.
Camping and Lodging
Unfortunately, because of how primitive and uncultivated the park is, very little camping is available on the premises. There’s a single walk-in primitive campground with seven spots, but it’s closed for most of the season.
Reservations aren’t required, but make sure the campground is operational before attempting to stay.
Views and Overlooks
The main attraction at John A. Latsch State Park is the duo of overlooks facing the Mississippi River.
- Mount Charity Overlook
The Mount Charity Overlook is the pride and joy of the state park. It’s a 500-foot tall bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River running at its base.
This overlook is also aptly named Mount Charity because of the generosity and charity it took for the overlook to get designated as part of the state park. Before it became part of the park, Mount Charity was used by steamboat and riverboat captains as a natural lighthouse to navigate the dangerous Mississippi River.
The overlook is located at the top of the Riverview Trail, and it’s worth visiting the park just to see the views at the top of the bluff.
- Riverview Trail Overlook
If you’re ambitious enough to hike to the top of Mount Charity, you’ll have to pass by the Riverview Trail Overlook. While not quite as high or scenic as Mount Charity, the Riverview Trail Overlook is an excellent appetizer and pre-cursor to it.
This overlook is also a great spot to stop for a picnic and to check out the wildlife throughout the park. Near the Riverview Trail overlook, there are also two memorial benches that make a great spot to catch your breath.
The only way to get to the Riverview Trail Overlook and the Mount Charity Overlook is by hiking the Riverview Trail. The Riverview Trail is an out-and-back trail around three-quarters of a mile round trip.
On this trial, you’ll pass the Riverview Trail Rest Stop, traverse the Riverview Trail Steps, and have incredible views of the Mississippi River atop both overlooks. On average, the trail takes around 45 minutes to complete, not counting the time you spend on the overlooks.
You’re also allowed to take your dog with you for your hike, but it has to be on a leash. With nearly 500 feet of elevation gain, the Riverview Trail is short but steep, and you’re bound to get your workout in.
Originally, John A. Latsch State Park was a great fishing area because the park’s land was butted up against the Mississippi River. Nowadays, however, Route 61 runs alongside the state park, separating it from the Mississippi.
So, while there isn’t any fishing within the state park, you can cross over Route 61 and enjoy all the fishing glory that the Mississippi has to offer.
Explore the Mississippi River
Even if you don’t enjoy fishing, you’re close enough to the Mississippi River to do some exploring and sightseeing. While the overlooks atop Mount Charity and the Riverview Trail are beautiful, you can also cross the road and step into the Mississippi River.
Branch Out to Whitewater State Park
If you run out of things to do at John A. Latsch State Park, you can hop on over to nearby Whitewater State Park. Whitewater State Park is nearly 3,000 acres in size, and much of the park was donated to Minnesota by John Latsche.
If you want to visit all the locations that Latsche donated to the state for public use, you should also check out.
- Prairie Island
- Bluffside Park
- Westfield Golf Course
- Athletic Park
- Gabrych Park
- Latsch Island
- Aghaming Park
Being born in Wisconsin, Latsch also donated the land that would become Merrick State Park and Perrot State Park for public-use lands in Wisconsin. There are very few residents of either Minnesota or Wisconsin that can match the charity and love of nature that John A. Latsch had.
Things to See at John A. Latsch State Park
Aside from the overlooks, trail, and mighty Mississippi River, there’s plenty more to see at John A. Latsch State Park.
Flora and Fauna
The remarkable mixture of the landscape of this park makes it great for a number of plants, birds, and animals. There’s a unique combination of heavily forested woodlands, steep bluffs, and open areas, as well as the nearby Mississippi River Valley.
As a result, there are dozens of different tree species, including various elms, oaks, maples, and more. The clearings at the top of the bluffs are also great areas for checking out various flowers and plants while taking in breathtaking views.
The biggest wildlife draw for John A. Latsch State Park is the hundreds of migratory bird species that travel periodically through the park. You can see a great variety of birds that you can’t see in many other places, the most sought-after of which is the Bald Eagle.
Additionally, you’re also likely to encounter deer, possums, coyotes, foxes, and timber rattlesnakes, so be on the lookout. Although the state park is less than 500 acres in size, it’s home to a great number of plants and animals, as well as various landscapes and terrains.
Amenities and What to Expect
Because of how primitive and undeveloped the park is, there typically isn’t an attendant on site. That means you can enter the park for free and start exploring!
However, you shouldn’t expect much in the way of amenities at the park. There’s a vault toilet along with a seasonal water pump offering running water when the temperatures aren’t too cold.
There’s also a single picnic area with a grill, several fire rings, and picnic tables. In general, this is a day-use park only, and overnight stays are rare, even when the campground is open.
Things to Bring With to the Park
There isn’t a store or park ranger present at John A. Latsch State Park, so you should bring everything you need including.
- Fire-starter fluid
- Drinking Water
- Toilet paper
- Fishing Equipment
- Anything else you want to enjoy a day in nature
Remember, the park has a charcoal grill, picnic tables, and fire rings, but nothing else.
Rates and Fees
John A. Latsch State Park is a free park without any fees or rates. You can enter the park for free and camp at the campground, when it’s operational, for free as well.
You can also use the trail, explore the area, and enjoy the picnic grounds for free.
Final Thoughts About John A. Latsch State Park
John A. Latsch State Park truly is one of the many hidden gems of Minnesota. There are plenty of great things to see, do, and experience in this small but mighty state park. Its natural beauty and splendor are only outmatched by the generosity and love of nature that the park symbolizes.
If you’re looking for more hidden gems in the North Star state, check out our article about everything to see and do at William O’Brien State Park!
Love spending time outside? Then discover the Minnesota Outdoors to continue learning new ways to reconnect with nature!
- About the Author
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.