National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings.
Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge has something for everyone! Visiting at different times of the year provides a glimpse into nature’s calendar and presents different recreational opportunities.
The Platte River Trail winds through multiple habitats, providing opportunities to observe a variety of wildlife, while enjoying a leisurely hike. The two observation platforms along the way help you get a closer look at wildlife and beautiful scenery. The Sedge Meadow overlook offers fantastic photography opportunities. Walking slowly and quietly provides the best chance to spot wildlife. The best time to see wildlife is in the morning, just after sunrise, or in the evening, before dusk. Wildflower and scenery provide observational and photo opportunities throughout daylight hours.
The refuge provides hunting opportunities for small game, migratory birds, turkey and white-tailed deer. Heading out onto units open to hunting is a great way to get outdoors and connect with a treasured past-time. Refer to the refuge hunting regulations brochure for hunting rules and regulations.
In October, the refuge hosts a fall white-tailed deer hunt for persons with disabilities. Dates of the hunt will vary from year to year, but the event will typically be held during the first few weeks in October. Options, Inc. conducts the selection process for the hunt. During the 2-day hunt, the refuge is closed to the public for public safety precautions.
With pre-planning, the refuge may offer interpretive and educational programs. Interpretive programs for schools and other groups and guided walks may be offered throughout the spring, summer and fall. Contact the refuge or Friends of Crane Meadows for more information. Classes and groups are invited to visit the refuge and use the Platte River Trail for self-led educational programs. Contact Nikki Ellingson at (320) 632-1575 or Nicole Ellingson for more information and trip planning assistance.
Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located in Central Minnesota, approximately 30 miles north of St. Cloud and 8 miles southeast of Little Falls. From U.S. Highway 10, take Morrison County Highway 35 east. Travel 4.5 miles to the Platte River Bridge. After crossing the bridge, take the first left to the Platte River Trailhead and maintenance office.
There is no charge to visit.
A portable restroom is available year round at the Platte River Trail parking lot.
Points of Interest
The Platte River Trailhead, situated just off Morrison County 35 and the refuge entrance road, offers an informational kiosk, restroom and access to the trail. It is a scenic 3.7 mile accessible hiking trail that leads visitors along the banks of the river, through oak savanna, prairies, wetlands and woodlands to the edge of Rice Lake. Look for waterfowl, songbirds, sandhill cranes, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer. The trail is for foot travel only. There are two observation platforms; one is adjacent to the Platte River near the trailhead and the other, outfitted with a spotting scope, overlooks Rice Lake. The trail is groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter as snow conditions permit.
The Sedge Meadow Overlook offers a picturesque view of the refuge landscape. Located off 133rd Street, a short trail leads from the parking lot and information kiosk to the overlook platform. From the overlook, a sedge meadow and a portion of the large wetland complex the refuge protects is in view. This location provides ample opportunities for spotting wildlife, especially during spring and fall migrations.
What To Do
If you have 15 minutes
- Check out the Carly Crane interpretive loop at the Platte River Trailhead. This short hike provides a fun, educational mystery to solve as you continue along the trail. Will you be able to help Carly Crane catch the thief?
- Check out the Platte River Overlook. Located off the Carly Crane interpretive loop, less than 100 yards from the Platte River Trail parking lot. Spend some time enjoying the serenity of the river. Be on the lookout for wildlife, including river otters and trumpeter swans that frequent this stretch of river.
If you have one hour
- Hike the first and second loops of the Platte River Trail. This hike provides an opportunity to observe the main habitat types of the refuge, oak savanna and prairie. As you walk along this 1.5 mile stretch of the trail, keep an eye out for waterfowl in the river, bald eagles in the sky and white-tailed deer in the oak savanna.
- Check out the Sedge Meadow Overlook. Located off 133rd Street, this observation platform offers views of a sedge meadow and a glimpse into the landscape and habitats the refuge manages.
If you have half a day or more
- Hike the Platte River Trail and look for wildlife! The Platte River Trail is 3.7 miles long and follows the banks of the river, winding through oak savanna, prairies, wetlands and woodlands to the edge of Rice Lake. Make sure to check out the Platte River Overlook near the kiosk at the trailhead and the Rice Lake Overlook which overlooks Rice Lake. As you walk along the trail, keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife! The trail provides excellent birding opportunities during spring and fall migration.
- Check out the Sedge Meadow Overlook. Located off 133rd Street, the observation platform is just a short hike from the parking lot. With oak savanna to the southeast, prairie directly in front of the overlook and a sedge meadow and large wetland complex to the south and west, the site provides a view of the major habitat types managed by the refuge. Visiting in the evening? This spot supplies gorgeous sunsets.
- Wanting to look for wildlife? The area provides ample habitat for wildlife, with a mix of federal, state and private land. Driving county and township roads between refuge units can be a great way to view wildlife, especially bald eagles.
- Interested in hunting? Grab a refuge hunting brochure and head out on one of the various units open to hunting.
Know Before You Go
Insect repellent is recommended if you are visiting in warm months, especially June through mid-August. In spring and early summer, wood ticks are common, and it is recommended that you check yourself thoroughly after a visit to remove any unwanted hitchhikers. Bring drinking water and sunscreen for your spring, summer and early fall visits.
Interesting is viewing wildlife? Spring and fall are great times to view migrating birds at the refuge! Many different species of songbirds and waterfowl use refuge lands to rest briefly on their long journeys. Mornings and evenings are the best time to spot wildlife. Brochures and information about the refuge can be found at the Platte River Trail kiosk, Sedge Meadow Overlook kiosk and the informational message board located in front of the maintenance office.
The refuge offers many different activities throughout the year. Hiking, wildlife viewing and photography are fun year round activities for people of all ages. In the winter, enjoy the outdoors by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing the Platte River Trail. The refuge also offers many hunting opportunities for big game, small game, migratory birds and furbearers. Check out the activities page for a full list of activities offered at the refuge.
Refuge trails are open during daylight hours, year-round. The trail is subject to flooding during high water events, for trail conditions or if you see a downed tree call the maintenance at 320-632-1575. Trails are closed to hunting but it is recommended to wear hunter orange during hunting season.
Primary Contact Information
911 in case of emergency
Crane Meadows current trail conditions: 320-632-1575
If you find injured wildlife https://ahnow.org/#/
Other Facilities in the Complex
Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is part of a complex that includes four national wildlife refuges located throughout east central Minnesota, including Sherburne, Crane Meadows, Rice Lake and Mille Lacs national wildlife refuges. These refuges are under shared management, with complex headquarters located in Zimmerman, Minnesota.
Rules and Policies
Welcome to your! Discover new places to hunt, take pictures, watch wildlife, walk, cross-county ski and snowshoe. Please consult the refuge manager at 763-389-3323 if you have questions. We may post additional site-specific regulations.
To ensure your safety and protect the wildlife and habitat, please be aware of these regulations.
The refuge is open to hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, wildlife observation, photography, birding and hunting. The refuge is closed to horses, ATVs/OHVs, snowmobiling, drones, fires, camping, picking wildflowers, collecting antler sheds and bank fishing. Please refer to the refuge hunting brochure for hunting seasons, permits and regulations and the refuge public use brochure for additional refuge specific regulations.
Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located in Central Minnesota, approximately 30 miles north of St. Cloud and 8 miles southeast of Little Falls. From U.S. Highway 10, take Morrison County 35 east. Travel 4.5 miles to the Platte River Bridge. After crossing the bridge, take the first left to the Platte River Trailhead and Maintenance office.