Photographing Natural Minnesota II - ColdSnap Photography

Photographing Natural Minnesota II

Picking up where we left off on our last article.


During my presentation at the TCACCC Spring Break this last weekend I promised to post the information about Photographing Natural Minnesota in this newsletter. The following articles are from that lecture. In this newsletter I will cover Tall Grass Prairie, the next article will cover the Deciduous Big Woods region.


Prairie Smoke 




Minnesota is comprised of 4 eco-regions or distinctly different biological environments. These regions are:

Aspen Parkland

Tall Grass Prairie

Deciduous/Big Woods

Coniferous/North Woods


Prior to any photographic road trip I spend a significant amount of time researching where I want to go and when a good time to go would be. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the people on the ground at the locations you are thinking of visiting. Generally I have found that the Park Rangers, Wildlife Managers, or other Natural Resource personnel are more than happy to share what they know about the region or interesting things to photograph. 



            Parks and Trails system

            Scientific and Natural Areas Program (SNA’s)

            Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s)


The Nature Conservancy (TNC):

            MN TNC Preserves


US Fish and Wildlife

            Wildlife Refuges


You can also check out the Master Naturalist Program offered by the Minnesota DNR.


Planning a trip:


When I plan and go on a photographic road trip I try to plan at least 3 days. Less than that and it get rushed. More is always better. Don’t try to cover too much territory, pick 1-3 locations for your trip depending upon the size of the area you expect to photograph. 


Tall Grass Prairie:


There are 3 distinct types of prairie, tall grass, mixed grasses, and short grass. All of Minnesota falls within the classification of the tall grass prairie; however, some prairie sites can have characteristics of the mixed grass prairie. Minnesota’s prairie runs north and south on the western edge of the state.


Wild bergamot in bloom, Pembina Trail

Many years ago as a young boy I remember one day when my older sister, Sandy, excitedly brought me to the Schaefer prairie preserve in west central Minnesota. To my untrained eye the 80-acre plot looked puny and unimpressive. Today this site is 160 acres of virgin and restored prairie. When I visit it now I see an exotic gem filled with diversity and rare beauty. Getting to know and appreciate the prairie ecosystem, I believe, takes a good guide and some time. Once you have been initiated you will want to explore every preserve you can find. At less than one percent of its original size the tall grass prairie ecosystem is one of the rarest of all the ecosystems left on earth, fortunately we have many very good remnants preserved here in Minnesota.


Time to visit:



April for Prairie Chicken booming grounds, Early to mid May for prairie white lady slippers, and yellow lady slippers


Mid June to Early July for western prairie fringed orchid, Late July for cone flowers, blazing stars, and sunflowers


Mid to late August or early September for turning grasses and yellow aspen trees, general landscapes.




Glacial Ridge TNC Preserve/National Wildlife Refuge, 26,000 acres-the largest prairie restoration project in North America


Bluestem Prairie SNA/TNC site. Has great Prairie Chicken viewing blinds. Contact the TNC to reserve a blind.


 Felton Prairie SNA a wonderful prairie site tucked between a couple of gravel pits.


Prairie Coteau SNA-has a lot of characteristics of mixed grass prairie.


Cottonwood Prairie SNARed Rock TNCJeffers Petroglyphs-you can visit all three of these sites in one afternoon.


 Lac qui Parle, Big Stone Wildlife Refuge-lots of birds


 Blue Mounds State Park-has a buffalo herd in the park and a strange stonewall that was built along the east west sunrise at summer solstice. Lots of native cacti too.


 Pipestone National Monument-home to a beautiful nature walk through the natural stone quarries and prairie.