Pipestone National Monument was established by an act of Congress on August 25, 1937 for two purposes: to preserve the historically significant site of Native American quarries and to restore quarrying rights to the Native American tribes which had camped, quarried, and traded there for centuries.
Pipestone National Monument consists of about 280 acres of tallgrass prairie with trails, quarries, waterfall, and an interpretive center.
The monument sits on a geological feature known locally as Buffalo Ridge, or geologically as the Coteau des Prairies, a plateau approximately 200 miles long by 100 miles wide, elevated 100-200 feet above the surrounding prairie.
Flora and fauna
There are over 400 native plant species growing at the Monument, and includes big bluestem, little bluestem, buffalograss, sideoats gramma, prairie cordgrass, indiangrass and switchgrass. Unfortunately, exotic species such as Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome also are present.
Pipestone's remnant tallgrass prairies host many plants and animals that once flourished throughout the midwest. Over 500 plant species, 28 fish species, 45 macroinvertebrate species, 8 reptiles and amphibians, 25 mammal species, 55 families of insects (over 900 specimens have been collected), and approximately 100 bird species are found at the monument. Two species listed under the Endangered Species Act are found at Pipestone National Monument: the Topeka shiner (fish) and the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (plant).
Many people are surprised to encounter cactus in Minnesota, but the Prickly Pear Cactus is present at Pipestone National Monument, as it is in several other locations in Southwestern Minnesota. Other areas where one might find cactus in Minnesota include Blue Devil Valley State Park and Blue Mounds State Park. The cacti can be difficult to see in the thick grass, although under ideal conditions they have been known to reach up to 36 inches in height.
With an altitude of 1,600 feet, the area is high plains. Summer high temperatures average in the 80s (°F) and exceed 100 °F (38 °C) occasionally. Winters are cold and windy with overnight low temperatures typically around 0-10 °F in January. Annual precipitation totals are around 20-25 inches, enough to support tall prairie grasses and some trees.
Pipestone National Monument is just north of the town of Pipestone, Minnesota which is in southwestern Minnesota, at the meeting of Minnesota Highways 23 and 30 and US Route 75. It is 23 miles north of Interstate Highway 90.
Sioux Falls Regional Airport (Joe Foss Field) is about 50 miles southeast, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Flights are offered to Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Fees and permits
Entrance fees are $3 per person age 16 and up and are valid for seven days. American Indians enrolled in a tribe recognized by the U.S. government do not have to pay an entrance fee.
There are several passes for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes provide free entry at national parks and national wildlife refuges, and also cover standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. These passes are valid at all national parks including Pipestone National Monument:
- The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain a free annual pass in person at a federal recreation site by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can obtain a Senior Pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site for $80, or through the mail for $90; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also obtain a $20 annual pass.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can obtain an Access Pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site at no charge, or through the mail for $10; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- Individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program can receive a free Volunteer Pass.
- 4th graders can receive an Annual 4th Grade Pass that allows free entry for the duration of the 4th grade school year (September-August) to the bearer and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. Registration at the Every Kid Outdoors website is required.
The National Park Service offers free admission to all national parks on five days every year:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January); next observance is January 18, 2021
- The first day of National Park Week (third Saturday in April); next observance is April 18, 2020
- The National Park Service Birthday (August 25)
- National Public Lands Day (fourth Saturday in September); next observance is September 26, 2020
- Veterans Day (November 11)
- Interpretive Center - The monument's Interpretive Center houses displays and artisan demonstrations by Native American craftsmen.
- Town of Pipestone - The town of Pipestone, Minnesota is only about a mile south of the monument. The entire downtown area (on Main Street) of Pipestone is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the unusual architecture - all the commercial buildings and the courthouse as well are constructed of Sioux Quartzite, an extremely hard, pink-colored mineral quarried locally.
- Hiking - Trails at this national monument are relatively short and very easy. This is sacred Native American site, so be respectful; do not remove or touch prayer ties in trees or along the trail.
- Photography - The monument is a very beautiful and scenic place, with many interesting plants, grasses, and animals to view, in addition to the beautiful Winnewissa Falls of Pipestone Creek.
- Interact - There are Native American artisans in residence, quarrying for pipestone (catlinite) and fashioning it while you watch. These craftsmen are happy to answer questions and discuss their culture while you watch them create pipes, totems, and decorations which you can purchase.
The setting of Pipestone National Monument is a largely agricultural landscape. Many large farms and some ranches are to be seen for hundreds of miles around. About 20 miles south on US Highway 75 is Blue Mounds State Park, with several thousand acres of preserved prairie grass and a resident bison herd. About 30 miles to the northeast on Minnesota State Highway 23 is Camden State Park, with facilities for picnics, camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation on the Redwood River.
The biggest safety risks at Pipestone National Monument are probably the short cliff and waterfall over which visitors can hike and climb.