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Adventures in Nature

Explore Nearby Prairies, Quarries, Caves and Zoo Animals

Whether you love active adventures or prefer slower strolls as you enjoy the great outdoors, a visit to Quarry Hill Nature Center or Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo will fill your camera and your memories. Locals embrace them as area gems and visitors delight in the accessible destinations.

QUARRY HILL NATURE CENTER

Nestled in northeast Rochester, this nature center is accessible by paved biking trails and offers a pond, forest, prairie, stream, quarry and more to explore.

The park features paved biking and unpaved hiking trails, a 3-acre fishing pond, a historical man-made sandstone cave, a building brimming with live animals native to the area, a 1,700-gallon aquarium and hands-on exhibits.

"We love to welcome people to Rochester," said Pam Meyer, executive director. "Many people begin in our building so we use it as a springboard," she said. "They may see something interesting that connects with something going on outside, so we suggest taking a few minutes to walk out to the pond where there are always so many things happening: dragonflies are hatching, turtles are laying eggs, there's a hummingbird garden along the way. There's something for everyone here and we always have naturalists on site to point out great trails and offer information."

IF YOU BRING KIDS

"Slow down and let them lead the adventure," suggested Pam. "It's wonderful to see nature through their eyes. I love that we can take the same walk here many times but always experience something new."

Visitors are welcome to check out adventure backpacks filled with items according to different themes.

MEMORABLE TO-DOS

Explore the fossil beds in the prehistoric limestone quarry. "Typically, we are always told to leave nature in the parks. This is a unique experience because you can keep what you find!" said Pam.

Stroll through the butterfly demonstration garden and wander over the pond's floating bridge. Grab a pair of binoculars and see how many birds you can spy from the observation room. Try to spy the queen bee in the indoor bee hive. Add a pin to the visitor's map in the nature center. Read a story in the children's library. Check out the cross country skis and snowshoes available for rent in the winter.

OXBOW PARK & ZOLLMAN ZOO

Outdoor enthusiasts will find this haven 4.5 miles west of Rochester.

IF YOU HAVE A FEW HOURS

At the Dr. Paul E. Zollman Zoo, meet more than 30 species of Minnesota wildlife, including otters, wolves, cougar, bobcat, and lynx. Check out the reptiles and amphibians in the visitor's center, too. Venture across the road to the Gordon Yeager Memorial Area to see bison, elk and white-tail deer. Explore the pioneer home, antique farm implement display and restored prairie.

IF YOU HAVE A WHOLE DAY

Come in the morning to see the animals being fed. Bring a lunch and enjoy Oxbow Park's grassy picnic areas and pavilions within walking distance from the zoo. There's playground equipment for the kids.

Pick up a map at the nature center and hike a trail through meadows and wooded hills. Tents and recreational vehicles are welcome on the semi-primitive, 30-site campground with running water, restrooms and showers.

NOW YOU KNOW

A bend in the river is called an "oxbow" because of its resemblance to an oxen harness. This oxbow has been preserved through bank stabilization and now surrounds the main picnic area.

VISIT THE PARKS

Quarry Hill and Oxbow parks are free and open to the public year-round. Call Quarry HIll at 507-328-3950 and Oxbow at 507-775-2451.