Owatonna offers ways to explore the outdoors year-round with endless activities and wide-open spaces. Here’s your four-season recreation guide.
Hikes in colorful fall foliage, snowshoeing through the woods on a blanket of white, hitting the back nine on a spring day or cooling off in the lazy river at the local water park are just some of the fun things to do you’ll find in Owatonna, Minnesota, an outdoor playground in every season.
From the extensive paved multi-use trails that run throughout town to the city’s new mountain biking trail, the Owatonna area offers a wide range of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed all year long.
In the heart of Minnesota, the area boasts a four-season climate with the weather to enjoy it, abundant park facilities and trails, like-minded groups of outdoor enthusiasts to join, and places to get the gear to do it all.
If you’re wondering what the best outdoor activities are in Owatonna, read on. We talked to locals about their favorite things in the area and we’ve got you covered with suggestions for every season.
Summers in Owatonna are fairly mild, with high temperatures running into the low 80s — plenty warm for locals take to the waters for a refreshing dip.
“River Springs Water Park is great not only for locals, but people come from around the county and the region to enjoy it,” says Jenna Tuma, Senior Director of Parks and Recreation. “It has a lazy river, pools and water slides. We have a nice beach at Lake Kohlmier, where there’s also fishing, kayak, SUP and canoe rental.”
Kayaking enthusiasts can also paddle Rice Lake State Park, a wetland area known for its birdwatching, hiking, and camping — some sites are even canoe-in. There are also various small rivers and creeks throughout Owatonna, like the Straight River, home to the Straight River Water Trail, a popular destination to dip your oars.
In addition to a robust selection of recreational classes offered by the Parks and Recreation Department, outdoor activities are part of the curriculum at local Owatonna public schools.
“Our class is called the Great Outdoors, and everyone takes one as a PE elective,” says Tim Hunst, who teaches at Owatonna Middle School. “We cover archery, biking, cross-country skiing, hiking — the kids get out in nature, they become more than a number in a classroom, and our behavioral issues have gone way down.”
Kaplan’s Woods Park is a 225-acre wooded environment that offers nearly 7 miles of hiking trails and 2 miles of ADA accessible trails with trees, creeks and a TREK-designed, volunteer constructed single track mountain biking trail. With its fall foliage aflame in bright oranges and reds, leaf peepers have plenty to see.
“There are miles of hiking trails in Kaplan’s Woods,” says Hunst. “A few years back we got a single track trail there that we ride year-round. There are cycling groups that run through the local bike shops, too, and anyone who wants to join can meet out at the trail and ride — there are some road cycling groups, too.
Locals also love the paved multi-use trails that run along numerous paths across town, offering a variety of recreational opportunities.
“We have a really great park system, and most people are really fired up about the trail system, which isn’t only paved, but it’s lit and well-maintained all year round,” says Tuma. “The key is to keep people moving and it has a wide variety of users, from walkers and families on bikes, to fitness buffs.”
Minnesotans are said to have “cold noses and warm hearts,” a sentiment that is celebrated every January at Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Festival, which includes a medallion hunt, a snowman building contest, cardboard sled races, an ice fishing contest and a snow sculpture contest.
Another regional perk is that local golf courses convert their open spaces to snowshoe and cross-country ski spaces during the winter. Straight River Sports rents not only bikes and e-bikes, but cross-country and hok skis (a ski/snowboard hybrid) and ice or hockey skates, making four season fun easily accessible.
“Our outdoor amenities are one of the things that attract people to move here, beyond finding a good job and good schools,” says Tuma. “We have great access to the outdoors, a great park system, and year-round outdoor recreation.”
When the weather encourages inside play, Owatonna’s Tennis & Fitness Center has you covered, with a heated pool and six tennis/pickleball courts. The Steele County Four Seasons Centre houses indoor ice-skating rinks, too.
“Pickleball is gaining a ton of steam here — we’ve got pickleball courts across town, and a lot of people are joining in on that,” says Hunst, who is also a hockey coach. “There are two sheets over at Four Seasons, and there’s a curling club associated with that, too.”
Springtime in Owatonna is all about enjoying the spring weather at one of the numerous parks in the area. The city is home to the Daikin Soccer Complex, a state-of-the-art facility that includes fields and other amenities. There are softball fields at Chuck Fuller Field and at Fairgrounds Field, and a disc golf course through Mineral Springs Park.
“We have really good facilities — we are really well taken care of by the community,” says Hunst. “Moving from the suburbs of a bigger city, a park is a jungle gym and a swing set. Here, there are so many things available — you just realize how much the parks department does; they do a fantastic job maintaining so much property.”
There are public golf courses at Brooktree and Havana Hills Golf Courses that feature mature trees, streams and other landscape features, plus one at the Owatonna Country Club, and many others within a 30-minute drive to neighboring communities.
“Having access to outdoor recreation is really important to the Owatonna community,” says Tuma. “The community really rallies behind efforts to expand parks and amenities, with businesses and individuals donating and volunteering in a grassroots fundraising way. The community gets behind it because not only do they want to have it but there’s a real sense of pride here.”
This article was sponsored by the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.