The Fertile Sand Hills is a great destination for experienced birders, or those new to the hobby. We are located along many migratory routes and, with Minnesota’s lakes, wetlands and three biomes providing a large range of habitats for a huge variety of game birds, songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors, this is a great spot to be a birder!!!.
New to birding? This is a great place to start. Grab some binoculars and head out. Find a place to sit quietly and observe or take a quiet hike and use your eyes and ears to locate birds. Birding is a skill, so the more you do it and the more you learn about it the better you will get at observing and identifying beautiful and interesting birds.
Here is a list of some of the birds you might encounter while on the trails.
The list indicates the likelihood you will encounter each species during each season.
In the spring and early summer, visit the prairies south and west of the nature center to observe Eastern Bluebirds nesting in the nesting boxes there.
Once you have spent some time discovering all the avian wildlife in the Sand Hills, visit some of the other locations along the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail:
Take a field guide or learn to use an app so you can identify the birds you see. Merlin is an app and website from Cornell University that is very useful in identifying birds.
eBird is also a Cornell product. This app or website can be used to record your bird observations.
There is even an eBird page devoted to bird sightings at AELC!
This link will take you to eBird Essentials, a free course that will give you an introduction to eBird:
Another very cool app is iNaturalist. Use your camera to take pictures of birds (or any plant or animal, for that matter). iNaturalist will help you identify your observation and you’ll be helping AELC to catalog all the flora and fauna found in the Fertile Sand Hills. You’ll be a citizen scientist. For more information about iNaturalist, visit here: https://aelcfertile.org/inaturalist
Five primitive campsites are available just east of the nature center. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. Restrooms, showers and firewood are available 24/7 at the nature center. For more information, call 218-945-3129.
Fee is $15 per night. Fee can be deposited in drop box at the kiosk on the corner of the nature center driveway and Summit Ave.
A few camping rules:
There are over eleven miles of groomed trails in the Sand Hills!!! These trails will take you through a mosaic of ecosystems including riverine forests, grasslands, oak savannas, and sand dunes. You’ll experience a range of scenery and wildlife while getting some much-needed relaxation and exercise on a beautiful Minnesota winter day. You won’t find a skiing experience like this anywhere else!
Ski rentals are available when the nature center is open.
Do you geocache? There are a lot of reasons to love geocaching. It’s free, provided you have access to a smartphone or GPS device. It requires that you get outside and exercise. You’ll see some nature and explore some cool places you’ve never been before. And there is a sense of adventure in searching for hidden treasure that kids (and most adults) – really love.
What is geocaching? Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt. A typical geocache is a weatherproof container hidden somewhere, which contains a logbook. Often, it will also contain little trinkets, or “swag”, too. The geographic coordinates of the cache are provided and used with a GPS unit, or viewed through a smartphone app. The objective is to use the GPS coordinates or information provided by the app to locate the cache. Once you find the cache, you record your find in the logbook. You can also bring a trinket or small item along to exchange for one of the trinkets in the cache. It’s a good idea to also record your find in the app or on the geocaching.com website. If there is a problem with the cache or you couldn’t find it, you can record that information, too. There is a worldwide community of geocachers and it is a lot of fun!
Download the app called “Geocaching”. Once you’ve downloaded, installed and set up the app, you can use the map within the app to view nearby caches. Use the map to locate the cache. Click on the cache icon in the map for more information about the cache.
The app is free, but of course there’s a catch. Detailed information about some of the more difficult caches can only be viewed if you pay for the premium version of the app. However, there is a website that corresponds with the app, geocaching.com. This is a great resource for learning about geocaching and it seems to provide more information about the premium caches than what is available through the free app.
There are currently about eleven caches in or very near to the Sand Hills Recreation Area. Some were placed by AELC staff, some by others. Most of the caches are fairly easy to find. So, the Sand Hills would be a great place for an introduction to this great hobby. In fact, you may be able to locate some of the premium caches using only the little bit of information available in the free app.
Our cross-country ski trails become hiking trails in the summer. In fact, some of our summer hiking trails access areas you can’t get to in the winter. There is lots to see on the trails, including views of the river, views from the bluff, breathtaking panoramas from Scout Tower, sand dunes, prairies, savannas, forests, wildflowers, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and all the other critters and flora that make the Sand Hills their home.
Take a camera, take some pictures, and share your pictures on Facebook or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We offer several miles of horse trails in the Sand Hills. There is a horse loading/unloading area with plenty of parking for horse trailers located in the prairie south of the nature center (across Summit Ave from the nature center).
Horses are only permitted on designated trails!!!
Stay on the trail!!!
Additionally, the nearby Agassiz Recreational Trail allows horse riding: http://agassiztrail.org/
AELC members are permitted to hunt deer in the Sand Hills using bow during regular archery season. Permits can be purchase at Al and Laura’s Foods, 109 Albert Ave. Fertile, MN 56540.
All DNR regulations related to hunting on public land apply while hunting in the Sand Hill Recreation Area.
Tree stands must be removed at the end of the season.
The Sand Hill River is an incredible place to kayak, and a great place to gain experience for beginning kayakers.
For more information about canoeing and kayaking on the Sand Hill River, maps and river levels, visit:
Kayaks are available for rent. For more information on kayak rentals, call Lisa at the City of Fertile, 218-945-3136,