Pilot Knob

A view among forested hills and an old fort and a modern downtown area.
The view from Pilot Knob looking north towards Minneapolis. Historic Fort Snelling is in the middle ground.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman

Introduction

Visitors are treated to spectacular vistas looking northwest toward Historic Fort Snelling, Fort Snelling State Park, and downtown Minneapolis. It is a sacred site to the Dakota people. Wildlife also abounds here, particularly bird life and as the prairie restorations mature insects, such as pollinators, are also returning.

History

The prominent hill served as an important landmark for riverboat captains piloting their steamboats upriver. It marked the beginnings of the Mississippi River Gorge, a steep-walled gorge filled with foaming rapids that effectively ended the upstream movement by ship making St. Paul the head of navigation. (St. Paul remained the head of navigation until the construction of Lock and Dam #1 and the short-lived Meeker Lock and Dam flooded the rapids, giving steamboats access to Minneapolis.)

To the Dakota the prominent hill was known as Oheyawahi, or "a hill much visited." It was here that the Dakota buried their dead and Dakota villages dotted the river below during the early 1800s. The hill remains a sacred place to the Shakopee Mdewakanton.

The last half of the 1700s and the first half of the 1800s, however, brought great changes to the Dakota's world. The French were evicted from the area by the English who were in turn evicted by the Americans. The two European nationalities had profound impacts on the Dakota, primarily by integrating them into a global economy based on the fur trade. The American settlers that began crossing the river and squatting in Dakota lands, though, wanted the land itself and led to the dispossession of lands.

Political pressure grew to remove the Dakota and in 1851 Alexander Ramsey, the Minnesota Territorial Governor, entered into treaty negotiations with the Mdewakantons and Wahpekutes to transfer millions of acres to the United States. Wabasha III and other chiefs resisted and asked that the negotiations be moved from a warehouse in the village of Mendota to Oheyawahi so the talks would be in full view of what the Dakota would be giving up.

Despite the inspired move to this sacred spot, the pressure was too great and on August 5, 1851 Taoyatedota (Little Crow IV) and other chiefs signed a treaty that effectively ended the Dakota era on the lower Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.

The ecological, historical and cultural importance of Pilot Knob/Oheyawahi makes it a place of deep significance to all Minnesotans and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Draft nomination documents contain an extensive history of the area. The Minnesota Historical Society has numerous materials, including historical photographs of the area.

Activities

The confluence of major rivers and major migration routes make birdwatching a popular pastime at Pilot Knob. The site attracts numerous species, including ones rarely seen in the greater Twin Cities area. This park is near the Big River Regional Trail providing both hiking and bicycling opportunities. Interpretive signs describe the history of the site. Since it is a site of religious significance it should be treated reverently.

Birds and Wildlife, Natural History, Walks and Hikes, History and Culture

Hours, Directions, and Contact Information

  • 2044 Pilot Knob Rd, Mendota Heights, MN 55120
  • GPS: 44.880730, -93.167327

Nearby Sites

Fort Snelling State Park, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Sibley House Historic Site, Historic Fort Snelling, Hidden Falls Regional Park, Minnehaha Regional Park, Crosby Farm Regional Park

Last updated: August 16, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101

Phone:

(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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