Quarry Park (Minnesota’s most unusual swimming hole)

Last updated on September 15th, 2023

Just outside Saint Cloud, Quarry Park features Minnesota’s most unusual swimming hole. But this old stone quarry offers much more than just swimming!

Photo of landscape with woods, water-filled pits, and piles of waste stone at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud in central Minnesota. © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Quarry Park is an unusual mix of manmade and natural features.

As its name implies, Quarry Park and Nature Preserve is located on land where stone was once cut out of the earth and processed into building material.

While many old quarries remain abandoned now that the best stone is gone, the ones here were repurposed: Abandoned mine pits became pools for swimming, scuba diving, and fishing. There are even a few areas for rock climbing. And the space between the pits and giant stone trash heaps (called grouts) is now laced with trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. While nature is slowly reclaiming the quarry site, Quarry Park Nature Preserve at the southern end of the park protects high quality natural areas where mining had little impact and recreational activities are limited.

How did Quarry Park come to be?

Minnesota has lots of abandoned stone quarries and mine pits, but Quarry Park is the only place where those pits have been turned into pools for swimming, fishing, and scuba diving. That makes it pretty unique.

Show more about Quarry Park history. . .

About 100 years ago, stone quarries began to operate in the area that is now Quarry Park and Nature Preserve.

Granite quarries existed (and still exist) all around Saint Cloud – that’s the reason it’s long been called the “Granite City.” However, about 100 years ago quarries opened in the area where the park is today to mine a type of granite that was particularly desirable. Called Saint Cloud Red Granite, it was used as a building stone and can be found in buildings and monuments throughout the Saint Cloud area, elsewhere in Minnesota, and far beyond. You can see still see examples of this stone in prominent buildings like the Landmark Center and Hill House in Saint Paul. Examples certainly still remain right in Saint Cloud as well, although some buildings that used the stone have been demolished over the years.

Over the decades at least five different companies operated quarries here, but by the mid-1950s all had closed. Over time, the abandoned site became an overgrown nuisance known as Hundred Acres Quarry that attracted local thrill-seekers. Meanwhile, interest in creating a park on the site grew. Stearns County bought the site in 1992 and Quarry Park opened in 1998.

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Today Quarry Park has just over 680 acres, with over 320 acres preserved as a state Scientific and Natural Area (SNA).

Why visit Quarry Park?

Saint Cloud and the surrounding area have very few natural beaches or other outdoor swimming areas. That makes Quarry Park a popular escape from summer’s heat for area residents. But the park’s use of old mine pits as swimming holes is unique and well worth a day trip. And you’ll find plenty of other diversions here as well, with options that change with the seasons.

Summer park map showing trails and activities in Quarry Park in Saint Cloud Minnesota. Map produced by Stearns County.

Map of summer trails and activities in Quarry Park, used with permission of Stearns County Parks.

Winter park map showing trails and activities in Quarry Park in Saint Cloud Minnesota. Map produced by Stearns County

Map of winter trails and activities in Quarry Park, used with permission of Stearns County Parks.

Swimming (and cliff jumping)

Swimming is allowed in two quarries. These are Quarry #2 and Quarry #11.

Photo of sign for quarries #2 and #11 with directions and warnings at Quarry Park near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Swimming in Quarry Park is a lot of fun, but you do need to be careful!

Quarry #2 (“Melrose Deep 7”) is surrounded by rock ledges, some of which are very steep. But that’s also what makes it so popular, because several of those cliffs drop straight down into the water. That makes them perfect for leaping off the cliff into the water.

Strip of photos showing a woman jumping into the water from a cliff into a pool in Quarry Park near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Quarry Park is noted for cliff jumping. Do you dare?

That cliff is about 20 feet high, but the water is 116 feet deep.

Quarry Park cliff jumping is popular with local youth. But, of course, you don’t have to jump off a cliff to enjoy this pool. There are also places to enter the water from shore, and on hot days the pool is filled a colorful flotilla of inflatable rafts and other beach floats. (Pool floats are actually recommended because both pools have deep water and sudden drop-offs.) And, of course, you can always just sit and enjoy the water without getting wet!

Photo of a water-filled quarry with a pile of stone behind it at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

You don’t have to jump in. Quarry Park is also a pleasant place just to relax by the water.

The other swimming hole is at Quarry #11. It’s a little more user friendly, with a sand beach and low ledges to jump into the water from. But the water depth reaches 40 feet, so swimmers still need to be cautious.


 You swim in either pool at Quarry Park at your own risk. There is no lifeguard and these pools are deep, with sudden drop-offs, and sheer sides that can make it a challenge to climb back out of the water.

 While there are spots where cliffs plunge straight down into the water, many areas have stone ledges and shelves just below water level. Don’t jump in unless you are absolutely sure there’s no rock hidden below the water’s surface. In addition, make sure there are no people in the water where you plan to jump. Landing on either a rock or a person in the water is a good way to seriously injure or kill yourself and/or others.

Scuba diving

Want to get a good look at what’s under the water?

Several quarries are open for scuba divers. These include Quarry #1 “Red Six,” and Quarry #13. Divers can check out the fish and geology.

Scuba diving is only allowed in designated areas and a special permit is required.


A number of the quarries are stocked with trout and open for fishing.

Photo of a water-filled quarry pit. Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota offers peaceful fishing holes in old stone quarries. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Trout fishing is available in several quarries.

Currently, anglers can fish in Quarry #1 “Red Six,” Quarry #4 “Oberg,” Quarry #7 “Thielman,” Quarry #9, Quarry #13, and Quarry #18 “Benzie 14.” You can fish from shore (with a Minnesota fishing license) at all of these quarries. A few also have fishing piers.

 All state regulations for stream trout apply within the park.

Hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing

Trails in the Quarry Park and Nature Reserve allow visitors to walk through woodlands and prairies while exploring areas around and between the mine pits.

In wet years, there’s even a floating boardwalk.

Photo of a floating boardwalk through a marsh at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

A floating boardwalk bounces as you walk through a marsh.

(The boardwalk is still there when it’s dry, but it sits on the ground then – which isn’t nearly as fun.)

Quarry Park and Nature Reserve has three types of trails:

  • Trails for walking, walking your dog (on a leash), and biking
  • Winter multi-use trails for walking, walking your dog (on a leash), snowshoeing, and fat tire biking
  • Winter cross country ski trail
  • Nature trails for walking (dogs and bikes are prohibited)

The nature trails are in the southern half of the park in the Quarry Park SNA (a state Scientific and Natural Area, which makes up the Nature Reserve part of the park). Here visitors find a landscape that retains its natural granite outcrops, native plants (both common and rare), and a variety of birds and other wildlife, including red-shouldered hawks. (Dogs and bikes are prohibited in the area.)

While you’re more likely to find rare native plants in the SNA area, there are wildflowers along trails throughout the park.

Photo of a Canadian Anemone in Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Canadian Anemone isn’t rare, but it’s pretty.

Likewise, birds and deer (lots of deer) can be seen throughout the entire park.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing and bouldering are available in Quarries #17 and #20. A special permit is required to use either area.

Historical exhibits and demonstrations

Are you interested in learning more about the quarries that once operated here?

Quarry Park has a small exhibit area with information about Saint Cloud’s granite quarries. These exhibits include informational signage and a few pieces of equipment used to mine granite and prepare the stone for sale.

Photo of a huge round saw blade with a man standing behind it and a woman taking his picture in Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

This saw blade was used in a processing plant to cut granite blocks into slabs.

Liberty Derrick

The featured historical exhibit at Quarry Park is the Liberty Derrick. This 85-foot-high derrick functioned as a crane to lift large blocks of granite out of a mine pit. It wasn’t originally located here, but was moved here as part of the historical exhibit. While it sat idle for many years before being moved and restored, today it’s occasionally put to work demonstrating how stone was removed from these quarries.

Photo of an old-fashioned wood derrick used to remove granite from a quarry on display at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Wood derricks like this were once used to lift and move tons of stone.

Show more about Liberty Derrick . . .

Since being acquired by the park, it was moved to its current position and the upright section was replaced using a single 110-year-old Douglas fir. It’s fitted into a base that turns to allow stone to be retrieved from the pit and then swung over to be loaded and hauled away.

Photo of connection that allowed a wood derrick to turn. Part of the display at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Detail of the connection that allows the derrick to turn.

The derrick was operated from inside a small building called the derrick house.

Photo of equipment in the derrick house at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve near St Cloud Minnesota. Text and photos © Cindy Carlsson ExplorationVacation.net

Equipment used to control the derrick’s movement from inside the derrick house.

The park’s audio tour explains how this worked:

“It is from the derrick house that the operator engages drum hoists and brakes. One drum controls the direction the mast pivots.  Another drum controls the height and angle of the boom arm, and yet another controls the hook at the end of the boom arm.”

It took two people to manage this operation, one operating the equipment inside the derrick house and another outside providing directions for moving the boom, hook cable, and mast.

Today the derrick is usually operated once or twice a year to demonstrate how it works and keep it in working condition. However, I can’t find any indication of when this occurred this year, if it occurred at all.

Learn more about the Liberty Derrick, other mining equipment at Quarry Park, and more on the Quarry Park website under the Liberty Derrick section. There’s even a self-guided tour.

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Plan your visit to Quarry Park

While Saint Cloud’s Quarry Park and Nature Reserve was established largely to fill the need for a local beach, the park offers a variety of activities throughout the year and makes a nice day trip from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area.

The Stearns County parks website has lots of information on the park. I have some of that same information here, but be sure to take a look at the park website when planning your visit.

Show more about visiting Quarry Park . . .

When is the best time to visit Quarry Park?

That’s a trick question, as the best time to visit depends on what you want to do.

Obviously, summer is the time for swimming, cliff jumping, scuba diving, rock climbing, and fishing.

Spring brings the season’s first wildflowers. While Quarry Park doesn’t seem to be the best place to look for wildflowers, the park includes a state Scientific and Natural Area where the landscape and vegetation is a more natural.

Fall is a great time for hiking in the park, as the park’s hardwoods turn brilliant colors as the weather gets cool. They contrast beautifully with the stone and water, making this a particularly fine spot to do some leaf peeping. And the mosquitos are gone by then too!

Cross-country skiing lets winter visitors enjoy the park with snow. And you are more likely to see deer and other wildlife here then. Just be sure to bring everything you need, as there’s no place to rent equipment at the park.

Quarry Park hours

Check the park website for current hours. In summer the park is usually open from 8 am until just after sunset. During the summer, the park gets very busy by lunchtime.

When there’s enough snow to groom the trails, the park is usually open for cross-country skiing from 8 am to 10 pm, with lighting along the trails. Check the Stearns County Parks website to see when the ski trails are open.

Where is Quarry Park?

Quarry Park is in central Minnesota, about a 90-minute drive northwest of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan area. It’s located in Waite Park, a small town to the west of Saint Cloud.

Directions to Quarry Park: From I-94, Quarry Park is just a short distance north of I-94 and east of State Highway 23 on Stearns County 137 (7th Street South). The turn-off into the park is about a mile south of the Ledges Amphitheater. Google maps will take you to the parking area, but it doesn’t show the park itself properly.

There is one Quarry Park parking area at the main entrance to the park. A short walk on flat trails is necessary to reach the quarries.

How much does it cost to visit Quarry Park?

The park is free to visit. However, . . .

The fee for parking is $10 per day during the summer and $5 during the rest of the year. Annual permits are also available. Permits can be purchased at the park. Additional parking information is available on the park website.

What facilities are located at Quarry Park?

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve is, not surprising, divided into two components: Quarry Park and the nature preserve, which has the Minnesota Quarry Park SNA.

With the exception of trails, which run through both the park area and the SNA, all recreational facilities are located in the Quarry Park area.

  • Most historic displays and items are located near the parking area.
  • A limited number of picnic tables and grills are located in the park, with picnic shelters located by the parking lot and the two swimming quarries.
  • A few quarries have docks for swimming or fishing

Food is not available in the park.

Be sure to bring what you need for the day!

Park rules

Normal rules for good behavior apply (don’t leave garbage, don’t both other park visitors, don’t damage park facilities or leave graffiti, etc.), but visitors need to be particularly cautious in Quarry Park to remain safe and keep the park and nature reserve in good condition. Of particular note:

  • Do not climb on rock piles or enter restricted areas.
  • Pets are allowed as long as they are on a leash. However, they are not allowed in any of the quarries or the SNA.
  • Sound equipment is prohibited.
  • Alcohol is prohibited.
  • Glass containers are prohibited.
  • Tobacco and E-cigarettes are not allowed around swimming areas.

For more information check the Stearns County Park Rules on the website.

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Other things to do in the Saint Cloud area

Saint Cloud has long been an important regional center for retail and medical services. The city and surrounding communities create a sprawling place with acres of houses on former farm fields and miles of strip development featuring big box stores, chain hotels, and fast-food restaurants. If you drive through the area one of the main highways you are not going to go “Wow! This is a really interesting place to stop and look around.” But look a little deeper and you’ll find plenty that is worth stopping for.

Show more things to do in Saint Cloud . . .

Wander downtown

While Saint Cloud’s historic business district has some pretty big holes in it, there are enough great old buildings of many vintages to be interesting. And many of those are home to local restaurants and shops. This is a college town and Saint Cloud State University isn’t far from downtown. That means those downtown shops, cafes, and bars tend to have a younger, funky vibe.

The most interesting area is along West Saint Germain Street and the area between there and the Stearns County Courthouse and Administration buildings. For more detailed information on what is where downtown, check the Visit St. Cloud website’s Downtown Walking Map.

Stroll through Munsinger and Clemens Gardens

Located along the Mississippi River, adjoining Munsinger and Clemens gardens together may be the most beautiful free public garden in Minnesota. Beautiful in any season, visit during late spring and early summer for the greatest array of flowers.

photo of a woodland garden with blooming fruit trees

Visit Saint John’s University

Saint John’s University is located in the countryside to the west of Saint Cloud. Don’t let that rural setting fool you, this Catholic university and monastic community has a much broader reach and more to see than you might expect.

There are three key sites that draw travelers from across the region and far beyond to this quiet campus.

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library displays both ancient documents and modern works of Christian art. The Saint John’s Bible, a modern illuminated masterpiece commissioned by the university, has its own gallery. (Learn more about it in this post.)

gallery with lit display cases

The Abbey and University Church is an architecturally-significant mid-century building by Marcel Breuer.

The Saint John’s Pottery, where Artist-in-Residence Richard Bresnahan works, also welcomes visitors, although on a more limited basis.

The walking paths through the university’s arboretum and native prairie are always available for quiet contemplation outdoors.

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You can find more pictures of Quarry Park at www.CindyCarlsson.com

Photo of a flooded quarry with text "Quarry Park St Cloud Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.net"

photo of garden and fountain with text "Munsinger Clemens Gardens St Cloud Minnesota"painting of the Son of Man with text "the Saint John's Bible"island in a lake with text "Exploring Minnesota"

2 thoughts on “Quarry Park (Minnesota’s most unusual swimming hole)”

  1. Would it be possible to have a printed brochure and map of the quarries. I have family coming from out of town & none of us have ever been there so a bit of before hand info would be very helpful. There will be approx. 18 of us.

    1. I don’t know that there is a printed map. There’s an online map of points of interest at https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/21c8d4d924044dadb787a3ba54940ef1 You can bring it up on your phone and zoom in while in the park. That will give you a pretty good idea of where things are generally located. There’s also a pdf map you can download from the Quarry Park website at https://www.stearnscountymn.gov/396/Quarry-Park-Nature-Preserve (it’s near the top of the righthand sidebar). There’s some signage in the park, but it is a little limited if you don’t already know the park. It’s a beautiful spot and should be really great with the hot summer weather we seem to have ahead of us!

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