1. Jensen Lake Trail / Lebanon Hills Regional Park
Lebanon Hills Regional Park is located in Eagan, around 18 miles south of the Twin Cities. The Jensen Lake Trailhead provides access to 14 miles of hiking trails in the summer, as well as 7 miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails and 12 miles of skiing trails in the winter.
Both Jensen Lake and Buck Pond began a prairie protection and wetlands erosion restoration in 2015, which has already shown significant improvements for the native flora and fauna. This project is also set to create a ton of new paved and unpaved trails, so keep an eye out for updates on the new areas to explore!
2. Shingle Creek Trail
This 8.43-mile trail is part of the Three Rivers Park District and begins in Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. The paved trail leads through Brooklyn Center and heads south along Shingle Creek to Palmer Lake Park. It's an easy-going path, but if you are looking to add distance, check out the Rush Creek Regional Trail; it begins in Elm Creek Park Reserve and runs 9.64 miles (also paved) to Coon Rapids Dam, where it connects with the Shingle Creek Trail.
3. Louisville Swamp Unit
Don't let the name fool you; this is not your typical swamp! There are 14 miles of trails in the Louisville Swamp Unit, including the lovely 4.5-mile Mazomani Trail. Several different ecosystems exist within the area, so this is an excellent place to keep an eye out for wildlife while you explore both the prairie and wetlands regions.
4. Hyland Lake Park Preserve
There are 18 miles of trails at Hyland Lake Park Preserve to explore! This park is located in Bloomington, less than 30 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, so it's perfect for a quick trip or a full day adventure. Hyland Lake Park Reserve has tons of activities for every season, including cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails in the snowy winter months.
5. Mill Ruins Park
Yes, this one is more of a leisurely stroll than a hike, but Mill Ruins Park is too cool to ignore. This downtown park is located on the west side of St. Anthony Falls, underneath the iconic Stone Arch Bridge (which you should definitely stop to appreciate as well) and features the incredible ruins of former flour mills right along the Mississippi River.
Several archaeological digs were conducted at the abandoned mills before the park was added as a National Historic District and opened up for the public as an interpretive site.
6. Luce Line Trail
Luce Line Trail stretches a whopping 63 miles between Plymouth and Cosmos along an old railway line, so it's up to you to choose how long you want your adventure to be. The trail immediately west of Plymouth is made of crushed limestone and suitable for all skill levels, and the portion of the trail between Winstead and Hutchinson is paved and easily-accessible. This trail is great for runners, walkers, hikers, and, in the winter months, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling as well. The best part: you can bring your pups along for the journey (as long as they stay on-leash)!
7. Pike Island Trail / Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling is a historic military compound located right at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. It's a National Historic Landmark and a popular spot for visitors, but don't let that keep you from checking it out. There is an extensive trail system that connect to both the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and to Minnehaha Park, but the Pike Island Trail is a must-see.
Despite its downtown location, Pike Island is a surprisingly quiet little refuge. Take the Pike Island Bridge over to the 4.45-mile easy loop along the riverbank. It's a truly beautiful spot with both paved and gravel trails open to hikers and bikers. Keep an eye out for beavers and otters relaxing in the river and herons and egrets overhead.
8. Carlos Avery Trail
The Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area is located 30 miles north of Minneapolis in Anoka County. This 25,000-acre area is a popular spot for hiking year round and keeps access roads plowed for winter use. There are 8.7 miles of trails throughout Carlos Avery WMA; all are rated easy and there is a 3.36-mile paved loop through woodlands and grassy fields. Make sure to bring your cameras and binoculars along, because this area is filled with cool wildlife and waterfowl to check out (there are over 275 species of birds in the park)!
9. Boot Lake Scientific & Natural Area
Boot Lake is located in Anoka County, about 35 minutes north of Minneapolis. Although the SNA itself doesn't have maintained trails, it is accessible via the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area and Martin-Island Linwood Lakes Regional Park. The wildlife here is stunning and worth the extra work to navigate the paths, especially to see the old white pine stands, oak forests, and aspen thickets. It's a beautiful spot to explore by snowshoe or skis during the winter as well!
10. Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is just under an hour south of the Twin Cities and has tons of cool spots to explore. There are 10 loop trails to lead you through stunning sugar maple forests and wildflower-filled prairies, but you definitely don't want to miss the Hidden Falls Trail. This beautiful 20-foot waterfall on Prairie Creek can be accessed via a short 1-mile loop pathway that begins and ends at the parking and campground area. If you are looking to lengthen your hike, head north to the Fawn Trail, Beaver Trail, and Hope Trail, or south to the Fox Trail and Big Woods Trail.
In the winter months, the northern section of Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is open to cross country skiers and the southern portion allows snowmobiles in the snowy wooded areas.
11. Minnehaha Creek
Sure, Minnehaha Falls is famous for its stunning beauty, but there is far more to see in Minnehaha Regional Park than just one waterfall. Minnehaha Creek runs for 22 miles from Lake Minnetonka to the Mississippi River, and there is a lovely 5-mile trail that connects Minnehaha Falls to the historic Fort Snelling. The paved trail runs through a wooded area that is exceptionally colorful in the fall and a cool cross country ski trail in the winter.
12. Hidden Falls Regional Park
Hidden Falls Regional Park is located just north of Fort Snelling in St. Paul. There are 6.7 miles of paved trails throughout the park, which offer lovely scenic views of the shady banks of the Mississippi and a perfect spot to spend an afternoon hiking, biking, and exploring the area. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy or bring along your fishing poles and relax!
These fantastic hikes are just a few of the many opportunities to get outdoors and stretch your legs in the Minneapolis area, no matter what season! Grab your hiking boots (or snowshoes) and hit the trail!
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