Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Park District
Elm Creek Park Reserve
It’s no secret that Minnesotans love year-round outdoor recreation. In fact, we’re so fit that we’re continually named one of the healthiest states in the country. Lucky for us, there are loads of pretty spots to get our fitness on outdoors, many within the metro area. We’ve rounded up some of the best hiking locations for families—all within 30 miles of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Carver County Carver Park Reserve 7025 Victoria Drive, Victoria, 763-694-7650 The park’s 36 miles of paved and natural trails lead you through and around forests, prairies, and marshes. At any given time you might see deer and wild turkeys, but July is arguably the best time to visit, when ospreys nest right in the park. Back at the Nature Center, kids can play in an interactive Nature Exploration Area that teaches them about the park’s animal habitats and wildflowers. Grownups with strollers or small children may also want to check out the “Trails at Your Pace”—a shorter out-and-back paved trail designed for beginners (also available at Elm Creek Park and Hyland Lake Park). Minnesota Landscape Arboretum 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska, 952-443-1400 While walking through the Arboretum may not be the rugged hiking adventure you have in mind, their easy trails are ideal for introducing kids to hikes. Take a self-guided tour through the bog and Green Heron Pond, where strollers and little kids can easily traverse along a wide, sturdy boardwalk. Educational signs along the path will help kids recognize herons, dragonflies, and many of the area’s native plants. Or take the paved Three Mile Drive up to High Point and the Sculpture Garden, which has more than 20 sculptures and thousands of early-blooming bulbs to satisfy your spring flower craving. Ramsey County Crosby Farm Regional Park 2595 Crosby Farm Road, St. Paul, 651-266-6400 A quiet, natural oasis lies just off Shepard Road at Crosby Farm. The park’s series of paved trails are easy for kids of all ages to hike, and with grassy areas, woods, and small lakes, it’s an easy place to find animals. Keep your eyes peeled for local birds, ground mammals, deer, and amphibians! The unpaved trails are better for more sure-footed kiddos who aren’t afraid to get dirty—they can get muddy after a rainfall. Feel free to pack a lunch to eat in the picnic shelter, complete with a fire pit and restrooms. Dakota County Lebanon Hills Regional Park 860 Cliff Road, Eagan, 651-554-6530 The 2,000-acre park in Dakota County offers miles of connecting trails, so your family can easily modify the hike’s length and difficulty. There are also picnic shelters, a visitor’s center with a kids’ play-and-learn area, a swimming beach with canoe, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak rentals, a playground, and lots of restrooms at the beach and visitor’s center. If you feel like making a weekend out of it, the adjacent campground opens May 3. Spring Lake Park Reserve 8395 127th St. E., Hastings, 952-891-7000 Spring Lake Park Reserve may be one of the metro’s best-kept secrets. It only has a few miles of trails, but it’s right on the Mississippi and is rarely crowded. There is a short paved trail for young children or anyone looking for an easy walk, and more rugged dirt trails for adventurers. Feel free to stop for lunch and playtime at the picnic shelters and playground. Hennepin County Theodore Wirth Regional Park 1339 Theodore Wirth Pkwy., Mpls., 612-230-6400 Theodore Wirth might be one of your best bets for a low-key (but still fun!) introduction to hiking. Boardwalks, paved paths, and grassy, open trails provide easy access for strollers and toddlers. The Quaking Bog, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, and Bird Sanctuary offer lots of chances to see flora and fauna right in Minneapolis. Elm Creek Park Reserve 12400 James Deane Parkway, Maple Grove, 763-694-7894 Elm Creek’s 4,900 acres have 12 miles of trails for all abilities. The prairies and maple hardwood forests in the park are home to deer, beavers, sandhill cranes, eagles, and trumpeter swans. There’s a swimming pond for cooling off after a warm hike and a nature center with all-ages, hands-on activities. Minnehaha Regional Park 4801 S. Minnehaha Dr., Mpls., 612-230-6400 The park’s short trails near the picturesque Minnehaha Falls are great for introducing kids to nature walks, and there’s lots of room in the park for picnics and playing. If you venture out farther, the trails aren’t quite as busy. Just remember that parts of the trails near the falls are narrow or include stairs, so be prepared to carry little ones in some places. Hyland Lake Park Reserve 10145 Bush Lake Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7687 This park feels like an oasis in the middle of the city. Except for the amenities and giant play structure that’s perfect for kids, you’ll hardly be able to tell that you’re not up north. Look for deer and wild turkeys as you hike through nearly 18 miles and 2,500 acres of prairie and oak tree forest trails at Hyland Lake. Washington County Afton State Park 6959 Peller Ave. S., Hastings, 651-436-5391 Most of the park’s 20 miles of trails will lead you through forests, across prairies, and down ravines. Though there are some easy hikes, this park might be best for older kids who are familiar with hikes and can handle a few hills. Family members of all ages will love all the chances to see animals and wildflowers. It’s easy to turn a hiking day into a beach day or camping weekend at Afton, too—the beach is clean and sandy, and there are yurts, campsites, and camper cabins for rent.