Best Outdoor Adventures Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul Hiking, Paddling, and Cycling  by Joe Baur

Best Outdoor Adventures Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul: Hiking, Paddling, and Cycling

by Joe Baur (Falcon Guides)
Best Outdoor Adventures Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul Hiking, Paddling, and Cycling  by Joe Baur
Who says you have to travel far from home to go on a great hike, paddle, or bike ride? Best Outdoor Adventures Near Minneapolis and St. Paul details forty of the best hikes, paddles, and bike routes within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities area, perfect for the urban dweller and suburbanite who may be hard-pressed to find great outdoor activities close to home.

© 2017 Joe Baur/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Outdoor Adventures Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul: Hiking, Paddling, and Cycling" Guide Book
40 Trail Guides

Less than half an hour from Saint Paul, Afton State Park is proof positive that you don’t have to travel far to get away. Across 20 miles of trails, you’ll find everything from rugged climbs up steep ravines and along river bluffs to gentle strolls through prairie and oak savanna. When you’ve worn yourself out, head down to the long, slender beach to look out on the beautiful Saint Croix River and relax. Combining a variety of landscapes, spectacular views, and wildlife, Afton is a hiker’s heaven.
Afton, MN - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5.3
Battle Creek Regional Park is often included in lists detailing the best trails to ride in the state of Minnesota—not just in the Twin Cities. That’s probably because there’s a beautiful mixture of dense oak forest and open meadows with substantial flora and fauna that you’d never expect to find so close to urbanity. Here we take you through 4 of the 10 total trail miles available, dancing amidst the 750 acres that make up this park. Here’s the deal, folks. If you don’t think you should be riding on the mountain-biking equivalent of a black diamond—take extreme caution on this trail.
Saint Paul, MN - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 4.2
Welcome to the northernmost hike detailed in this book. Come for the miles of paved and unpaved trails through restored prairies and forest; stay for everything else. With a golf course, playgrounds, an archery range, and even a water park, Bunker Hills Regional Park offers so much to do that you might want to reserve a spot at the campground and stay a while. Like many other parks, Bunker Hills offers a network of both paved and natural-surface trails to choose from. The key distinction at Bunker Hills is that the paved and unpaved trails are less duplicative than some places, with each covering distinct parts of the park and creating different experiences.
Andover, MN - Hiking,Road Biking - Trail Length: 5.2
A creation of the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC), this 4-mile loop rolls over a majority of the park’s 5.5 miles of trail. Enjoy the views of Carver Lake as you cruise along before diving into the wooded interior along the main trail. This is a great loop for intermediate riders. Experienced riders can do a few laps for practice and play around on the multi-lap training ground full of obstacles. This 4-mile loop is an easy pick for Twin Cities riders, especially those who call Saint Paul home. It’s not uncommon for some cyclists to ride to the park itself before taking on the loop.
Woodbury, MN - Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 4
This ride, perhaps more than any other in the book, shows just how impressive a cycling network the Twin Cities have. We begin on the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail, looping around inner-ring suburb Saint Louis Park, cutting through the southern end of the city on the Midtown Greenway, and then rolling north to the Mississippi River on the Hiawatha Bike Trail along the train line of the same name.
Minneapolis, MN - Road Biking,Trail Running,Walking - Trail Length: 21
The Chain of Lakes is a fantastic example of just how well interconnected the trails of urban Minneapolis truly are. Usually you’d have to flee to some remote national park, only accessible by car, to find trails that could keep you busy for 13.5 miles. That’s what makes Minneapolis special. Here you can get the distance right in the city as you hike the Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet.
Minneapolis, MN - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.5
Cleary Lake Regional Park might have the happiest visitors in the Twin Cities. You’ll be greeted with smiling faces and waves from walkers and cyclists alike on the route around Cleary Lake before ducking into the nearby woods and prairie to get off the beaten path for the second half of the hike. Look for ospreys in their nesting area near the lake, and watch your step as leopard and chorus frogs fill the grassy forest trails. It’s an easy, relaxing walk through this popular south metro park.
Prior Lake, MN - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.1
A number of hikes in this book contain sections of oak savanna, but it’s tough to beat the one at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve in the northwest metro area. With over 17 miles of rustic trails open to hikers and wide-open vistas, it’s a great place to spot bald eagles soaring overhead. Don’t be fooled—the prairie’s deceptive flatness masks rolling hills made more challenging by sandy trails. You might get more of a workout than you expect.
Rogers, MN - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4.6
It’s mostly crushed limestone trail as you loop around Lake Minnetonka, connecting the Dakota Rail Regional Trail to the southern Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail in Excelsior for a 20-mile ride west of the Twin Cities. Wayzata Beach and Lake Minnetonka in general are popular weekend getaways during the warmer, humid summer months. It also makes for a logical start to this 20-mile loop that connects both the Dakota Rail Regional Trail and the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the Luce Line Regional Trail is a short mile or so away on the northern edge of Wayzata.
Wayzata, MN - Road Biking - Trail Length: 20
East River Flats is something of a hidden gem in Minneapolis’s vast park network. It doesn’t receive the fanfare of places like the Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Falls, but it’s a lovely entry point to the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park area that lines the river throughout Minneapolis. Up the hill from the river, Tower Hill Park is home to the highest natural point in Minneapolis and has the views to match. The famous Witch’s Hat Tower that sits atop serves as an orientation point for miles around.
Minneapolis, MN - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.3
Three Rivers Park District and MORC boast 13 miles of sublime singletrack at Elm Creek Park Reserve, twisting around the northeast corner of the park through dense hardwood forest and open prairie, with a perfectly blended mix of beginner to expert terrain on a fast- flowing path with only rare unintended obstacles. Decadent paved trails through the rest of the wildlife-packed park add bonus points. I double- dipped on my Elm Creek day and rode both the paved and dirt trails, so this route starts from the dog park trailhead. Follow the road north to the junction with the paved trail and hop on the singletrack, cruising through an open, meadowy landscape to a short climb through a chunk of woods, then squiggle around through the open again to meet the access to Grizzland, the expert section dotted with technical features like log piles and rock gardens, and boasting the most elevation gain on the trail.
Osseo, MN - Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 7.5
As the largest park in the Three Rivers Park District, with more than 50 miles of trails available to hikers, Elm Creek Park Reserve is a place you can visit again and again without doing the same route twice. Stop in at Eastman Nature Center to check out the exhibits and wildlife observation deck before venturing out to hike the loops that ring the nature center. Eastman Nature Center serves as the hub of Elm Creek Park Reserve’s network of hiking trails, so that’s where you’ll begin. Before that, take a few minutes to explore the nature center. Its 14,000 square feet contain classrooms and reading rooms, professional exhibits where you can watch wildlife, and an open-air deck. With so many activities offered, the place is abuzz, particularly on weekends.
Osseo, MN - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5.6
This relaxing trip is as straightforward as it gets: The entire ride is on paved paths—without road crossings—to Pine Point Regional Park on the Gateway State Trail and then over to Stillwater, Minnesota, on the Brown’s Creek State Trail. Without construction, the Gateway State Trail starts a little farther south from Wheelock Parkway off L’Orient Street by Maryland Avenue and Trout Book Nature Sanctuary. Perhaps construction will be completed by the time this book is released. When it came to deciding where to start this trail for the book, I looked at what connected best with other rides in the book. Wheelock Parkway just so happens to be a main thoroughfare in the Saint Paul Grand Round Cruise, so I decided to hop on the Gateway State Trail right off Wheelock Parkway.
Saint Paul, MN - Road Biking,Trail Running,Walking - Trail Length: 46
The Chain of Lakes is a staple of Minneapolis and something any city the world over should envy. Here, you can hike, cycle, and paddle around three beautiful lakes, each with their own distinct vibe. Paddling yields yet another experience with the ability to float underneath bridges and through narrow canals that connect the lakes.
Minneapolis, MN - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing,Hiking - Trail Length: 5.2
Lake Nokomis is anchored on the southern edge of Minneapolis’s Grand Round and makes for a perfect introductory paddle. While everyone’s over at the Chain of Lakes, you can mellow out a bit at Lake Nokomis to get your feet wet (pun intended) with your paddle of choice. Rentals are available, and there’s a small beach where you can relax following the paddle. Lake Nokomis is one of several lakes within Minneapolis’s city limits. Like some of the other lakes in the area, Nokomis was dredged after being purchased in 1907 to turn the former marshland into the lake we see today. Of course that doesn’t mean the city is settling. Over recent years, the lake has been the subject of various preservation projects to harvest native vegetation around Nokomis’s shores. Besides paddling, it’s a popular spot for fishing, relaxing on the sand, and walking, and cyclists might recognize the area from the Minneapolis Grand Round ride.
Minneapolis, MN - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 2
Saint Paul may not have the Chain of Lakes, but it does have Lake Phalen for those looking to keep east and enjoy the water. To its credit, it’s a bit more quiet and serene for those who may find the Lake Calhoun side of things a tad overwhelming, especially in the thick of summer. Residents of Saint Paul are lucky to have Lake Phalen. If I were to be picky, I could complain about the overwhelming crowds that have the tendency to take over the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis. Lake Phalen, however, remains blissfully serene for the most part, and that was certainly the case when Sara and I took our stand-u p paddleboards to the Lake Phalen Boat Launch for an easy 2.6-mile paddle around the lake.
Saint Paul, MN - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 2.6
Combining Big Woods (a hardwood forest), forest, marsh, and wetland with lovely Lake Rebecca itself, there’s something for everyone at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve. Though the park is particularly stunning dressed in fall colors, its paved trails make it easy to visit year-round. It’s also part of the Three Rivers Park District’s restoration program for trumpeter swans, helping bring the birds, which are considered threatened in Minnesota, back to strength and giving you a good shot at seeing them in action.
Rockford, MN - Hiking,Mountain Biking,Road Biking - Trail Length: 6.5
MORC’s flagship trail and one of Minnesota’s very best, Lebanon Hills is 100 percent singletrack bliss. The superbly designed trail system treats riders to 10 (and counting) miles of sinuous turns, rock gardens, log piles, bridges, open meadow, and dense woods. Anyone from beginner to expert can sample the wares on four connected loops, nested in a pattern of steadily increasing difficulty. The racing action here is always a blast, even deep into the winter.
Eagan, MN - Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5
Lebanon Hills Regional Park is one of the most beloved parks in the Twin Cities metro area, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. It contains some of the region’s most popular mountain biking paths and a chain of lakes that’s perfect for canoeing. The extensive trail network offers 19 miles of hiking on 2,000 acres across gorgeous rolling hills. This 4.1-mile hike introduces you to the eastern side of the Lebanon Hills, drawing near five of the park’s many lakes and ponds through peaceful woodlands.
Eagan, MN - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.1
Paddling Long Lake in Ramsey County’s Long Lake Regional Park takes you to more remote corners of the Twin Cities region for a peaceful, secluded paddle around 3.5 miles. Long Lake Regional Park offers a respite from the Twin Cities without having to plan a long drive or make hotel reservations. The park itself is known for its bur oak trees, some of which are more than 200 years old, surrounded by native prairie grass and the remnants of the farmsteads of decades past. You’ll get a taste of it all on your paddle, but you’ll especially notice some of the beautiful homes perched up along the shore. We launched our stand-up paddleboards out of the Long Lake Public Beach, which requires a little walk from the parking lot. Ultimately it’s nothing that’ll put you on your back before you even get in the water, but it is long enough that you’ll start to notice the weight of your board or kayak. In any event, once you launch, it’s smooth sailing (or paddling) for the entire 3.5-mile loop.
New Brighton, MN - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 3.5