• One Minnesota Writer

Hiking Through the Pandemic

Hiking anyone? Mick and me on the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, Bloomington, Minnesota

Among the things I'm grateful for are the many hiking spots available to us here in Minnesota. Specifically, I'm glad for those that are within an hour or so of the metro area. These trails offer some of the best medicine Mick and I have used during the pandemic. We tend to go early in the morning, when few people are around, take our time, and enjoy doing nothing more than walking, breathing, and taking in the views.

Today, I thought I'd share some of our favorites with you in no particular order. Even though the weather is growing colder and days shorter, these trails continue to offer solace and fresh air. Several of them are open during the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. All of them welcome hikers of most abilities. Follow the links included below for more information.

Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, Minnesota

Lebanon Hills Regional Park - Holland Lake Trailhead

We hiked here in September, excited that this nearly 2,000-acre park offers miles of easy and well-marked dirt trails that wind around small lakes, through trees, and past wetlands. It's nearly impossible to get lost here. This park gets heavy use, though, so early morning is a requirement for us for these trails. Shown below is one of the smaller lakes and the biggest leopard frog I've ever come across.

Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park, Shoreview, Minnesota

Trail through Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park

We hiked here in September, too; this park is not far from our house. For a park in the middle of a residential area, you can melt into trees and lose sight of the nearby houses. In spite of the unavoidable sounds of the freeway (Highway 694 is not far away), it still offers a bit of respite and beautiful scenery. Easy paved trails accommodate strollers and walkers, should that be a need. Grass Lake, when it's still, is a perfect mirror.

Grass Lake in Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park

Schaar's Bluff/Spring Lake Park Reserve, Hastings, Minnesota

Mississippi River view from the bluff

We visited this area in both the summer and fall this year. It's an easy half-hour drive from the metro area, with both paved and dirt trails. The paved trail is shared with bicycles; it's a beautiful area to bike. The view of the river and Spring Lake is stunning in any season. The park includes wonderful stretches of prairie and a limestone cliff, and is surrounded by farmland. You can hike all the way into Hastings if you wish. Below are two trail views and a bit of prairie grass that I couldn't resist.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand, Minnesota

These are the Big Woods

We hiked in this park just last weekend. It's the furthest away of the parks listed here at about an hour's drive from the metro area. And it's not free - you need a state park sticker (daily rate right now is $7). But it's cheaper than a movie and possibly better for your soul. The dirt trails wind through gorgeous deep woods where trees creak with the wind, and the quiet of the place soothes immediately. Even though the trails are popular, a hiker can find a place to be alone here. It's one of our favorite places. There are a few hills and a lot of tree roots to trip over, so I would call this a moderate level hike.

Nerstrand Big Woods Hidden Waterfall

Old Cedar Avenue and Bluff Trail, Bloomington, Minnesota

Bluff Trail

Mick and I recently hiked this trail with our son Shawn, his wife Beka, and our granddaughter Camille who is nine. Mick and I hiked here earlier in the summer and were excited to show it to them. The dirt trail along the wetlands veers off to follow a creek with plenty of fallen logs and rocks across the creek that will entertain a kid. We saw plenty of birds and a few deer. The dirt Bluff Trail feels much further away from the city than it is (Mall of America is close by). The Old Cedar Avenue bridge looks out over the wetlands for miles. The trailhead location makes it easy to go on a Sunday morning spur-of-the-moment hike and you can still get home in time for a late breakfast. Below is a cool mushroom we found on the Bluff Trail and a view of the wetlands.

I know we'll visit these places again before the snow flies. I'm looking forward to the changing beauty of each of them.

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