Hiking 101: Twin Cities Metro trails


by Don Begalle

The Twin Cities metro area is filled with parks and most of them offer at least a little hiking.  But where do people go when they want more than a little hiking, perhaps a lot more?   Listed below are the five metro parks with the most trail miles.  The conditions for the parks are not standard.  Some include paved and natural surface areas and multi-use trails, but all are big parks with more than enough hiking for a long day.  Here you go: 

1) Three Rivers Park District’s Carver Park Reserve offers a mix of paved and natural surface trails adding up to nearly a whopping 37 miles.  Cruise through marshes and prairie and visit a nature center and historic site while you are there. 

2) Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve, another Three Rivers park, has more than 21 miles of turf trails.  The up and down terrain feels more like a roller coaster than a hike.  Watch for mountain bikers on the multi-use trail. 

3) Afton State Park comes in with 20 trail miles.  Tucked along the St. Croix River, this hilly park is a favorite for trail runners and the walk-in camping is ideal for beginning backpackers or anyone looking to spend a night under the stars. 

4) Technically tied for third place, Washington County’s Lake Elmo Park Reserve also sports 20 miles of hiking trails, much of which is shared with cyclists and equestrians.  Wander along Lake Elmo, circumnavigate Eagle Point Lake, enjoy the mix of forest and prairie or do it all.  

5) Baker Park Reserve rounds out the list with not quite 20 miles of trail (19.8 to be exact).  This is another Three Rivers’ park and like Carver offers a mix of paved and natural surface trails.  A big loop takes you around Lake Katrina and smaller loops and sections get you deeper into the park. 

Special mention should go to the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Trail.  With its own trails connected to The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge’s Louisville swamp and beyond via the Minnesota Valley State Trail, it boasts more than 40 miles of hiking trails.  It could have been first on the list, but that seemed like cheating.  Happy hiking!

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