Metro Day Hikes
Sand Dunes State Forest (2.5 miles)
Camping: 36-drive in and 6 walk-in sites
Sand Dunes State Forest is located in the transition zone between the forested and prairie regions of the state. The trees that make up the forest were planted on farm land after the 1940's drought. The sand dunes are actually low hills covered with oak savanna. Created from a glacial outwash of fine sand which was later blown by winds, this area is a great refuge for rare species of flora and fauna.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Louisville Swamp) (4.5 miles)
The refuge's 14,000 authorized acres and eight management units line the Minnesota River for 34 miles from Fort Snelling State Park to Jordan. A hike through the urban wildlife refuge would reveal oak savanna, expansive swamp, dense hardwood forests and towering lowland forests past ruins of old farms from the 1800s. Bird watching and wildlife observation are musts in this refuge.
Crow-Hassan Park Preserve (10-mile network)
Camping: 4 group campsites
Nestled along the meandering Crow River, the Crow-Hassan Park Reserve contains trails along the river that follow the historic Ox Cart Trail. Special attractions of the park include a sizeable bluestem prairie, delicate wildflowers and the riverside. Enjoy summer's tall, dancing grasses and fall's dazzling color display.
William O'Brien State Park (12-mile network)
Camping: 124 drive-in and 2 walk-in sites
Enjoy the rolling hills, marshes, and lowland forest along the St. Croix River. Pack a swimsuit for the beach at Lake Alice. View the colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer, or try a paddle down one of the best canoe rivers in the nation.
Lake Maria State Park (14-mile network)
Camping: 16 hike-in sites
This park is one of the few remaining pieces of the Big Woods. Lake Maria offers trails through woods, woodland marshes, lakes and open meadows. The park is one of few in Minnesota that caters to hike-in campers; however, more comfortable camper cabins are also available for rent. Check out the trail center to view unique displays.
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (14-mile network)
Camping: 51 drive-in and 4 hike-in sites
As a strong reminder of the Big Woods, this forest still has much of its pre-settlement vegetation, with a rich mixture of ironwood, oaks, maple and basswood. A bridge stroll over Prairie Creek will reveal the hidden 12-foot-high waterfall. Check out the beautiful summer wildflowers and the gorgeous fall colors.
Fort Snelling State Park (18-mile network)
Hike on Pike Island where large, hundred-year-old cottonwoods guard the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Visit the interpretive center and Fort Snelling for a view of military life in the 1820s. Enjoy the remote bluffs and their scenic overlooks.
Elm Creek Park Reserve (19-mile network)
Camping: 2 group campsites
The park reserve offers three streams, five lakes, lots of marshes, restored prairies, lowland forests and a small section of the Big Woods. Trails are available for hiking, biking, in-line skating, and dog-walking. Visit the Eastman Nature Center and its unique surrounding trails.
Afton State Park (20-mile network)
Camping: 24 hike-in sites
Hike along the banks of the St. Croix River, through forested ravines and in the rolling prairies. Enjoy bird watching or a swim at the beach. Stop for a picnic along the Trout Brook and challenge yourself to a hike in the Afton Alps.