14 Fall Hikes Near the Twin Cities

Oct 8, 2021Hiking

Amid hundreds and hundreds of miles of broad, paved multi-use trails throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding countryside is a network of beaten pathways woven through parks and along waterways: Well- trodden, earthen trails formed from countless foot travelers.
Here’s a brief introduction to some of the best earthen trails-all within an hour’s drive of the Metro area. Feeling the earth beneath your feet is comforting for the soul – and the sole.
People walk up and down the trails along Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis on a mild fall day

Minnehaha Creek/Falls Trail (Minneapolis)

The city’s quintessential natural landmark provides a unique city setting for a hike along the creek down a tree-lined ravine, from the waterfall to its mouth at the Mississippi River just a mile away. The more primitive path down the west side (right side going downstream) includes a raised walkway through wetter sections. Bog flowers, songbirds and the roar of the creek all add character to this packed earth trail.

People walk up and down the Old Cedar bridge in Bloomington, MN on a mild fall day

Long Meadow/Bluff Line Trail (Bloomington)

Starting at the Old Cedar Bridge, an earthen path follows the bluff line of the Minnesota River for over 3 miles. Pedestrian crossings over freeway bridges let hikers link up to miles of dirt trails extending northward to Fort Snelling and beyond.

Lake Elmo Regional Park (Lake Elmo)

The 3.8-mile Eagle Point Lake Trail follows almost the entire shoreline for a pleasantly bucolic journey around a reed-lined lake. Several intersections along the western route lead to long loops across the prairie-like landscape, while eastern routes merge to join the more developed east side of the park.

Afton State Park (Afton)

This entire park is a hiker’s delight.  The northern Prairie Loop winds through the bluff-top, grassy hills where some sections are shared with horseback riders. A route through the northeast section provides incredible views and a steep descent down to the shoreline of the St. Croix where a paved trail takes you back to the Visitor Center. Southern grassy trails follow the bluff line.

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve (Lake Independence)

This park has trails suited for two and four-legged users. All hiking trails, from those along the Crow River to the expansive prairies restoration sections accommodate hikers and horses. There are 10 miles of dog-on-leash trails shared by hikers and horses and a 40-acre off-leash area just for dogs and their human companions.

Louisville Swamp/Mazomani Trail (Carver)

This 4.5-mile trail rich in Native American and early Minnesota pioneer history provides an often-soggy route through upland forest, across grassy plains and down through a swampy floodplain on the banks of the Minnesota River. Remnants of the Ehmiller home site and the restored building at the Jabs Farm site offer quaint reminders of some who walked these grounds a long time ago.
A view of Red Wing's Barn Bluff from Memorial Park reveals hikers atop the steep cliff

Barn Bluff (Red Wing)

A short, 1.75-mile out-and back hike scales this massive sandstone monolith rising 340 feet above the Mississippi River. Once atop, the grassy plateau is modestly etched in pathways that lead to overlooks above the city and the Wisconsin side of the river.
A hike to Hidden Falls makes for a great family outing at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park (Nerstrand)

Half of the park’s 11 miles of earthen trails are woven into a series of loops in the northern half of this hilly, forested landscape. White Oak Trail skirts the perimeter of the park while others wind through stands of hardwoods. All trails connect to bring hikers to the backcountry beauty of Hidden Falls.
More about this park
A couple pauses to examine a wayfinding map while hiking the Lower Bluffline Trail at Minnesota's Frontenac State Park

Frontenac State Park (Frontenac)

Of the 13 miles of trails, the short stretch along the steep bluffs above the river is the most challenging and scenic. Some sections pass 30-foot-high limestone outcroppings, others provide steep access to the river’s edge. Other side trails lead to and from the campground, including a spur to In-Yan Teopa Rock at the bluff’s edge. Scenic overlooks provide incredible views of Lake Pepin. The Prairie Loop in the southern section of the park offers over 3 miles of addition trails.
More about this park
A couple hike the Big Woods Loop Trails at Lake Maria State Park on a chilly fall day

Lake Maria State Park (Monticello)

The terrain is quite hilly and covered in birch, maple and other hardwoods making it a great fall hiking destination. Bjorkland and Big Woods loops offer nearly 8 miles of woodland walking, while the 2-mile Kettle Kame Trail winds through classic glacial moraine amid beautiful birch forests. Camper cabins along hiking routes make it possible to stay and explore the trails over several days. More about this park

A couple walks the trails past boulders and trees at Minnesota's William O'Brien State Park

William O’Brien State Park (Marine-On-St. Croix)

Best known for its St. Croix riverfront, the grassy hills on the west side of the park provide excellent upland hiking through a series of loops off the main route, Woodland Edge and Wetland Trails.  Another path leads you down through the tall pines along the St. Croix River. More about this park
A man carrying an infant in a backpack carrier walks up a steep flight of stairs at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, MN

Interstate Park/Minnesota (Taylors Falls)

Another iconic natural landmark offers a rambling route along the steep, rocky, root-strewn path high above the St. Croix River canyon. A return trip option includes a steep ravine interpretive trail followed by a tree-lined corridor along an abandoned railroad right-of-way. More about this park
A family of four walks the hiking trails at Minnesota's Wild River State Park with their dog in the fall

Wild River State Park (Almelund)

The short, 1.2-mile walk along the banks of the St. Croix makes a trip to this park worthwhile. A series of looped trails in the southern half add to the earthen path mileage while the paved Old Logging Road connects hikers with more routes at the north end.

 

About the Author

About the Author

Tom Watson

is the author of three books featuring amenities at Minnesota state parks: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of MinneapolisBest Tent Camping-Minnesota, and Minnesota Camper Cabins. He’s a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) and has been a regular contributor to Minnesota Trails Magazine for many years. Find out more about Tom and get in touch on his website.

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