Fort Snelling State Park
By Jim Umhoefer
Historically, Fort Snelling has been a gateway for soldiers, explorers and settlers into the upper Mississippi River Valley. Today this area is still a major gateway, as you’ll discover when you hear the roar of jets from the nearby international airport and the rumble of traffic on Minneapolis-St. Paul freeways. Ignore the background noise as you walk through the front gate, and pretend you’ve just pulled off the dusty trail for a break.
Fort Snelling State Park is located in Saint Paul on the Great River Road Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Hennepin and Dakota counties.
The main access for this loop is off Highway 13 near Lone Oak Road. The best river valley overlooks are from Highway 13 and from the trail that leads to the Fort Snelling Historic Site.
A paved 5-mile bicycle trail starts at the park entrance and continues out of the park to Minnehaha Falls and connects to the Grand Rounds Scenic Bikeway and the Big Rivers Regional Trail. This scenic route is also accessible to disabled visitors.
Fort Snelling State Park also has 10 miles of mountain bike trails.
The bottomlands, wet meadows and small lakes of the park are best explored by foot.
Today, Fort Snelling Historical Site is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. The site has interpretive exhibits and costumed guides portray life in a frontier fort in the 1820s.
Visit the blacksmith, shoulder a musket, or bargain with the sutler over the price of tobacco. With more than half of Minnesota’s population living in the seven-county metropolitan area, Fort Snelling State Park and the historic site attract large day-use crowds, especially on weekends.
The canoeing is easy on the rivers, both are designated canoe routes, but commercial barge traffic can be heavy.
If you don’t want to dodge boats and barges, try canoeing on Gun Club Lake (two bodies of water linked by a stream) or on Snelling Lake. Fishing and wildlife observation occupy canoeists who trace the shorelines of Gun Club Lake. Spring fed Snelling Lake is popular for it’s fishing, swimming and canoeing. No motors are allowed on this lake.
The 12 miles of cross-country ski trails in the 3,300-acre park are relatively level and snowshoers are free to wander throughout the park with the exception of groomed ski trails. The park maintains six miles of packed multi-use trails and three miles of hiking trails. The interpretive center is open year round and serves as a warming house in the winter.
More about skiing in the Saint Paul area