The highlight of the whole Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Regional Park is the quaint Tamarack Nature Center. North of St. Paul by 20 minutes, just off the interstate, this park features restored prairie, wetland boardwalks, forested bogs, and interpretive exhibits. With over 4 miles of hiking trails (paved and unpaved), this trail is perfect for a post-work workout or an afternoon of fun with the family. There is even the Discovery Hollow Nature Area and Garden, which offer children a fun alternative playground.
What Makes It Great
Mostly known for its wildlife opportunities, Tamarack Nature Center has a wide variety of animals living within its borders. Usually observed within the forests off the Prairie Trail and Tamarack Trail; look out for deer, foxes, minks, and muskrats. On Tamarack Lake or Teal Pond, geese, ducks, and herons can be spotted wading in the waters. There is also a nearby osprey nest, so look to the skies for the white belly and wings of an adult osprey hunting for fish.
From the visitor center, there are a myriad of trails all woven together by interconnected loops. Some stay centrally within the park, while others reach the borders, which parallel street traffic. If you don’t mind the sound of civilization, it adds a couple miles of trails, but if you prefer a quieter trek, stay within the inner circle. Start with the Prairie Trail, which is directly behind the visitor center. Take a right and follow the trail through 8 acres of restored prairie. Best during the month of July, this trail is coated with wildflower blooms. Purples, pinks, and yellows pop here and there in the horizon and offer sweet aromas throughout this section of the park.
Once you reach a small forest of aspen and oaks, you will see a short spur trail that leads to a modest wooden deck that overlooks Teal Lake. Herons and ducks are common visitors and, in the spring, ducklings are a crowd favorite. There are several trail exits that can shorten your hike, but continue west following the Tamarack Trail. You may notice the landscape can’t make up its mind. The Tamarack Trail follows the marshy edges of Tamarack Lake, while also passing through grasslands and an island of oak and aspen forest. Eventually, the path becomes a boardwalk and you enter the Tamarack’s tranquil northern marshlands. While walking, look for deer prints or muskrats diving into the water.
As you loop south, you enter a thick stand of alders. They form a tunnel-like path and lead you to the next fork in the trail. At the fork, you have the choice to continue along Tamarack Lake or you can lengthen your hike by exploring the grassland trails of Goldenrod Trail or the wetlands of Fish Lake Trail. Both trails would add 2.5-miles to your hike. Following Tamarack Trail, you get great views of Tamarack Lake and there is even a dock that takes you out into the lake itself.
If you wanted to learn more about the native plant life, the Instructional Loop Education Area has interpretive signs and identification nametags for the local trees and shrubs.
Who is Going to Love It
If you want to get outside and learn about Minnesota’s native plant life, while also getting a good hike in, then Tamarack Nature Center’s interpretive trails are perfect for you.