Sometimes, the outdoor community puts too much emphasis on the length and intensity of hiking trails. Not every hike has to have your heart racing through the middle of the wilderness. A pleasant walk along the shores of Lake Minnewashta is a perfect example. Only 22 miles from downtown, this 340-acre park offers five short-distance loop trails that guide you through the peaceful prairie and hardwood forests that surround the lake.
What Makes It Great
Lake Minnewashta is a popular family destination. Its features include: four reservable picnic shelters, a swimming beach, a fishing pier, and a creative playground structure. There is one mile of designated dog-walking trails as well as an off-leash area. The park also offers two trail systems. To the southwest, there is a mile of well-maintained trails that meander through prairie and oak savanna. The northern system has more primitive trails, which offer the best views of the lake.
The most popular hiking loop is the Marsh Trail, which is the longest of the three loop sections in the northern system. From the parking lot, follow the marshy grasses and cattails that border the shoreline. Ashes and maples dominate the trail at first, but eventually old, gnarled oak trees take over your surroundings. The deep crevasses in the oaks’ trunks show that they have been in the park for a very long time.
The trail gradually rises in elevation and as you look out towards the lake, in the far distance, you can see many houses and cabins across the bay. The first trail intersection is for the Prairie Trail, which takes you through oak savannah and to the top of the ridge. If you choose to take this path it will shorten your hike from 1.3 miles to .8 miles. Continuing along the Marsh Trail, the climb becomes much more demanding and soon rises 80 feet in elevation. Once you reach the northern ridgeline, the upland woodlands welcome you with shade from maple, oak, and black cherry trees. If you’re winded and want to end your hike early, exit via the Vista Trail. This loop cuts .5 miles off of your hike.
The Marsh Trails curves south and continues on a gradual climb into the upland woodlands. Eastern hognose snakes find refuge in habitats like this, so keep a keen eye for shed snakeskin. If you’re up for it, even turnover an old rotting log; this is where hognose snakes like to live. Many different bird species find refuge in these forests as well. Robins, warblers, chickadees, woodpeckers, or even bald eagles can be seen if you’re keeping an eye out.
Once you reach the shelter, you are very near to the park’s highest point. This is a good place to catch your breath because there is a bench and a drinking fountain. After you are rehydrated, hike up the last remaining feet of elevation to get the best view of the lake. The Dakota people named the lake “Minnewashta,” which means “good water." From the highest point in the park, you can see why they gave it that name. From the marsh, to the bay, to the rolling prairie and woodland that surround it, Lake Minnewashta looks absolutely beautiful.
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers looking for a trail that offers scenic lake views and heart-racing hills will enjoy the short trails found at Lake Minnewashta Regional Park.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (during fishing season, the park opens at 5 a.m.). If the park office is closed, use the honor box to purchase a daily permit.
There is parking north of the boat launch, which is where most of the trailheads are. There is also a parking lot more southwest that features the Prairie Loop trailhead.