Established in 1976, The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge has provided habitat for migratory fowl, fish, and other wildlife species threatened by industrial development along the Minnesota River. The refuge was also created to offer environmental education and wildlife viewing opportunities. There are dozens of hiking trails all found within the seven different corridors that comprise the entire refuge.
What Makes It Great
The most popular activity for visitors is bird watching. During the annual spring and fall migrations, hundreds of thousands of raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl funnel through the Minnesota River Valley. Seeking a place to refuel and breed, the refuge offers these birds more than enough space and food for their needs. It is recorded that over 250 different species of birds, such as bald eagles, wood ducks, and even white pelicans visit the refuge annually. Throughout the valley, there are trails and boardwalks that take you to landings, where with a good pair of binoculars, you can get great views of the bird’s activity.
For the best birding opportunities during the spring, head towards the refuge’s most popular corridor, Long Meadow Lake Unit. Situated only a few blocks east from Minnesota’s claim to fame, Mall of America, it is quite humorous the contrast of what each venue has to offer. The hustle and bustle of capitalistic America dissipates as you enter the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Though the hum of the highway lingers slightly, the sounds of singing birds and rustling tall grass make up for it. The Long Meadow Lake Unit also features 9 miles of trails that take you through steep bluffs, flowering meadows, and river bottom forest.
The .5-mile Bass Ponds interpretive loop is very popular during the school year and is often teeming with small children. For a quieter walk, the Hogback Ridge Trail takes you through flat river bottom forest and meadows. There are platforms and rest areas along the trail for prime bird viewing opportunities. While on your hike, look to the plant life bordering the trail. Up to 25 different species of warbler seek temporary homes within them while on their migration to Canada.
The trail ends near the 35W freeway bridge and turns into a mountain biking track, so either turn around and see the same trail from a different perspective or take the Bluff Trail along the other side of the lake for picturesque views of the Minnesota River.
This is but one of the seven refuges found within the Minnesota River Valley. Each corridor has their own distinct characteristics that make it stand out from each other. Black Dog Preserve has warmer water throughout the year, which attracts more species of duck and coots. Louisville Swamp has historic ruins, oak savanna, and bouldering opportunities. And Rapids Lake has acres upon acres of upland prairie. If you’re looking for a good workout, the perfect Audubon bird-shot, or just a quiet hike in the woods; you will definitely find what you are looking for in the Minnesota Valley NationalWildlife Refuge.
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers will love how much there is to see at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. If you're a birder, the birding opportunities will be endless.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The refuge is open on the weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers parking at each of its 7 units: Bloomington Ferry Unit, Block Dog Unit, Chaska Unit, Long Meadow Lake Unit, Louisville Swamp Unit, Rapids Lake Unit, and Wilkie Unit.