Found in the first tier Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, Wood lake Nature Center is a quick drive or bicycle ride away from downtown Minneapolis. A 150-acre natural area, this park offers 3 miles of hiking trails within lowland forest, restored prairie, and marshland. Flanked by one of the busiest highways in the Twin Cities, thousands of commuters bypass this park not knowing that once inside the hums of traffic dissipate below the rustling of cattails and singing birds.
Minneapolis is fortunate to have a plethora of parks and green spaces strewn across the city. Wood Lake Nature Center is just one example of how easy it is to escape the city, while never leaving the city at all. Visitors walk and run to enjoy the creaks of the old wooden boardwalk, the tranquil dirt trails through the hardwood forest, or the birding opportunities throughout the entire park. While entering Wood Lake Nature Center, leave your worries at the wrought iron gate, which is shaped as a friendly 6-foot butterfly.
What Makes It Great
Wildflowers and a small waterfall welcomes visitors and sets the mood right before the visitor center. The center hosts interpretive exhibits and live specimens, which showcase the wildlife you can find in the park itself. Live snakes and fish are just a few of the exhibits within the center. During weekends, professional naturalists sometimes lead trips for families or curious visitors.
From the visitor center, go right towards the boardwalk trail. There is a short section that veers left that showcases the hummingbird feeder and the park’s native wildflower garden. The buzzing of bees and hums of hummingbird wings fill the air. All along the Boardwalk trail, Wood Lake is in view to your left and tall cottonwoods shade you from the hot sun above. The trail is wide because they are converted to groomed ski trails during the winter.
At the first fork, the trail continues left to the Prairie Trail and boardwalk or right onto the Perimeter Trail. If you want a shorter walk, consider doing the 1.8-mile Perimeter Trail. Usually, visitors combine the two trails into a figure-eight pattern and walk the total 2.2-mile loop. There is a lot to see at the park, so continue on the boardwalk trail and veer left onto the boardwalk. While on the boardwalk, the birding opportunities are spectacular. Look out for egrets, herons, waxwings, and redwing blackbirds hiding within the cattails. You may hear splashes just off the trail because the creaks of the boardwalk scare away the turtles that often sunbath on nearby rocks.
Past the boardwalk, turn right and walk through the lowland hardwood forest. Cottonwoods and silver maples border the trail until you reach the tall grass prairie. During the spring, this area is bursting with color. Purple bee balm and pink asters fill the landscape and attract butterflies and bumblebees. There are a few benches to choose from that offer the perfect place to get lost in thought. From this vantage point, you are at the tip of the figure eight. Soon after, you meander through marshland, which provieds views of the small offshoot ponds from Wood Lake. Past the tall cattails, wood ducks and mallards are visible, sometimes with ducklings in tow. Within a half a mile, cross the boardwalk again and veer left this time. Consider adding .5 miles to your walk by taking the forest loop. If not, this heavily forested trail will eventually lead you back to the visitor center.
Who is Going to Love It
Outdoor enthusiasts who want to get a good hike in, but don’t want to drive too far from the city, will love the trails found in Richfield’s Wood Lake Nature Center.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Wood Lake Nature Center is open from sunrise till 11 p.m. The park office is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, it is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Free parking is available at the park entrance, which is off of Lake Shore Drive S.