Fort Snelling State Park is located in the Mississippi River Sandplains Landscape Region at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. The park lies just a few miles from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. A freeway exchange carries hundreds of thousands of cars past the park’s entrance. But once at the trailhead, the hectic pace of modern civilization fades to a quiet peaceful natural setting.
The 2,931-acre park has 18 miles of easy to moderate hiking trails that meander through woodlands, around lakes and along riverbanks. During the winter, exploring the landscape on snowshoes is an incredible experience.
With good snowfall, snowshoes allow you to explore areas of the park outside of the established trail network. Pike Island is a place to start that winter adventure. While there are cross country ski trails on the outside edge of Pike Island, the interior can be a mystical place on a crisp winter day.
The Pike River trail traverses multiple natural environments including forest, wetland, prairie meadow and riverbanks. The forest, river bottoms and marshes are home white-tailed deer, fox, woodchucks, turkeys, and even coyotes. The entrance to the Pike River trail starts below the gift center at end of park entrance road. A short paved trail leads dirt and crushed limestone path and the Pike Island signpost. Pike Island was named after Zebulon Pike, an Army Lieutenant who negotiated a treaty with the Dakota nation in 1805. A commemorate plaque provides more details.
The Pike River Trail ends at small rocky beach. Take a moment to take the thermos out of your daypack and sit on the bench to watch the ice floes at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.
What Makes It Great
After crossing an arched bridge over a ice covered river delivers hikers to the Pike River Trail trailhead. The river bottom features large cottonwoods, silver maples, ash, and willow trees along the intertwined narrow channels of the Minnesota River. When Mother Nature brings deep snow, the untracked blanket of white invites you to move ahead to see what's around the next turn.
Tall cottonwoods act as sentinels along the path and cast odd shadows on a January day. Meander through the woods and catch glimpses of Minnesota River visible on the right.
Who is Going to Love It
Many people hike Fort Snelling's trail system during the summer. The ability to leave the established trail system and explore deep into the woods on snowshoes can take you to parts of the park that during the summer would be filled with impenetrable brush and swarms of mosquitoes. In the winter, tracks of deer, fox and possibly coyote will reveal themselves in the snow. Since the trees are bare, catching a glimpse of wildlife is not uncommon.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Thomas C. Savage Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits, toilets, vending machines and a gift shop. Informative exhibits describe the areas history. Naturalist programs are offered year-round and visitor staff can offer advice and current trail conditions.
Fort Snelling State Park is open daily, year-round 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Call the visitor center 612-725-272 for holiday hours. Vehicle permits are required. Permits are offered for annual or daily prices.
Maps are available at the Visitor’s Center and can be downloaded from the park’s website.