Offering Minneapolis’ citizens a quick escape from the bustling city, the tranquil 160-acre Westwood Hills Nature Center is only 10 minutes west from downtown. Featuring marsh, restored prairie, and mixed forest habitats, this trail is a great place for running enthusiasts. With over 3-miles of trails, the longest one being the 1.54-mile Marsh Trail loop that circles around Westwood Lake, Westwood Hills Nature Center is perfect for a post-work workout.
Though an urban jungle encircles the nature center, this park is a favorite among locals for its variety of wildlife and plant species. While of your run, don’t be surprised if you startle a young deer or see an array of colorful wildflowers along the path. Also, despite the fact that the park is rather small, there are four distinct habitats found within the park’s boundaries. In the southeastern region, there is a small pine forest that borders a restored prairie. In the northeastern region, a maple and basswood forest dominates the hilly terrain, while the rest of the park is a marshy wetland that encompasses Westwood Lake.
What Makes It Great
From the parking lot, you pass a playground, a small swamp, and the apiary building. Often a great place to examine a functioning bee colony and chat with a friendly naturalist. The Interpretive Center is also nearby, which has public restrooms and water fountains. From the apiary building there is a fork in the path, in which you have to decide whether you want to work on your long-distance strides or hill endurance.
On a clear and sunny day, the lake breeze is a pleasant companion for any runner. Veer left and enjoy your few moments of shade before you reach the sunny boardwalk. At first, towering oaks and weeping willows shade you, while chirping chickadees and knocking woodpeckers encourage you on. If you want a great view of the lake, there are two trail exits that lead to docks before you reach the boardwalk.
Immediately as you enter the boardwalk, cattails completely surround you. All you can see are the white of the stems, the cylinder brown seed bundles, and the swaying of the grey-wood boardwalk below you. Take off your ear buds and listen beyond the cattail fortress for the songs of redwing blackbirds and croaks of leopard frogs. It’s not the best idea to daydream while running on the boardwalk. As you near the northeastern portion, the trail zigzags and there are the occasional uprooted boards.
At the end of the boardwalk, the sun disappears and you enter the maple and basswood forest. Either you can finish the 1.54-mile loop or you can veer left and explore the ridges along the eastern portion of the park. This trail raises and drops in elevation a couple times, so it is perfect for working on your hill endurance. There are also two stairways along the trail if you feel like getting a lung-bursting workout.
For your post workout cool down, walking through the tranquil pine forest and restored prairie will reground you and prepare you for reentering the urban jungle once again.
Who is Going to Love It
Westwood Hills Nature Center is a great destination for trail runners looking for a quick run through a scenic landscape.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Westwood Hills Nature Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center is open on the weekends from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. only through February to November.
There is one parking lot, which is accessible by the south park entrance. It is free to park at the Westwood Nature Center.