Recently named the healthiest city in the country, Minneapolis and the surrounding metropolitan area is known for its great parks and extensive trail systems. While you have to head several hours north to reach the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is the most visited wilderness in the entire country, there are plenty of options to experience nature right here in the city.
We went in search of some of the best places to hike right in the metropolitan area. The convenience of these spots makes it easy for Twin Citians to schedule in some exercise, fresh air, and time in the woods on a regular basis. If you’re looking for new lands to explore on foot without packing up the car for the weekend, you can’t beat these parks and trails.
Part of the Minneapolis Parks system, at 759-acres Theodore Wirth Park is nearly the size of Central Park in New York City. The park has plenty of well-shaded paved, grass, and dirt trails. For hills, head south of Glenwood Avenue, which cuts through the park. If you notice any strategically placed fallen trees, you are likely on a singletrack trail maintained by the Minneapolis Off-Road Cyclists . Simply keep your eyes and ears open and yield to any passing cyclists. With a wildflower garden, bird sanctuary, swimming beach, quaking bog, and golf course, there’s something for just about every outdoor enthusiast at Theodore Wirth.
A little over a half an hour southeast of Minneapolis, Afton State Park is situated on the St. Croix River in Washington County. If you’re looking to do some climbing, the deep ravines and impressive bluffs will fit the bill. Afton's 20 miles of trails with scenic vistas overlooking the river, rolling prairies, and rugged ridge tops make the park a local treasure for metro area trail runners and hiking enthusiasts alike.
The largest part of the Dakota County park system, Lebanon Hills Regional Park is a favorite among off-road enthusiasts. With nearly 19 miles of nature trails , 10 miles of horse trails, and 11 miles of single-track mountain bike trails, there’s no shortage of places to explore at this 2,000-acre park. A mix of woods, prairies, and lakes, you'll forget you’re still in the city.
Part of the Three Rivers Park District, Elm Creek Park is made up of 4,900 acres of hiking and biking trails, a swimming pond, and plenty of wildlife. With 51 miles of hiking trails and 17 miles of horse trails, this is a great place for a daylong adventure. Soft dirt terrain through forests, wetlands, and prairies will keep your body and brain fresh as you wind around these paths.
While exploring Minnehaha Park on foot, you’ll encounter a 53-foot waterfall, imposing limestone bluffs, and great views of the Mississippi River. On the south end, you can connect to Fort Snelling State Park’s trails and on the north end you can hop on West River Parkway Trail, which winds toward downtown. Attracting over 850,000 visitors annually, the trails around the falls can be busy, but if you are prepared to put in some mileage, you will find plenty of less-traveled off-road real estate to hike in the area.
Offering a decidedly serene getaway right in the city, Swede Hollow Park is situated in the valley below the Hamm’s Brewery on Dayton’s Bluff. Once a small immigrant settlement that was condemned in the 1950s, nature has reclaimed this area and reverted it back to its original state. A peaceful stream flows through the park and footpaths and bike trails link to Bruce Vento Trail, which takes you to Lake Phalen.
Within Fort Snelling State Park is Pike Island, which is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. The island, combined with other trails in the park, are home to 18 miles of relatively flat off-road hiking trails that will take you along the two rivers and around Snelling Lake. There are also another 10 miles of mountain biking trails that travel along the forested river bottoms.
The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area showcases the Minnesota River Valley’s diverse landscapes, including floodplain forest, wetlands, and blufftop oak savanna. The Minnesota Valley Trail , which travels within the park, is paved from Shakopee to Chaska, but turns to a natural surface trail from Chaska to Belle Plaine. Be sure to check out the 7-mile Mazomani Trail, a relatively flat loop that travels along the edge of the Louisville Swamp.
The woodchip, dirt, and grass trails of Hyland Park Reserve provide a scenic tour of the windswept prairies and shaded forests of the south metro. The 2,565-acre complex, which also includes Richardson Nature Center and the Hyland Ski and Snowboard area, touts plenty of rolling hills and steep climbs if you’re looking for a challenge. Among Hyland’s 18 miles of paved and unpaved footpaths are many loops of varying distances, making it easy to add on mileage or turn back early.
About 18 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is known for its forested landscapes and wildlife. Home to over 90 native bird species, including loons, ospreys, and several types of warblers, this is a great place to go if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With 18 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of horse trails, and 10 miles of mountain biking trails, you’ll find there are no shortage of pathways to explore this serene and wild place.