|Distance||4 miles roundtrip|
|Best Seasons||Spring, Summer, Fall|
- Real nature only 20 miles from the city
- More miles of trail than you can hike in a day
- Opportunities for skiing in the winter and bicycling in the summer
The Twin Cities is well-renowned for its parks, and the Elm Creek Park Reserve is just one fantastic example of the beautiful nature and splendid park design within the Twin Cities. This park has something for everyone no matter what the season is, from hiking, to biking, to swimming and snowshoeing to downhill skiing. You can easily entice your kids to come hiking if you promise to let them explore one of the largest play areas in the state when you're done.
Dogs are allowed on-leash on any of the paved trails, and there is a gigantic 29 acre off-leash area in the park -- note that at the time of writing it requires a $6 daily entrance fee or $45 annual pass to use the off-leash areas in any Three Rivers Park District facility. Although the route shown in the map above is entirely on unpaved trails, there is a nearly identical alternative route on paved trails for a dog-friendly and accessible route.
It was one of those beautiful 50 degree days in March, so I had to go outside and enjoy it. This park is great because it is large and close, so you can easily go for a spontaneous hike without devoting your entire day to it. You won't get bored of it either because there are so many miles of trails and such a variety of activities you can do beyond just hiking. With nothing more than a park map, my dog-obsessed girlfriend selected the dog park as a destination (unfortunately for her, you aren't allowed in without a dog) and we started wandering on the trails through forests and past lakes -- standard fare for Minnesota. As evidenced in the picture below, all of the lakes were still frozen even though we were comfortable wearing just a sweatshirt.
The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow. After passing Goose Lake on the right, you will come across a split in the trail. We opted to continue straight to cut through a neighborhood to take the more direct route to the dog park -- this portion is not on the park map, so I used my handy smartphone to figure out where the trail started again. The trail is paved until you cross the fire access road where you can choose to continue on the paved trail or turn onto the unpaved trail. After a nice loop through some grasslands and forest, you will meet up with the trail you took earlier and can take that back to the parking lot.
We saw a few people while on the trail, and I imagine that nice summer days could draw quite a crowd. However, the deeper we went in the park, the fewer people we encountered. There was a good mix of both paved and unpaved trails, and we even saw a few benches along the way. This was a relaxing hike that allowed us to escape the city while remaining more comfortable than wilderness usually allows. In summation, Elm Creek Park Reserve is a gem, and I plan on returning many times to hike (and eventually ski) all of the trails. As long as you don't expect the solitude of the wilderness up north, you will have a great time.
Only a half hour drive from most areas in the Twin Cities metro. From Minneapolis, take Interstate 94 north to Minnesota Highway 252 North, then go west on Minnesota Highway 610. Take the exit for Elm Creek Blvd, and drive through the traffic circle to Park Blvd (James Deane Parkway). There will be a park entrance sign on the right, and you will soon see the parking area on the left.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free at all Three Rivers Park District parks and trails.
Elm Creek Park Reserve, Minnesota
Westwood Hills Nature Center, Minnesota
Rice Creek North Regional Trail, Minnesota
Theodore Wirth Park, Minnesota