Overlook and Carver's Cave Loop

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, Minnesota

Trip Date: Friday, December 15th, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, May 20th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 1.8 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Tucked between the high sandstone and limestone bluffs near the Mississippi River and some railroad tracks near Downtown St. Paul, the urban location for this park starkly contrasts the freshly restored nature within. Historically, this was a sacred Dakota site home to Wakan Tipi, now known as Carver's Cave, with burial mounds located on top of the bluffs. As America expanded into the Minnesota territory and St. Paul was settled, those pioneers built the North Star Brewery directly in the side of the bluff. You can see some of the remnants of the brewery here today. Only a little over a half mile from the edge of downtown, this is a close spot for a quick walk on one of those summer days you don't want to waste sitting in your office staring out the window.

Note that I took a slightly different route that most people probably do because I was actually looking for Indian Mounds Regional Park (which is just a bit further down Mounds Boulevard) and ended up hiking here on accident (I was quite perplexed when I parked in a labeled "Indian Mounds Regional Park" and couldn't find any burial mounds). There's actually a dedicated parking lot (directions) for this park, and you don't have to climb up and down the bluffs. However, I think the St. Paul skyline view pictured below is worth the extra effort, and we could all use a little cardio anyway.

You can't beat this view of Downtown St. Paul

You can't beat this view of Downtown St. Paul

If you start at the lot I described under the "Directions" section at the bottom of the page, walk along the trail near the fence preventing you from going down the steep bluffs. Continue following the paved trail as it descends the hill on a side street, then cross the street at the bottom. You'll see the entrance and parking lot for the park on the left, and the trail through the park begins underneath the bridge. Stay left at the junction ahead to hike the unpaved trail. The landscape is flat with prairie grasses on either side and a few scattered trees, much like pictured below.
The snowy trail through the frozen prairie

The snowy trail through the frozen prairie

Keep left at all the intersections ahead, and at some point you will pass the blocked entrance to Carver's Cave, pictured below. As you continue on the trail, the trail eventually does a U-turn near the duck-blanketed pond pictured in the second picture below.
The fenced-off entrance of Carver's Cave

The fenced-off entrance of Carver's Cave

I've never seen so many ducks in such a small pond

I've never seen so many ducks in such a small pond

For the return trip, you have a few options. Follow whichever trail you feel like, just travel in the general direction of the park entrance. If you parked at the top of the bluff, you can choose the heinous option of climbing directly up the bluff rather than going the long, designated route back. Generally I discourage this sort of behavior because it erodes the fragile hillsides and kills the native prairie plantings they worked so hard to restore here (there are signs in a few places), but if you do this hike when there's snow on the ground you don't really have to worry about either of those things. However, as I did this myself, you do have to worry about slipping on ice while going up a steep hill, and you may encounter a potentially occupied homeless encampment (thankfully it was empty when I found it).

That's it for this adventure, and I hope you enjoy this little slice of nature tucked away in this strange industrial place. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. This hike is short and family friendly, and you can cut out the portion that involves climbing the bluffs to make it even easier. You can access the trail in all four seasons. Given its strange location, I wouldn't expect that many people hike this trail on the weekends, but take that with a grain of salt given that I hiked this on a wintry Friday afternoon.

Directions

From Downtown St. Paul, take Interstate 94 east and exit at Mounds Boulevard. Turn right at the light, then continue straight to stay on Mounds Boulevard. Park in the lot on the right side of the road with a sign for Indian Mounds Regional Park.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are no facilities at this lot.

External Links

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