Oxbow and Heron Trail Loop

Elm Creek Park Reserve, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, October 21st, 2017
Last Updated: Friday, November 24th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 1.1 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No


Hike Summary

As the largest park in the Three Rivers Park District system, Elm Creek Park Reserve has so many trails that you can keep returning without doing the same trail twice. This is the second time I've visited this park, and there is still so much more to explore! The trails near the Eastman Nature Center are the best family friendly trails in the park with several short, connected loops.

Dogs are not permitted on the trails near the Eastman Nature Center; head to the eastern half of the park for dog friendly hikes and a giant off-leash dog area -- try the Goose Lake to Dog Park Loop. As mentioned before, all of the hikes near the nature center are good for families. These trails are open to hiking all year, even in winter. I visited on a cloudy, misty Saturday and was mostly alone on the trail, but expect to see many people on a warm summer day or a sunny weekend.

From the parking lot, walk past the right side of the nature center and look for signs pointing to the Heron and Oxbow Trails. When the trail splits ahead, stay right to take the Oxbow Trail. The extra distance required for the Oxbow Trail is definitely worth it because you are rewarded with a gently meandering creek covered in mossy logs, like shown in the picture at the top of the page. The entire trail is forested, and looks like the picture below -- this would be a nice shady hike for a hot day. Eventually the trail meets up with the Heron Trail, and you will follow this trail back to the nature center.

The trail cutting through the barren winter forest

The trail cutting through the barren winter forest
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At the end of the hike, there's a short trail to the lake pictured below that starts on the opposite end of the parking lot from the nature center. This trail is especially cool because you walk across the lake on a floating boardwalk, giving you great views and opportunities to watch the ducks. All in all, this is a great place to spend an afternoon and enjoy being outside. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!
The view of the lake from the boardwalk

The view of the lake from the boardwalk
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Only a half hour drive from many areas in the Twin Cities metro. Take Interstate 94 north to Minnesota Highway 252 North, then go west on Minnesota Highway 610. Take the exit for County Road 81, merge onto the road, and then continue straight until the stoplight at Fernbrook Lane. Turn right, then turn right again on Elm Creek Road. Look for the sign indicating the Eastman Nature Center and turn right on the road to the parking area.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free at all Three Rivers Park District parks and trails. The Eastman Nature Center has exhibits about the wildlife in the park; even the men's bathroom featured a display with different animal droppings -- pictured below!

Even the bathrooms here are educational, featuring this case of animal droppings

Even the bathrooms here are educational, featuring this case of animal droppings
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Nearby Hikes

The grasslands of Elm Creek Park Reserve on a sunny day in March.
Goose Lake to Dog Park Loop
Elm Creek Park Reserve, Minnesota
Tall grass and scattered trees comprise the landscape here
Rice Creek Loop
Rice Creek North Regional Trail, Minnesota
The reflection of the sky in Westwood Lake
Westwood Lake Loop
Westwood Hills Nature Center, Minnesota
Cattails among the forest
Quaking Bog
Theodore Wirth Park, Minnesota

External Links