Westwood Lake Loop

Westwood Hills Nature Center, Minnesota

Trip Date: Sunday, December 3rd, 2017
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 5th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 2.5 miles roundtrip
Time 1 hour
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Owned by the City of St. Louis Park, this area is an oasis of nature in the middle of a neighborhood adjacent to the freeway. If you are looking for quiet solitude, this is not the place. While the city noise and buildings are noticeable inside the park, the educational opportunities and easy proximity to the city are what make this place unique -- you don't have to drive far to learn more about native plants and animals. As such, this is a perfect destination to take your children; one kid even had his birthday party here when I was visiting!

No dogs or pets are allowed anywhere in Westwood Hills Nature Center. With the kid-oriented interpretive center, playground, and easy short trails, this is an excellent destination for the whole family. All of the trails for hiking are open all year. The parking lot isn't particularly large, and it was nearly full even though I arrived near park close. I imagine it is quite difficult to find a parking spot on a summer day. You will most definitely see many people no matter when you come here.

This hike showcases all of the environments present in the park: marsh, hardwood forest, pine forest, and prairie. If you desire a shorter hike, simply do the loop around Westwood Lake without the side trails for a 1.6 mile roundtrip. From the parking lot, follow the paved trail to the interpretive center. Outside of the interpretive center you will find a gazebo with a view of the lake and a cage with native bird species inside (I saw an owl and an eagle on my visit). Continue down the stairs to reach the trail around the lake. If you want to do the side trails, it makes more sense to go left from here. Otherwise, you can go right if you're just going to do the loop around the lake.

Almost as soon as you start, the trail becomes a boardwalk like pictured below, protecting the delicate environment underneath. Throughout the loop around Westwood Lake, there are several docks you can walk to for a better view of the water. There is a side boardwalk to the T dock on the right shortly after the trail transitions from boardwalk back to dirt.

Much of the trail is on sturdy boardwalk like this

Much of the trail is on sturdy boardwalk like this
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After that dock, the trail becomes a boardwalk again as you hike through a large marsh. Don't bother taking the spur trail ahead on the left, it's merely an access point for the neighboring houses. At this point, the marsh is extra thick with cattails, like pictured below, and I bet that they grow over your head in the summertime. There's a small stretch of dirt trail, then the boardwalk starts again, though this portion is much more rickety than the previous boardwalks.
The vast expanse of cattails looking towards the hills across Westwood Lake

The vast expanse of cattails looking towards the hills across Westwood Lake
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The next part of the trail is rather ugly, especially when there isn't any vegetation to block the fence and parking area on the other side. The canoe dock on your right will make up for this however, and you will have the best view of Westwood Lake in the park (probably because you finally can't see the giant office buildings behind you, see picture below). Ahead, you'll cross over the lake on the last of the boardwalks -- this one floats on the water so it's more fun than all the others. Turn left at the intersection ahead to take the Maple Basswood Trail, or continue straight to take the short route back to the interpretive center.
The view from the canoe dock

The view from the canoe dock
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There's a little bit of climbing to the top of the hill here, but nothing too difficult. This is the park's hardwood forest environment. If you're lucky, you'll see some wild turkeys like I did, pictured below (somehow they survived Thanksgiving the week before). Continue past the trail to the Brick House, then turn left at the next intersection toward the Pine Trail.
A flock of wild turkeys near the Maple Basswood Trail

A flock of wild turkeys near the Maple Basswood Trail
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The small area of pine was definitely planted since these trees don't normally grow in this area. It's still a nice way to pretend you're up north, just for a second. Keep left at all the intersections through the pine section and you'll eventually end up at the prairie section. You probably didn't realize you drove right past this prairie when you arrived in the park. And when you reach the wooden deck at the end of the Prairie Trail, you'll probably think, "Oh, this is it?" The prairie portion almost feels like an afterthought.

Even though you can probably see your car from the prairie on the hill, you still need to follow the circuitous trail back. Take a left at all the intersections ahead until you reach the parking lot. Now you've experienced all of the environments in Minnesota without traveling far from home! Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Directions

From Minneapolis, take Interstate 394 west to Louisiana Avenue. Turn left, then turn right on Wayzata Boulevard. Turn left on Texas Avenue, then turn right on Franklin Avenue. Follow signs and turn right into the park entrance.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are flush toilets and a playground near the lot, and the interpretive center with educational exhibits is a short walk away.

External Links

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