City Hiking Guides

The Best Hikes near Minneapolis for Nature Lovers

POSTED ON January 3, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

When you think of Minneapolis, city life probably comes to mind. However, just outside the hustle and bustle of the city lies a plethora of natural areas waiting to be explored.

Whether you prefer dirt trails through the forest, bike trails along riversides, or hiking trails with stunning views, Minneapolis has it all. The Mississippi River and Minnesota Rivers provide breathtaking scenery, while nearby neighborhood streets offer a more urban hiking experience.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the best hikes near Minneapolis for nature lovers, including the designated National Recreation Trail and our favorite hiking trails in the area. So dust off your hiking boots and get ready to escape the city and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. 

Mississippi Walking Trail

Mississippi Walking Trail

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Distance: 2.5 miles (4 km)

Hiking Duration: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Easy

Trail type: Out and back

The Mississippi Walking Trail is a popular trail located in downtown Minneapolis, MN, along the scenic Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. This 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) out and back trail is perfect for those looking for an easy hike, whether it be walking, mountain biking, running, or dog walking. With its relatively flat terrain and well-maintained path, this trail is also suitable for mountain biking.

As you make your way along the Mississippi Walking Trail, you’ll pass by several bridges that offer stunning views of the river and surrounding nature. This trail is especially popular during the fall season when the changing leaves create a picturesque backdrop for your hike. Along the way, you may even spot some wildlife, such as bald eagles, blue herons, and white-tailed deer.

One of the best things about this trail is its convenient location in downtown Minneapolis. You can easily access it from various points in the city and take a break from the busy urban atmosphere.

Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail

Location: Hopkins to Carver Bluffs Parkway and Carver Creek Circle, west of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Distance: 9.24 miles (14.9 km)

Hiking duration: Approximately 3 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail type: Point to point

PDF Map: Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail

The Minnesota River Bluff Regional Trail in Hopkins, west of Minneapolis, is a hidden gem among the Twin Cities’ several hiking trails. Spanning 9.24 miles (14.9 km), this trail offers a scenic and peaceful hike through multiple cities, providing stunning views of Shady Oak Lake, Miller Park, Riley Lake Park, and the forested hills around the Minnesota River Valley.

This old railroad route, now a well-maintained aggregate trail, is perfect for hikers of all levels. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, the Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail has something to offer. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by nature’s beauty as you pass through lush forests and open prairies, making it one of the best hiking trails in Minneapolis.

But what truly sets this trail apart is its unique location along the Minnesota River Bluffs. As you hike, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the river and its surroundings, providing a peaceful and serene backdrop for your journey.

Winchell Trail

Winchell Trail

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Distance: 5 miles (about 8 km) roundtrip

Hiking duration: Approximately 2 hours

Trail Moderate

Trail type: Out and back

The Winchell Trail is a stunning out-and-back hiking trail located in the bustling city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Spanning approximately 5 miles (or 8 km), this trail is the perfect escape from the Twin Cities urban landscape. The trail runs along the west side of the Mississippi River, providing hikers with incredible views of the Upper Mississippi River gorge.

As you make your way along the Winchell Trail, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests and steep bluffs that are unique to the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park. The trail’s moderate difficulty level makes it suitable for hikers of all levels, and its out-and-back type ensures that you’ll be able to explore every nook and cranny along the way. This trail takes approximately 2 hours to complete and is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, taking in the beautiful surroundings while getting some exercise.

Hiking in State Parks near Minneapolis

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature and escape the city, hiking in one of Minneapolis’ state parks is a must. There are several state parks located within an hour’s drive from the city, each offering unique trails and experiences.

Here are the best locations to go for a weekend or afternoon outing:

Minnehaha Regional Park

Minnehaha Park

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Size: 167 acres (69 ha)

Number of Trails: Over 10

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 12 miles (19 km)

Get permits here

Check out Minnehaha Regional Map [PDF]

One of Minneapolis’ oldest and most popular parks, Minnehaha Regional Park is a must-visit for nature lovers. Located just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, this 167-acre (69 ha) park is located in the heart of Minneapolis, just a short drive from downtown. As you enter the park, you’ll be greeted by a majestic 53-foot (16-meter) waterfall—the main attraction that draws visitors to this beautiful natural area.

Aside from the stunning waterfall, Minnehaha Regional Park also features limestone bluffs and the Minnehaha Trail, which runs for approximately 12 miles (19 km) through the park. This easy trail is perfect for a leisurely walk or bike ride, offering scenic views of the surrounding nature and wildlife. The park also offers various recreational activities, including picnicking, fishing, and playing on the playground.

Entry to Minnehaha Regional Park is easy and affordable, with an admission fee of only $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass. With this pass, you can visit all 66 Minnesota state parks and 9 Minnesota recreation areas for unlimited visits within a 12-month period, making it the perfect investment for nature lovers who plan on exploring more of the great outdoors in Minneapolis.

Mill Ruins Park

Mill Ruins Park

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Size: Not defined

Number of Trails:  Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Not defined, but more than 1 mile (1.6 km)

Situated along the Mississippi River, Mill Ruins Park is a city park built around the ruins of an old mill. This historic site features interpretive signs that take visitors on a journey through Minneapolis’s past and offers scenic walking and biking paths along the West River Parkway and the Mill City Museum.

The park is also home to the famous Stone Arch Bridge, which connects Mill Ruins Park to Minneapolis’s oldest and most historic main street. With its rich history and stunning views, this destination is a must-visit for anyone looking to explore the city’s culture and heritage while enjoying some outdoor activities. Plus, dogs are allowed on leashes, making it a perfect spot for pet owners to take their furry friends along on a hike.

Mill Ruins Park doesn’t just offer scenic walking trails; it also has picnic tables, making it a great place for a picnic lunch or snack. With its convenient location downtown, this park is perfect for taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and immersing yourself in nature.

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Jensen Lake trail at Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Size: 1,869-acre (7.56 km2)

Number of Trails: Over 20 winding trails

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 14 miles (22.5 km)

Located just south of downtown Minneapolis, the expansive Lebanon Hills Regional Park offers visitors a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. This park is perfect for nature lovers and adventure seekers, as it boasts some of the best hiking and snowshoeing trails in the Twin Cities metro area and throughout all of Minnesota.

With over 20 trails, rolling hills, and wooden bridges that will take you through forests to choose from, visitors can explore different areas of the park at their own pace. The park offers a variety of trail difficulty levels, from easy nature trails to more challenging mountain biking trails, catering to all skill levels. The total length of the trails is approximately 14 miles (22.5 km), providing plenty of opportunities for a scenic and active day out in nature.

One of the highlights of Lebanon Hills Regional Park is its 6.5-mile (10.5-kilometer) paved trail, which can be used for walking, biking, and skating. This hiking trail connects different regions of the park, making it easy to explore all that this expansive park has to offer. Admission to the park is affordable at only $7 per vehicle per day or $35 for an annual vehicle pass, giving visitors unlimited access to not just Lebanon Hills Regional Park but also all 66 Minnesota state parks and Minnesota recreation areas for a full year.

Afton State Park

Afton State Park, Minnesota

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Size: 1,702-acre (6.89 km2)

Number of Trails: More than 20

Total Length of Trails: Not defined but more than 25 miles (40.2 km) of known trails

Check out the park’s maps here

Get the park’s overview here

Afton State Park is located just 31 miles (about 50 km) from Minneapolis in Minnesota, making it a popular day trip destination for those in the city or near Minneapolis. This beautiful state park sits on the banks of the scenic St. Croix River and offers visitors an escape into nature with its numerous hiking, cross-country ski, and mountain bike trails.

With over 20 scenic trails to choose from, Afton State Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The trails vary in difficulty and length, from easy nature trails to more challenging mountain bike trails. But no matter which path you choose, you’ll be surrounded by stunning natural landscapes and have the chance to spot various wildlife along the way.

Theodore Wirth Regional Park

Theodore Wirth Regional Park, Minneapolis

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Size: 740.29 acres (including 82.99 acres of water and 280 acres of golf courses)

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Pedestrian (1.35 miles), Theodore Wirth off-road cycling trails (1.35 miles)

Permits and Park Information: Click here

Tucked away in the heart of Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Regional Park is a hidden gem that offers something for everyone. This 740.29-acre (3 km2) park boasts 1.35 miles (2.1 km) of popular hiking trails and 1.35 miles (2.1 km) of bike trails. The popular Luce Line Trail and Theodore Wirth off-road cycling trails make it the perfect getaway for outdoor enthusiasts.

Nature lovers will also appreciate the park’s variety of short pedestrian nature trails, which wind through picture-perfect landscapes and provide opportunities to spot wildlife. With varying levels of difficulty and length, visitors can choose the perfect trail for their desired level of adventure. The park also features a bird sanctuary where you can observe various species of birds in their natural habitat.

But that’s not all. Theodore Wirth Regional Park is also home to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary and a beautiful golf course and parkway, making it an ideal destination for a day of outdoor recreation.

Here’s some information about the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary in the Greater Theodore Wirth Regional Park.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Not defined

Visitors: 60,000 annual visitors 

Park’s information: click here

Parking: pay here

Nestled among rolling hills, woodlands, and wetlands, this tranquil park showcases a wide variety of native plants and birds. Visitors can choose between guided or self-guided tour trails to explore the different ecosystems within the garden. With over 500 plant species and 130 bird species, including migratory birds that pass through in the spring, this park is a haven for bird-watching.

The tranquil botanical garden is especially magical in the spring when colorful wildflowers are in full bloom and fill the air with their sweet fragrance. The trails meander through different habitats, making it easy to spot various plant and bird species along the way. This park offers a peaceful escape from the city and is a must-visit for anyone looking to connect with nature in Minneapolis.

Hidden Falls Regional Park

Hidden Falls Regional Park

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Size: 130 acres (0.526 km2)

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 6.7 miles (10.8 km) of paved trails

Map: click here

For more park information: click here

Hidden Falls Regional Park is a hidden gem located in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This 130-acre park offers visitors a beautiful setting for an afternoon’s walk or bike ride with its approximately 6.7 miles (10.8 km) of paved trails.

One of the highlights of this park is the Hidden Falls Trail, which takes you on a scenic journey through forests and along the Mississippi River, providing stunning views of the hidden waterfall. For those looking for a more challenging hike, there are also nature trails available with varying levels of difficulty and length.

Boom Island Park

Boom Island-Downtown Minneapolis

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Size: 22 acres (0.089 km2)

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 0.4 miles (0.64 km) of walking paths and a bike trail

Permits and Park Information: Click here

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, Boom Island Park offers stunning views of the city skyline and is the perfect spot for a picnic or leisurely walk.

The park features approximately 0.4 miles (0.64 km) of walking paths and a bike trail, making it the perfect place to go for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. The park also features a playground and picnic areas, making it a popular spot for families.

With its beautiful views and peaceful atmosphere, Boom Island Park is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and connect with nature.

Father Hennepin Bluff Park

Father Hennepin Bluff Park

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Size: 8.02 acres (0.52 km2)

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) of paved trails

Permits and Park Information: Click here

Located across from downtown Minneapolis, Father Hennepin Bluff Park offers breathtaking views of the city skyline and Mississippi River. This 8-acre park is a popular spot for picnics, leisurely walks, and even weddings.

Visitors can explore approximately 1-mile (1.6 km) of paved trails that wind through the park and offer stunning views of the river and the Stone Arch Bridge. The park also features a playground, picnic areas, and a beautiful gazebo.

Additionally, Father Hennepin Bluff Park is a part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a 50-mile parkway system that connects seven regional parks in Minneapolis and offers visitors a chance to explore the city’s natural beauty.

Other nearby Hiking Trails

In addition to the popular state parks and regional parks, there are also numerous nearby trails that offer unique and stunning landscapes.

For those seeking more of an adventure, there are also mountain bike trails that offer challenging terrain and breathtaking views. With the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers nearby, these hiking trails provide a tranquil escape for nature lovers looking to explore some of the state’s favorite hiking spots.

Whether you prefer biking on dirt trails or taking a leisurely stroll through nearby neighborhood streets, there’s something for every kind of hiker.

Here are other hiking trails to consider on your next outdoor trip.

Cannon Valley Trail

Cannon Valley Trail

Minnesota, Cannon Falls, Minnesota

Distance: 19.7 mi (31.7 km)

Hiking duration: Approximately 9 hours (round trip)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail type: Point to point

Nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of southeast Minnesota, just 45 miles (72 km) from Minneapolis, is the Cannon Valley Trail. This stunning 19.7-mile (31.7 km) paved trail takes hikers on a journey through picturesque landscapes and charming small towns as it follows the winding path of the Cannon River. The hiking trail is perfect for hikers of all levels, with its easy-to-moderate difficulty level and breathtaking views that make each step worth it.

The trail begins in the quaint town of Cannon Falls, where visitors can explore local shops and grab a bite to eat before starting their hike. As you make your way along the trail, you’ll pass through historic towns like Welch and Red Wing. In the winter months, the trail is transformed into a winter wonderland as it becomes part of a network of cross-country ski trails. And for those looking for a bit more adventure, there is a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) mountain bike trail that branches off from the main path, offering stunning views of the Welch Village ski area and the Red Wing archaeological preserve.

Check out the map of the CVT here.

Prairie Loop

Location: Faribault, MN

Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)

Hiking duration: Approximately 30 minutes to an hour

Difficulty: Easy

Trail type: Loop

Just a short drive of approximately 52 miles (84 km) south of Minneapolis from the bustling city of Minneapolis lies the serene Prairie Loop in Faribault, Minnesota. This easy 1-mile (1.6 km) loop trail is perfect for a quick morning hike or an afternoon stroll through nature. Located near the 743-acre River Bend Nature Center, this hiking trail takes you on a journey through tall prairie grasses and past charming Prairie Pond.

Beginning at the main parking lot, hikers will immediately be greeted by the peaceful sounds of nature. The well-maintained hiking trail winds through an open prairie, offering stunning views of wildflowers and a variety of bird species. As you make your way around the loop, keep an eye out for various wildlife that call this area home.

The Prairie Loop is a great option for those looking for a peaceful escape from the city without having to travel too far. It’s also a great spot for photographers looking to capture some beautiful shots of the prairie landscape.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Tulips, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Location: Chaska, Minnesota

Size: 1,200 acres (4.9 km2)

Number of Trails: Not defined

Total Length of Trails: Approximately 12 miles (19.3 km) of nature trails

Number of visitors: About 500,000 annual visitors

Arboretum Tickets: click here

Located just 24 miles west of Minneapolis in Chaska, Minnesota, sits the breathtaking Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. This 1,200-acre (4.9 km2) horticultural garden and arboretum is a tranquil escape for nature lovers of all ages.

Visitors can explore over 12 miles (19.3 km) of trails throughout the arboretum, each offering a unique experience through various landscapes and gardens. With varying levels of difficulty, hikers can choose their perfect trail length and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The fall season is particularly stunning at the arboretum, with a colorful display of autumn leaves throughout the gardens and trails.

For over 32 years, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has been providing visitors with a serene and educational experience in nature.

William O’Brien State Park Riverside Trail

William O'Brien State Park Riverside Trail

Location: Marine on St Croix, MN

Length: 1.6 mi (2.6 km)

Duration: Approximately 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

More trail info: Trail map and details

Park’s info: William O’Brian SP

Located just 42 miles (67 km) from Minneapolis lies the beautiful William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix, MN. This 1,520-acre (6.2 km2) state park is a popular destination for hikers of all levels and offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing, and camping.

The Riverside Trail loop is one of the most popular hiking trails in the entire park, offering stunning views of the St. Croix River and a chance to explore different ecosystems as you pass through wooded areas, wetlands, and restored oak savanna areas. With a trail length of 1.6 miles (about 2.6 km), this paved trail is perfect for all levels of hikers and provides easy access for those with strollers or wheelchairs.

In the winter months, William O’Brien State Park becomes a great winter sports destination with 12 miles of cross-country ski trails and an additional 12 groomed miles for both classic and skate skiing. This makes it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking to hit the slopes in a beautiful natural setting.

Fort Snelling State Park

Early autumn colors under the Mendota Bridge at Fort Snelling State Park in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Location: St Paul, MN

Size: 2,931 acres (11.86 km2)

Number of hiking trails: Less than 10

Total length of hiking trails: Over 20 miles (32 km)

For more park and trail information: click here

For maps: click here

Located within the Twin Cities metro area, approximately 11 miles (17 km) from Minneapolis, this expansive park is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. It is the perfect destination for nature lovers and history buffs alike. With its rich cultural and natural history, Fort Snelling State Park offers visitors an opportunity to explore the great outdoors while also learning about the area’s past.

One of the highlights of this state park is the Pike Island Trail, also known as the Pike Island Hiking Trail. This easy 4-mile (6.4 km) loop trail takes hikers on a journey through the park’s diverse landscapes, including forests, prairies, and wetlands. Along the way, you’ll also have the chance to spot various wildlife, such as deer, bald eagles, and even beaver dams.

But Fort Snelling State Park isn’t just about hiking. In the winter months, the park transforms into a winter wonderland with 12 miles (19 km) of groomed and tracked ski trails. This makes it a popular spot for cross-country skiing enthusiasts looking to enjoy some amazing trails while taking in the beautiful scenery of the entire park. Lastly, the park is also home to several historic sites, including the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark, which dates back to the 1820s.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Location: Nerstrand, NM (58 miles/93 km south of Minneapolis)

Size: 2,884 acres (11.67 km2)

Number of hiking trails: Less than 10

Total length of hiking trails: Approximately 17.7 km

Get more hiking trail information here

Map: click here to get the park’s map

Located just an hour’s drive from Minneapolis in Nerstrand, NM, lies the beautiful and tranquil Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This park is known for its stunning temperate hardwood forest, which is one of the last remaining in Minnesota’s Dakota County.

With 16 miles (approximately 26 km) of several hiking trails to explore, including groomed trails for the winter season, there is something for everyone at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. One of the highlights of the park is its interpretive trail, which offers visitors a chance to learn about the area’s rich cultural and natural history while taking in the beauty of its surroundings.

In addition to its beautiful forest trails, this state park is also home to a small waterfall, making it a popular spot for nature photographers. And for those looking to explore beyond the woods, there’s also a little prairie within the park that offers a different landscape and ecosystem to discover.

Interstate State Park Trail

The view from the Pothole Trail in Interstate State Park, looking toward the Dalles of the St. Croix river gorge.

Location: St Croix Falls, MN (53 miles (85 km) northeast of Minneapolis)

Length: Approximately 4 miles (6.4 km)

Hiking Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Type: Loop

Park and campground maps

Park’s reservations

Located in the beautiful city of St. Croix Falls, MN, just 53 miles (85 km) northeast of Minneapolis, Interstate State Park is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. This scenic park, situated on the St. Croix River, offers visitors a chance to explore gorges and unique geological formations created by Ice Age glaciers thousands of years ago.

With approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) of rugged trails, hikers can choose from a variety of routes that cater to different skill levels. The park is also the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, making it an important stop for those interested in learning about Minnesota’s geological history.

Conclusion

Minneapolis is surrounded by several parks, amazing trails, and stunning natural landscapes that are only a short drive away. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly hike or a challenging adventure, there are plenty of hiking opportunities to suit every level of hiker.

From Minnehaha Regional Park to Fort Snelling State Park, Minnesota’s beauty awaits you.

So, next time you’re in Minneapolis, grab your hiking boots and head out to explore these must-do hikes. Trust us, you won’t regret it.

For other exciting destinations like this one, kindly check out our City Hiking Guides.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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