In Minnesota, we love our outdoor time. Those of us who can’t handle the wicked winters rely on warmer weather to get our time in nature. These are my three favorite mostly free summer, spring and fall spots.
|Mississippi River, Summer, 2015|
North Mississippi Regional Park
One of the coolest parts of this area is the fact that so many parks are directly connected by biking and walking paths. You can get to this park by walking along the Shingle Creek hiking path, or you can take the exit from I94 W by car. Parking is free.
This park has a splash pad and playground, as well as a variety of walking paths that loop through prairie, give beautiful views overlooking the river and leading directly to the shore. Along the way, you can find natural springs and see where the large local creek joins with the river.
You’ll also find the Kroening Interpretive Center which also has free admission. This center hosts a small, but educational selection of historical, science and nature displays. It also has a little room of live animals, including local turtles, toads, frogs and a corn snake.
It also has backpacks full of educational materials you can rent for free to take with you in the park. The backpacks are geared towards different aspects of the ecosystem.
We wandered around with the insect one, which included two nets and containers to hold the catches as we identified them with the enclosed books.
Although they’re free, an adult does need to exchange their license or car keys to help prevent theft.
|Minnehaha Falls, summer, 2011|
These falls are a sacred site to the local Native American population, and should be treated with the proper respect. However, they are open to the public, and it’s not hard to see why they hold such cultural importance.
This area is steeped in history. After the settlers arrived and set up shop, they were part of a limestone mine. The material pulled from the area was of high enough quality to be shipped all over the country.
Eventually, the mine shut down, and the area’s natural beauty was touted as having great health benefits. This attracted people from all over to reap these benefits.
Since then, it’s become a beloved local park. The falls are visible from a lovely stone bridge going over them, and from landings separated by staircases. Once you get to the lowest level, you can then cross over the creek to view the falls from above and walk along hiking paths to the Mississippi river.
Watch out for the romanticized statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha over the creek, Lyndon B. Johnson’s footprints immortalized in cement and Chief Little Crow’s mask. There is also a restaurant, a nearby Dairy Queen and other monuments scattered throughout the park.
Some people hold their weddings there for the gorgeous pictures the scenery offers, so you may run across a wedding party or two.
You can get there by Light Rail or car. There is metered parking available, as well as paid lots, but if you don’t mind walking, there’s a free lot tucked out of the way.
I like going to the falls on a regular basis, because they change over time. The limestone is soft enough that the falls themselves carve it into different shapes.
|Como Park Conservatory, 2006
By RxS at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
I haven’t been to Como Park in a number of years, but it’s still one of my favorite spots. Unlike the previous two parks, this one is not located in Minneapolis, but in St. Paul.
In addition to the sprawling trails, this park boasts a small zoo, carousel, enclosed conservatory and a few smaller outdoor gardens. Because there’s so much to do in this park, it can take several visits to appreciate everything in it.
The conservatory looks different from year to year, because of how plants grow, as do the outdoor gardens. There are sometimes births and new animals in the zoo, as well.
I’ve only gone to the park by car, but parking is free. You can also get there by bike or bus.
While admission is free, a small donation of $3 per adult and $2 per child is encouraged to help with care of the animals and upkeep of the grounds.
These parks are all open in the winter for those who enjoy the cold weather, but I prefer to get my outdoor time in when it’s warm outside.
If you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities area, try fitting these destinations into your schedule.