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Few things heighten the anticipation for the outdoors months to come like an early spring hike, regardless of surface. At a molecular level, we often sync up in mood and energy levels with all that's firing in the natural world.

Trees are budding. Wildflowers are reaching for the light. Water is moving — and so are a variety of birds. Mercurial spring weather might even be a reason to go.

The theater of Minnesota in early spring is never lost on residents who, for a variety of reasons, are dialed in.

"You are going to have a lot of newness and freshness," said outdoors writer Tom Watson of Appleton, Minn., and author of "60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Twin Cities."

"Not everyone's hike is going to look the same, but there are so many options in Minnesota and even in the metro," said Angela Grill, a biologist in the Three Rivers Parks District and co-host on its podcast, The Wandering Naturalist. "It is a sensation."

Ruth Wikoff-Jones, an ambassador for the Minnesota chapter of Women Who Hike, likes many things about hiking in spring. Even in inclement weather, she said. "It just softens everything, and there are not as many people out."

Wikoff-Jones joined the group in 2018 and promptly took up a "52 Hike Challenge" — hiking once a week for a year. She's also traversed every hikeable state park and recreation area and travels outside the Midwest to backpack and explore. All the experience has made her well-suited to help lead Minnesota women who hike — or like the idea of hiking. The Minnesota Facebook group stands at 27,000 people, where people ask for advice, post travel reports and organize hikes with other women.

"[Women Who Hike's creation] was a very conscious decision to create a space for women who want to get out and learn," said Wikoff-Jones, of Roseville.

Hikes, of course, demand considerations, from family friendliness to distance to features. In that context and with some recommendations, here are several around the state to consider soon:

Easy on the family

Carver Park Reserve, Victoria

French Regional Park, Plymouth

Eastman Nature Center, Maple Grove

The half-mile or so Sumac Trail loop out of Eastman Nature Center will turn up wildflowers. There also are paved trails that transition from woods to prairie, and few bridges to keep little ones interested, Grill said. When the kids get bored, shoot into the Lowry (Carver) or Eastman nature centers. French has a great play area and a beach area, where spring phenology is playing out. Visitors should look for turtles absorbing sunshine, or the return of the purple martins from South America. There is a colony at the beach. Voracious insect-eaters, the birds get all their food in flight. (More information and maps at

Commanding views

Great River Bluffs State Park, near Nodine, Minn.

If you're headed downriver to Winona and points south, consider a variety of manageable hikes in bluff country. Overlooks of the Mississippi River Valley abound off the state park's trail system. Park specialist Levi Thesing suggests the King's Bluff Overlook trail, a 2 1/2-mile out-and-back. Getting there will take you through a pine plantation into a hardwood forest before you land on a bluff prairie. "We're a hidden gem of the southeast," Thesing said. Want the feels but a shorter walk? Consider the South and East overlooks deeper into the park. (More information and maps at

Solo and/or dog-walking

Crow Hassan Park Reserve, Hanover

Stepping in prairies can be a window into the bird world, especially at Crow. Sandhill cranes are returning, as are grassland inhabitants like the yellow-breasted meadowlark, which can be vocal as it stakes out its nesting territory. Crow-Hassan is family-friendly and a welcome place for a slow pace, too, but it isn't stroller-friendly atop its sandy soil in spots. Hikers can expect to loop from 1 to 4 miles. Many people head to Crow to seek one of the harbingers of spring in Minnesota: the pasque flower, which is one of the first to bloom in the state. Hikers might spot some, with their silky-haired leaves and stems, near Prairie Lake while staying on the trail. "That's such a rare treat," Grill said. Dog or dogs along? They need leashing on a majority of the paths, but there is a segment at the northern end of the preserve and parking lot for off-leash hiking. (More information and maps at

Horseback riders are known to navigate prairie paths at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve in Hanover, Minn.
Horseback riders are known to navigate prairie paths at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve in Hanover, Minn.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Hidden away

Baker Park Reserve (Access through Marshview Group Camp, County Road 24), Maple Plain

A 1- to 2-mile loop that travels through old-growth woods, with spring ephemerals like Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot and trillium and other flowers, on both sides of the path. Hikers also will move through wetlands. Grill suggested downloading apps like iNaturalist or Seek, excellent tools to photograph and get answers about what visitors are seeing on the trail. (More information and maps at

A bit of everything

Minnehaha Falls and Creek, Minneapolis

Watson said this mild but impressive hike is a "microcosm of what trails can feature," from the park's much-photographed waterfall from the upper walkways down to the creek, straddled by sandstone bluffs and paths down to where it empties into the Mississippi River. To Watson, the hike has a wildness that stands up. "It's got great sights." (More information at

Walking through history

Old Mill State Park, Argyle, Minn.

Remnants of the area's farming past, including mills and Works Progress Administration buildings from the 1930s and '40s, make this park in the far northwest and its 7 miles of trails worth a visit, Wikoff-Jones said. Those features, and a mini version of Jay Cooke State Park's iconic suspension bridge over the Middle River, which bisects the park. The Agassiz Trail, named for the glacial lake that covered the region thousands of years ago, is a mild 2-mile loop. Its geologic impact still is visible in the high beach ridgelines created by receding waters. (More information and maps at

Taste of the wilderness

Magnetic Rock Trail, near end of the Gunflint Trail

Wikoff-Jones likely echoes many in suggesting the trail that, out and back, covers about 3 miles. One could argue it's best visited in the colors of autumn. The trail passes over bedrock outcrops of the Canadian Shield (magnetite is one of the main iron ores, found in the bedrock and in the star of the trail, the 60-foot Magnetic Rock). The trail is part of the Border Route Trail, which continues beyond the Magnetic Rock and follows the U.S.-Canadian border for another 60-plus miles. Wikoff-Jones has been back more than once. "You start getting a sense of being out in the wilderness in a different way, but it's approachable."

The trailhead is about 45 miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais. Consider calling ahead to the Forest Service's Gunflint District office (218-387-1750) for conditions. (More information at

Regardless of the path chosen, Watson, Grill and Wikoff-Jones ascribe to a "hike your hike" ethos.

Wikoff-Jones said the feeling of inclusivity in Women Who Hike's Minnesota chapter is legitimate. The organic, self-organized approach has appeal, judging by traffic in the Facebook group and its increasing size. "We empower women to take on that responsibility … to take on a hike and meet people in new ways," she said.

Said Watson: "The [paths] are there, and you decide what level. They don't demand anything from you. It's totally a personal thing."