April showers bring May flowers, and by the end of this particularly rainy month, there will be plenty of beautiful wildflowers sprouting across the state.
But the best wildflowers tend to be off the beaten path, and hard to find without someone in-the-know.
That’s where Rob Bignell comes in.
A former newspaper editor and long-time backpacker, Bignell released "Minnesota’s Best Wildflower Hikes" this April, just in time for wildflower season. The state is home to more than 500 wildflower species, and the guidebook explores over 100 trails, located in every Minnesota county, and the counties of some bordering states.
Each trail is between a tenth of a mile and seven miles — most are only one to three miles long — and Bignell has hiked every one himself over the past decade, often with his son Kieran. Before publication, he revisited some to ensure they’re still accessible and maintained.
Though it depends on location, wildflower season typically runs from early May through October, popping up in southern Minnesota first and making their way north.
“Generally you’ll always find at least three to four kinds of flowers blooming through September. The rule of thumb is a week for every 100 miles — if you see some on the Iowa/Minnesota border, they’ll hit the Twin Cities about a week later,” Bignell said. “There’s always something to see.”
Bignell realized after the birth of his son in 2007 that he had to find new ways to stay outdoors that are a little shorter than weekend camping trips. So he got a special carrier and started day hiking with his toddler on his back — leading to his first of many books, "Hikes with Tykes." "Minnesota’s Best Wildflower Hikes" is his 30th hiking guidebook and sixth about Minnesota.
As to what makes a guide-worthy trail? There are a few ways Bignell evaluated his choices: Distance, maintenance and "interesting things."
All trails need to be walked within a day and each has to be maintained, so he’s not sending people out to tick-infested weeds. There has to be something special about each — in this case, flowers, but also unique formations, waterfalls or flora and fauna.
“There’s wildflowers on virtually every trail, but there has to be something unique about it. Some have hundreds of Virginia bluebells, dwarf trout lilies, which only grow in three counties in Minnesota, or popular flowers like the pink lady slipper,” he said.
Bignell hikes three to four trails each weekend, making notes of the things he sees: overlooks, waterfalls, groves of maple trees with autumn leaves and, of course, wildflowers. He’s driven 5,000-6,000 miles crisscrossing Minnesota over the last 10 years, and collected 60-70 travel brochures.
Because hiking with his son has been a goal since the beginning, many of the trails are very family friendly, he said, though it’s a good idea to plan some easy games or activities to keep them interested on the way.