When I think of fall, I envision myself someplace calm and colorful, the breeze blowing through my hair and the scent of falling leaves drifting by me.
Gale Woods Farm, off the beaten path in Minnetrista, is the perfect place to do just that — enjoy the last bit of beautiful weather before half of Minnesota shuts itself indoors until April.
My 5-year-old daughter Fiona has been asking to go to a farm for at least a year, so initially I wanted to visit Gale Woods Farm to fulfill that dream. This summer, though, I discovered a love of paddling, so a trip to the farm seemed like the perfect way to appease us both.
This farm has it all: the quintessential big red barn, livestock and poultry, gardens, trails, programming for all ages, wetlands and, my personal favorite, 558-acre Whitetail Lake with canoe rental.
Visitors to the farm can park and explore for free on foot or bike from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, but Three Rivers Park District, which runs the farm, also has paid programming like day camps, workshops and Saturday mornings on the farm. Through October, Saturday mornings on the farm allows visitors to check out the barn, see baby farm animals, explore the garden and take part in seasonal activities. The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon and costs $5 per person.
From June through October, the farm hosts a farmers market on Saturday mornings, as well.
Fiona and my visit was on a slow Sunday around lunch, and aside from the cost of canoe rental our trip was free. We encountered less than a dozen people the two hours we were there, so it definitely fit my fall criteria for pure serenity. It was the first time I've rented a canoe, but at $12/hour it was less than half the cost of private watercraft rental establishments I've used for kayaks and paddle boards.
The minor downside, especially with a kid in tow, is the half-mile or so walk to the canoe rack and launch spot. The scenery was beautiful (and even more picturesque in fall), but I ended up with a 40 lb. sack of potatoes on my back during the uphill return trip, as Fiona simply “couldn't take this anymore.” Never mind that I did all the paddling during our 90 minutes on the water.
However, farm goers who do enjoy hiking can explore nearly four miles of crushed limestone trails, complete with views of cows, sheep and pigs in the pasture. The farm is also accessible from the Dakota Rail Regional Trail.
Whitetail Lake is so much larger than I anticipated. Partially bordered by wetlands, partially by private properties, the lake is secluded and safe for a beginner paddler like me. Adult life vests are included in canoe rental, though, so those and paddles can be picked up at the main farm store. Bring children's life vests from home, as they aren't always available at the farm.
Fiona and I might as well have had the lake to ourselves. We only saw two other canoes on the water and three idling motor boats with fishers taking advantage of the still water, but otherwise it was just us, Fiona’s singing, and several hundred lily pads.
Three Rivers Park District owns a large dock on Whitetail Lake near the canoe launch, so anyone with a license can fish there if they don’t want to go on the water.
Picnic areas are scattered throughout the property for visitors to relax or bring a packed lunch. Though we only stayed for a couple hours, we could have easily spent the day. Part of the appeal is being only 20 minutes from home but feeling like you're in another world.
To top it off, the farm doesn't close in the winter. The activities just change to fit the seasons. Instead of paddling, maybe a snow shoeing adventure is in order.
For now, Fiona and I are enjoying fall. She was asking to go canoeing again before we even got home from the farm, so I guess that means I have a future bow paddler buddy.