You may have packed up your camping gear, stored your hiking boots and put away the bug spray, but there’s still exploring to be done amid the snow. With extra time spent at home, a winter hike or walk gets you out of the house and lets you see a favorite trail or destination in a whole new way — blanketed in white.
The metro area has many hiking and walking options. Here’s a few spots that are still serene in the snow and just as easy to navigate in the colder months:
The Minnesota Valley State Trail
This trail runs through Scott County and a small portion of Carver County. Stretching from Belle Plaine to Shakopee, it features stunning views and varying terrain.
The Trail Center in the Lawrence Unit of The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area, located in Jordan, is a good starting point for hikers. From there, you can follow the river trail or the Hiking Club Trail. They aren’t maintained for winter use but are both still accessible with just a good pair of winter boots or snowshoes, said David Olsen, assistant area supervisor for the Minnesota DNR division of parks and trails.
While on the trails keep an eye out for wildlife like deer, birds of prey and songbirds.
There may be some snowmobile traffic in the area during the weekends, but overall it’s ideal for a quiet hike, he said.
“It’s not as widely used as some of the state parks and trails in the metro, so it’s a little bit more peaceful. The view along the river is nice and it’s a relaxing place,” Olsen said.
Due to flood damage, a portion of the trail between the Trail Center in the Lawrence Unit to Chaska is closed. Trail maps can be found on the Minnesota DNR Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area webpage.
To get to the Trail Center, take U.S. Highway 169 to Jordan, at the traffic light turn north onto County Road 9 and turn left onto Township Road 57.
Carver Park Reserve
Tucked in the middle of the reserve is the Lowry Nature Center which offers multiple trail options.
The Aspen Trail has views of Stone Lake, a boardwalk and rolling hills of maple, basswood and oak trees.
“It’s a great trail because it goes through a lot of different terrain and it has the boardwalk and a beautiful overlook,” said Elise Bushard, interpretive naturalist at Lowry Nature Center with the Three Rivers Park District.
The trail is easy to navigate and at just three quarters of a mile long, it’s a great option for young children to get exercise, Bushard said.
The Maple Trail is the longest trail that leaves the center at a mile and half long and starts farthest back making it less traveled, even on the busiest of days. Hikers will venture out to a boardwalk that crosses a marsh and can stop at several scenic overlooks along the way.
“The forest that it goes through, I would call it a very high quality woodland, it doesn’t have a lot of invasive species, there’s a few little frozen ponds, some views of a couple lakes,” Bushard added.
The large wooded area provides many places for wildlife to hide and shy away from people, but visitors may spot deer and fox footprints, cottontail rabbits and birds. Pileated woodpeckers, a large species of woodpecker with a bright red head, have also made appearances along both the Maple and Aspen trails.
After fresh snow, try the trails on snowshoes. Snowshoes are available for rent at the nature center.
Exploring the outdoors doesn’t just help you get Vitamin D, which can be a challenge during the long Minnesota winters, it’s good for overall wellness, Bushard said.
“Getting exercise and being out in the fresh air and sunshine helps people feel better,” she said.
Scott County in partnership with Three Rivers Park District
If you’re looking to get out on a wintry walk this season, there are a few spots within Scott County to check out.
In New Prague, visit Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park to walk roughly three miles of trail through the woods and along Cedar Lake.
“That park in particular just has a really beautiful setting,” said Parks and Natural Resources Coordinator with Three Rivers Park District in Partnership with Scott County Alysa Delgado. “I consider it a hidden gem of the Twin Cities metro area.”
The shorter length of the trail makes it a manageable trail to take in the winter.
“I think there are a lot of parks that offer great trails that may take a long time, but if you only have a little bit of time to get out or it’s super cold that day you can still get some use,” Delgado said. “It’s like a good bang for your buck kind of deal.”
There’s no need to worry about snow at Spring Lake Regional Park in Prior Lake as trails are plowed for walkers.
“This park offers a paved hiking or walking experience which I think is nice for people who perhaps don’t have the gear or are just less accustomed to maybe going on longer walks,” Delgado said.
Walkers will also be immersed in many different environments along the way, Delgado said, as they pass through wooded patches, a prairie restoration area and more.
Both these parks are operated collaboratively through the Scott County and Three Rivers partnership.
The park trails are dog-friendly, but dogs must be kept on a non retractable six-foot leash.
Delgado encouraged all to spend time outside even in the colder months as it benefits both physical and mental health.
“Especially during the pandemic when a lot of us feel trapped or we can’t control very many things, you can control how much time you spend outside,” she said. “There’s proven health benefits to getting outside and enjoying nature even if it is a shorter walk. Don’t let the cold deter you.”