In no particular order, these are some of our favorite hiking trails that are not too far from the metro area. We love being in or near bodies of water, hence favoring trails associated with different bodies of water.
Pike Island (Fort Snelling State Park)
Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul is packed with activities for the entire family, from educational tours of the Historic Fort to biking/hiking the multiple scenic trails. Our favorite hiking trail in Fort Snelling State Park is the 3-mile Pike Island Trail, which goes around the island, giving hikers riverfront views throughout the hike. This trail brings hikers to the northeast point of the island, where a panoramic view of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers converging awaits hikers. Shorter 1- or 2-mile hikes are also available, though these trails do not lead to the northeast tip of the island.
Willow River State Park
Just about an hour east of the metro area is Willow River State Park in Wisconsin, which contains multiple campgrounds, trails, and a river with a gushing waterfall. Day hikers and campers have access to multiple trails of varied lengths and difficulties that lead to Willow River Falls. There are also a few overlook sites that give views of the waterfalls from different angles. The waterfalls is definitely worth the hike, especially because it’s easy enough to get in the waterfalls for a refreshing shower.
Afton State Park
Staying within the Minnesota border, Afton State Park is a huge park across the St. Croix River from Wisconsin. It is filled with many trails, backpacking campgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful beaches. The park’s size allows for variety and abundance of trails, so they usually don’t get too crowded. After a hike, it’s also nice to be able to just rest and hangout by the beach.
Right in Minneapolis, the hiking trail in Minnehaha Park is an easy trail to get to. From the top of Minnehaha Falls, a staircase leads hikers down to the base of the falls and towards the trail following Minnehaha Creek to an amazing view of Mississippi River. The park also has other amenities such as bike rentals, picnic areas, and delicious food from the Sea Salt Eatery.
Lebanon Hills Regional Park
Just a few minutes south of the metro area is Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Numerous lakes are found within this park, so lakeside/lakeview loop trails of various distances are easy to find here. There are also a number of other trails within the park, with many of them connecting the different lakes. Due to the abundance of lakes, canoe/kayak trails connecting different lakes can also be found in this park. Swimming beaches, picnic grounds and shelters, canoe and kayak rentals, and campgrounds are also available.