Twin Cities trails

Some may scoff at the idea of hiking in the Twin Cities’ tangle of concrete and skyscrapers, but not Mike Link. 

“The Twin Cities is one of the best urban hiking and biking areas in the United States,” said Link, of Willow River, Minn.

Link has written 24 books about environment and nature, including “Hiking Minnesota (America’s Best Day Hiking),” co-authored with his wife Kate Crowley. The two have hiked 1,550 miles for 145 days around Lake Superior since their retirement. Now they plan on biking 2,500 miles for two and half months from Duluth to the Gulf of Mexico and back this fall — and again in the spring.

Take note if you’ve never hiked the city’s trails before. Link suggests not waiting until after lunch to start your hike. Mornings and evenings are the best time to walk because people are likely to be more motivated and have higher energy levels, he said, adding it won’t be as hot at those times of day. 

The best energy saver is to stay hydrated by drinking water or fruit juice. “Caffeine may keep you awake, but it also dehydrates you more quickly,” Link said. Urban hikers should focus strictly on their walk and minimize distractions, he added. “I recommend not turning on the headphones and engage in what you’re seeing and what you’re observing,” Link said. “You want to engage the mind not just the feet.”

For those wanting to try urban hiking, here are some of Link’s favorite trails in the Twin Cities:

Chain of Lakes: Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, 

and Lake of the Isles

This family-friendly hike passes around Minneapolis’s two largest lakes for a total of 13.3 miles. Lake Harriet features 67 acres of land and 344 acres of water featuring an almost 3-mile walk around the lake and a band shell attracting summer concerts. Lake Calhoun’s 3.2 miles of paved hike is appealing for those who like fishing, wind surfing, or sailing. The trail is also great for biking, walking and running. Also, Lake of the Isles features 2.86 miles of paved trail with a dog-friendly off-the-leash park just south of the lake.

David Vanderwarn, a 20-year-old from Maple Grove, frequents the Chain of Lakes when he heads downtown. “You don’t necessarily ‘go to the lake’ and ‘go downtown’ at the same time,” Vanderwarn said. “But you can easily do that with the Chain of Lakes.” 

The Chain of Lakes is safe for bikers, walkers, families and pets. There are separate walking and biking paths that are all one-way, so you’ll never bump into people. “It’s flat and a very easy hike,” Vanderwarn said. “But it’s beautiful.” 

Minnehaha Falls 

Minnehaha Falls is a secret treasure among a tangle of highways and skyscrapers. Minnehaha Creek flows through the city all the way to the Mississippi River. Minnehaha Park, home to the falls, is a green space embedded in historic sites of what Minneapolis looked like hundreds of years ago, featuring a two-thirds size replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house. Link said visiting attractions on your hike is great. “The best thing you can do is to incorporate some activity into the walk,” Link said. “Walking doesn’t have to be done as a single activity. If you incorporate it into other activities you want to do, you’ll experience more.” The waterfall is the main attraction at Minnehaha Park, reaching 53 feet in height and following a staircase from the base of the falls to the top of Minnehaha Park. 

“Minnehaha Falls is definitely for all ages,” Vanderwarn said. “If you like nice weather and happy people go to Minnehaha Falls.” But, try to avoid parking there. Vanderwarn cautions that the parking is hard to find. Arriving by light rail is much easier since a station is near the park or, if you’re feeling really active, biking is also an option if you take the West River Parkway.

Fort Snelling

Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul displays some of the most extensive hiking the cities have to offer. Fort Snelling is hilly, but it’s not unmanageable for families. “People know more about the Minneapolis side, but on the St. Paul side there’s just a quiet and inspiring land,” Link said. “There are fewer crowds and it’s more peaceful.” 

Fort Snelling features swimming or canoeing on Gun Club Lake, hiking trails where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet, and, of course, the Fort. “The attraction is the actual Fort that they open up to people for tours of military life when the Fort was actually being used,” Vanderwarn said. 

The Three Rivers Park District

This hike incorporates more than 20 parks, but includes more popular parks like Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Elm Creek Park Reserve, and Silverwood Park. 

“Three Rivers is the best metropolitan park system in the country,” Link said. “It really is a world-class system of parks.” Some of the parks are paved for easier hiking, but they all have miles and miles of trails and other activities like disc golf, canoeing or biking. “They all have wonderful trails that go off into the woods and provide you with a sense of solitude, inspiration and exercise,” Link said. It is a family-trail that is well-kept and has plenty of creeks for kids to take a break and play in. 

Katie Askew is studying journalism and English at the University of Minnesota.