The Minnesota shutdown has forced a few adventures into Plan B mode (I’ve got a few suggestions for your Plan B). One of our favorite summertime activities is exploring the state parks, whether the ones that are close at hand like William O’Brien and Fort Snelling, or farther afield like Tettegouche, Split Rock, and St. Croix. With the state parks closed, it seemed that our summer plans of swimming, camping, and canoeing would be on hold.
Luckily, we’re surrounded by great regional parks here in the Twin Cities that are open during the shutdown. Not only are they close by, they’re full of great activities! They may not have as much of the wilderness to them as the state parks do, but they still offer plenty of adventure.
One of our favorites is Lebanon Hills Park, part of the Dakota County system. Located in Eagan and Apple Valley, it’s a 30 minute drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul and an easy day trip to take for anyone in the metro area.
At Lebanon Hills, you can rent a boat (canoe, kayak, tandem kayak, or paddle board) by the hour at quite reasonable rates, and explore the park’s lakes. Schulze Lake, on which the visitor center and boat rental office sit, is the easiest, but if you’re up for a little portaging (they provide portage carts to help you out, though you’ll still need to supply the muscle and the bug spray!) there are more lakes to explore. We spent two days this weekend testing our kayak and canoe skills on the lake, and even tried out the paddle board.
If you’re not the boating type, Lebanon Hills also has a swimming beach, with plenty of shallow water for younger kids and lots of space for splashing. It’s a sandy beach–no weeds in the water!–but there are little fish sharing your swim with you. None of us were nibbled on, though, so these seem to be tame fish.
There are also lots of hiking and biking trails on the park property, a campground, and an interpretive center at the main building. The visitor center also has an innovative, and very attractive, “green roof” that’s definitely worth a look!
There are ten Dakota County park locations to explore; I can only attest to Lebanon Hills, but if it’s any indication of the rest of the system I’d say they’re all worth a visit!
We also have the Three Rivers Parks to explore in the west metro. Readers of the book already know that I’m a huge fan of the rope playground at French Park in Plymouth. We’ve also explored Elm Creek Park, which has a newly remodeled playground and a chlorinated swimming beach (no little fishies there!). And like the Dakota County parks, the Three Rivers parks offer camping, hiking, boating, swimming, and plenty of other outdoor fun activities.
So yeah, it’s kind of lousy not to be able to explore the wilder parts of the state this summer: I love swimming in the chilly rivers on the North Shore, pitching a tent on the St. Croix River, and hiking along Lake Superior. But this is a great opportunity to become familiar with some of the other parks that have the same mission as the state parks: preserving wild places while also making them accessible to the residents of the metro area.
There’s always someplace to explore!