While kids love their screen time (especially now!), it’s good for them—and their parents—to take a technology break here and there and spend some time outdoors. Nature helps reduce stress, provides the activity we need to stay healthy and stimulates our minds with new sights, sounds and smells. And during times like now when our connections to nature have become more important than ever, recreating outdoors is a great way for grownups and kids alike to beat their isolation blues—at a six-foot distance, of course!
Nature Conservancy staff put their heads together and came up with a list of their favorite places in or near the Twin Cities to get outdoors with their kids, and we bet you’ll like them too. Before you head out, do keep in mind that many visitor centers are closed, so be prepared with your own snacks, water and hand sanitizer.
Fort Snelling State Park
Located on top of a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, Fort Snelling offers great biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails and great places to go fishing including Snelling Lake as well as the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. From here you can also explore local history at nearby spots like Coldwater Spring and Fort Snelling Historic Site.
Helen Allison Savanna
Just 20 miles north of the Twin Cities is a remnant of Minnesota’s past and one of the rarest habitats on earth. At TNC’s Helen Allison Savanna, the gnarled limbs of bur oak trees reach for the sky and wildflowers abound. It’s a good place to see what European settlers would have witnessed when they first came to the state. It’s also a fantastic place to view hawks, songbirds, frogs and other wildlife.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve
About 10 miles east of St. Paul, Lake Elmo Park Reserve is a fun place to take the kids camping or fishing in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Minnehaha Falls at Minnehaha Regional Park
This 193-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River is just north of the airport and Fort Snelling. It features a 53-foot waterfall, limestone bluffs, big trees and woodland wildflowers. There are gardens, walking paths, a bike trail ;and there’s even an off-leash dog park for the canine members of the family. Below the waterfall, a trail winds along Minnehaha Creek down to the Mississippi River—another popular spot for fishing!
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge, about 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis, is one of only a handful of urban national wildlife refuges in the nation. It’s a great place to see bald eagles, wild turkey, songbirds and migrating waterfowl. Hit the trail after dusk and you might even hear coyotes howling in the distance!
Springbrook Nature Center
About 10 miles north of downtown Minneapolis in the City of Fridley, you’ll find the Springbrook Nature Center nestled among 127 acres of native prairies, oak and aspen forests, oak savanna and wetlands. There are hiking trails and floating boardwalks.
Three Rivers Park District
The Twin Cities are among the best urban park systems in the world, and the Three Rivers Park District is a favorite with Nature Conservancy staff. Here are a couple of their recommended, kid-friendly spots.
Richardson Nature Center
Hiking trails take you through marshes, oak forest and restored prairie where you might see deer, fox, coyotes and turkeys.
Elm Creek Park Preserve
At 4,900 acres, Elm is a good place to enjoy wildlife including eagles, sandhill cranes, deer, beavers, loons and trumpeter swans.
William O’Brien State Park
This beautiful park on the St. Croix River is just an hour from the Twin Cities. You and the kids can walk the trails and enjoy the prairie wildflowers, canoe on the St. Croix River, cross-country ski and snowshoe in winter.
Wood Lake Nature Center
Three miles of trails and boardwalks wind through the marshes, prairies and forests at this 150-acre natural area in the City of Richfield. Throw a couple of field guides in your kid’s backpack to enhance the experience and get them started on their nature science journey!