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LENGTH 10 miles
DIFFICULTY Easy but very icy today (bring ice traction)
DATE  March 24, 2018
MAIN FEATURES  53 ft Minnehaha Falls and Pike Island

My 18th hike of the 2018 52 Hike Challenge started at Minnehaha Falls Regional Park.   One of Minneapolis’ oldest and most popular parks features a majestic 53-foot waterfall, limestone bluffs, and river overlooks, attracting more than 850,000 visitors annually.  Last week ‘s hike started at the other end, at Fort Snelling State Park and ventured in both directions from there.  Both parks are right in the city and easily accessible by bike, foot, stroller, etc.

IMG_9550.jpgMost visitors stick to the paved trails, but if you want to break away from the crowds, there are plenty of dirt trails that lead down to the river.   Minnehaha is a dog friendly park with an off leash area where dogs can roam (and also get full of mud).  The stairs to the lower trails were all closed due to ice this time of year, so we took the snow and ice covered paved trails to Fort Snelling’s dirt trails.


Our pre-hike started at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown by the University of Minnesota. It’s literally a space between two buildings that had a roof thrown on it in the 1950’s and still stands today.   They used to have a spot in the back room where you could still see the asphalt in a hole in the floor!  It’s narrow space holds 14 diner seats, and space for another 14-16 to wait up against the wall for a seat.    Go with a friend, or make a new one in line!  The place was packed when we got there and you literally stand behind people eating their breakfast while they finish up and then hop into a place when it opens.  Delicious food, perfect hiking fuel!


Street parking is usually available as long as you are there early, otherwise there are paid lots.   You’ll hear the falls right away and know you are in the right spot.   The trails to the lower falls and river are closed right now due to ice, so we stayed up top, on the paved trail past the John Stevens house.

img_9533-e1521986560953.jpgShortly after you pass the John Stevens house, the trail turns to dirt and looks like this…ice ice baby.   I brought my favorite Yak tax ICETrekkers and Leki Hiking poles for stabilization just in case.   Loaned my ICETrekkers to my friend who was trying to walk a dog on a leash on the ice and I used my poles.  They both worked great!  Mentioning this because Pike Island and the surrounding trails can be very icy this time of year, so if you have traction or poles, bring them just in case.


Next were the sandstone carvings under the bridge (LNT!)  and more views of the river.   We stopped at the visitor center for a break and at the Dakota Prison Camp Memorial (I forgot to take a picture) then headed over the frozen bridge to BDote or Pike Island.   Read more about the significance of BDote, the river confluence and little bit about Fort Snelling’s History in my previous post.

IMG_9534Got to take out my new Altra Lone Peaks for their maiden voyage on this hike.   I wouldn’t normally hop into a pair of shoes (especially pink) and just go hike 10 miles without breaking them in but these came SO HIGHLY rated by EVERYONE that I gave them a whirl.   They are currently $120 at REI and I scored a new pair at last week’s REI garage sale (which is how I get most of my gear because I am cheap) for $40…woo hoo!   Altras run small and I have issues with my toenails hitting the tops of my shoes…so I bought my Altra Superiors a couple of months ago 1.5 sizes big and they fit great.   I grabbed the same size in the Lone Peaks and they feel about .5 size too big….   I only wore thin Injiji Sport Toe socks on this hike and had NO BLISTERS or any issues with friction, plantar fasciitis, or unusual foot pain.   My knees hurt a bit after the hike, but I attribute that to slipping around on ice for 3 hours.   I also wore them with my Gear Swap Innov8 Merino Gaiters and they worked great!   The gaiters are made with an elastic strap that goes under the arch of your foot, but I just stuck them in the velcro ‘gaiter trap’ heel tab that is built into Altras to grab the back of the gaiter and it worked marvelously.  I don’t want to jinx things…but maybe these are the shoe for my SHT Thru Hike!

IMG_9551We spent some time relaxing at the BDote before heading back to Minnehaha.   This was the exact half way point of our hike today and a few of the men in boats were back again!   It was cold and windy on the point, so we headed back to the trail.

Just after the John Stevens house on the way into the park, we heard a distinct loud chirping/squawking sound.   We looked up to find two bald eagles having a conversation with each other on a power pole!  It was the neatest thing to hear them talking to each other right above us!    Then on Pike Island, we were swooped by a HUGE eagle eating his fish!   He was below us on a drop off near the shore and flew up about 15 feet away from us!   We were stunned and completely taken by its beauty.   Jane the dog, went right down to investigate his fish, I went down trail to the tree I saw him land in.


This guy is bald eagle #25 of the year!

Happy with our adventure, we hoofed the 5 miles back the way we came and ended our hike with one more look at the magnificent falls and a triumphant selfie!


Have you been to Minnehaha of Fort Snelling?  There’s plenty of trail around these two parks to explore and are PERFECT for training hikes or Hiking Merit Badge Hikes with a Scout Group because the distance can be easily modified.   We have hiked both of these trails to prepare for our Glacier National Park and Isle Royale National Park trips and the Scouts loved them.  I’m going to do a little research and see if there’s a connecting trail from the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to either of these Parks and will report back!   Shoot me a note if you’ve already mapped it out.


Thanks for reading, Happy Trails!



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5 thoughts on “Minnehaha Falls to Pike Island, Fort Snelling State Park

  1. Great photos and post! Love this stretch along the Mississippi. Assuming Nice Ride doesn’t change things up, there are stations at both Minnehaha and Fort Snelling for hiking one way and biking back or vice versa if time is a concern. Interested to know if you find a trail connecting the MN River Valley National Refuge and Fort Snelling SP! All my research has come up empty :/ (but I haven’t actually tried hiking or biking it yet, either).

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