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LENGTH Long Meadow Lake Trail 3.5 miles one way
DATE January 4, 2019
MAIN FEATURES 11 miles of flat, multi-use trails in this section, birdwatching
I head back to work tomorrow but have had a chance to squeeze in 4 hikes to jump-start my 52 Hike Challenge this year and the best part is that they have all been local! I did more local exploring and repetition of trails last year (read the whole list here) just to increase my training miles vs driving miles and always enjoy getting to know trails in my own backyard!
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine and I explored a place we’ve driven by about a million times, The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. She called it the ‘Minnesota River Bottoms’, and I envisioned a magical place I would have wanted to build a fort as a kid.
The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a 14,000-acre (5,666 ha) National Wildlife Refuge in eastern and central Minnesota. Located just south of the city of Minneapolis, it is one of fourteen Regional Priority Urban Wildlife Refuges in the nation. Many parts of the Refuge are near large establishments of the Twin Cities; the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center and two trailheads are located just blocks from the Mall of America, the Wilkie Unit is just east of Valleyfair and the Louisville Swamp Unit is just south of Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
The Refuge stretches southwest through Minneapolis’ outer-ring suburbs to Henderson, Minnesota. There are eleven refuge units strung along 70 miles (110 km) of the Minnesota River. The various Refuge units are interspersed with units of the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area. Although the National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the state recreation area by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, both agencies share a consistent signage to simplify visitation.
–Wikipedia (read more!)
We saw the large map posted at the information kiosk and quickly realized that we’d found a gem! This place is huge and would take a long time to grow tired of its trails.
We started at the Visitor Center and realized that although the park was open for guests, it is closed due the current Government shutdown. So, we didn’t get to see what was inside the visitor center this time. I grabbed a trash bag from my car, after seeing some of the photos on social media about National Parks busting with garbage because they are currently un staffed.
Please note: If you are considering visiting the Refuge during the shut down, be aware that entry onto Refuge System property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk and check out this important message about closure of National Wildlife Refuge System facilities so you are prepared.
Here’s your invitation to help take care of the parks we love!
Leave No Trace
You can do this in a few ways, including picking up/hauling out trash, reducing your impact by staying out of them and following these Leave No Trace Center tips for responsibly visiting parks during the shutdown:
- Have a Poop Plan
- Be ready to pack EVERYTHING out!
- Be ready for wilderness!
- Channel your inner Ranger (follow the park rules!)
- Give back!
The seven standard Leave No Trace Principles can be found here. Know them, love them, obey them.
Kula Cloth and Peeing Responsibly
On the theme of Leave No Trace, I got a chance to use my brand new Kula Cloth (affiliate link, purchasing through here helps me keep the WP lights on) for a quick pee break on the trail. TP on the trail is a big no-no and can take a month or much longer to break down if its not exposed to the elements and left on the ground. Even burying it isn’t the greatest idea. Just a reminder, LNT practice is to pee at least 70 ft from the trail, 200 ft from a water source. (pee responsibly)
I’d seen the Kula Cloth starting to show up on my Instagram friends feeds, hanging from their Christmas Trees, on their packs, highlighted in stories…. and I had to find out WHY a person would need a fancy schmancy cloth for their pee! Anastasia, the founder of Kula Cloth sent me one to test out and I’m not going back! The biggest difference I noticed right off the bat, was the intentional design (it’s perfectly sized and CLOSES), soft, hi tech antimicrobial material (silver infused!), printed waterproof exterior and has a handy loop and closure. Other features include reflective stitching so you can find it at night, and its made in the US! Plus you can look like a super-cool lady hiker with this hanging off your pack!
Being able to hang the cloth open or closed is my favorite feature! The biggest gripes I had about my pee bandana on our SHT thru hike was that it was never accessible when I needed it, and then when I would set my frameless pack down, it would inevitably roll over and grind my pee cloth into the dirt. Gross. You also have to make sure not to confuse your pee bandana with your nose wiping bandana or your multi purpose bandana! The unique design helps with this too!
The only thing I had trouble with the Kula Cloth at first was figuring out the double snap closure. But it took me like 2 seconds to figure out you had to snap the loop first to make the closed option work and I was good to go.
Overall, I’d recommend this revolutionary item to any lady hikers (guys too) and it’s a piece of gear that’s coming with me on all of my future adventures! It would be a great gift as well! If you’re reading this and want to know what the heck someone would ever want to use a pee rag for instead of TP, shoot me a note in the comments. I’m considering writing a post about female hiker hygiene tips in the future and would love to know if there’s interest. If you’re a guy reading this, its ok for you to know this stuff too….you could help a gal on the trail like the internet legend, Dave the Period fairy!
Long Meadow Lake Trail
The trails were icy, so we used our spikes (I use Yak Tracks diamond spikes and my friend has hex screws installed in her shoes) and headed down to the “Bottoms”.
I realized that I had actually been in this system of trails once before, almost one year ago to the day. The adjacent Minnesota Valley Recreation area is another section further up and it felt very similar.
Our hike was bright and sunny on a RARE 45 degree January day! We enjoyed seeing ice formations on the Long Meadow Lake and even found MUD! I’m not ready for winter to be over yet though and am hoping for another BIG storm to bring us a foot of snow.
Our route took us down the Long Meadow Lake Trail, which is 3.5 miles one way. It moved in and out of woods, swamp, and open views of the lake.
Last year, my first bald eagle of the year was spotted at nearby 9 mile creek, and I saw the first of 2019 here! I wonder if it was the same one! I count bald eagles as a hobby and lost count sometime around March last year, here’s to keeping track in 2019!
The funniest thing we saw on the trail was a random little free library that was repurposed out of some other old structure, maybe a phone booth? The best part was that every book inside was kind of quirky and weird and matched the the little spooky library!
We turned back before we quite reached the end to make sure that we would be back before dark. I’ve never heard of an incident here, but personal safety is even more important on urban trails and empty parks. It’s easy to let your guard down and assume that populated areas are safer. Even though we were on a very popular trail, right in the city, we were didn’t see many people and stayed aware of our surroundings. Hiking with a buddy, carrying pepper spray, a knife, dog or trekking poles can give you some protection (as long as you know how to use them). Be smart!
I’m looking forward to exploring more of this trail system, it has a lot to offer! Have you hiked the Minnesota Valley Refuge? Other local trails I should Scout this year?
How about hearing more about staying clean on the trail?
Shoot me a note in the comments, I would love to hear from you!
7 thoughts on “Exploring the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and 5 LNT Tips During the Government Shutdown”
I have a similar pee-rag which I love. Short story: On my last JMT thru-hike I used it compared to my first JMT thru-hike when they weren’t an option yet. On that first thru-hike, I remember telling a male friend that I was so happy to get rid of my TP at one of the re-supply locations where I could leave trash. He replied to the effect that how much TP are you talking?….I replied “I am a girl”, it really adds up to carry used TP for over a week at a time. Anyway, my thoughts on this shutdown are if a person is not used to making a cat hole/and doing it properly, they should carry poop bags that are especially made for this purpose. I have had to carry them during portions of some hikes where leaving human waste in the ground was unacceptable/rule. These can easily be stored in their cars and taken on hikes with them. Available at REI, Amazon and more!
Good tips! And thank you for packing out your TP! The LNT Center has more links to poop options on their site. We didn’t end up needing it, but we carried a special bag to glacier with us in case there was an unexpected need. They’re kind of handy for when digging a hole isn’t an option and can put them mind at ease if group members are worried about making a cathole on a day hike.
Yes, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a gem, unknown to many, and little used in any season. Spring can be pretty wet sometimes, but I like visiting in any season. It is a vast area along the Minnesota River bottom-lands. I think your words of caution are warranted, given the degree of isolation in some areas… even in the middle of a major metropolitan area.
Thanks Mike, I remembered you talking about it. Im looking forward to exploring more in the future! Where is the snow, by the way??
Ahhh..the whole peeing in the woods. I finally figured out that you don’t pull your pants all the way down to your ankles..you keep them crunch by your knees, squat and pee in the woods. (This after I used to take my pants all the way off. The powers of You Tube to teach you the right way to pee in the woods) Another great post. The area looks beautiful. I hike/backpack quite a bit alone. Not by choice but because it’s hard to find/coordinate with others. I have invested in an InReach this year.
PS. I hope that wasn’t too graphic of a comment..you did ask for ideas on how to stay clean on the trail. 🙂
No, not at all! Gotta do what works (and keep those shoes and pants dry!). Id love to hear how you like your inreach. I think they are a great back up and everyone going into the backcountry should have one! 😉