Wandering Pine is reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you!  Learn more.


LENGTH 20 miles
DIFFICULTY mostly flat and paved, with dirt options and a few hills
DATE HIKED October 4, 2020
MAIN FEATURES Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, Theodore Wirth Park, Chain of Lakes. Start location – 2601 Theodore Wirth Parkway:  Sunset Park

Last week, some friends and I backpacked the 35ish mile Sioux Hustler Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It was my first backpacking trip of the year and I had a few butterflies in my stomach thinking about hiking with a loaded pack again, on a rugged and remote trail. The leaves were at peak color and I came back home from that trip feeling exhausted, strong and renewed. I figured if I survived that hearty experience, I should be ok on a 20 miler with the Scouts, right? As I write this, I am in recovery mode, sitting in my comfy chair, drinking tea, legs elevated, a little bio freeze on the knees, with a small case of hiker’s rash (?) … but feeling a sense of joy in getting to help a couple more Scouts that are working their way towards Eagle, and grateful that I can still knock out 20 miles in one shot if I want.

Throwback Scout Leader pic with my beloved hiking stick.

The Hiking Merit Badge “20 Miler”

The Scouts in the troop I volunteer with have been working independently on their Hiking Merit badge this summer, building their skills with a succession of hikes in this order: (1) 5 mile, (3) 10 mile, (1) 15 mile and ending with a 20 miler! As their Merit Badge Counselor, I started with in person instruction and moved to virtual check ins before and after each hike, promising to join them on the ‘big one’. In addition to hiking, Scouts must demonstrate basic safety, first aid, and leave no trace ethics; as well as show that they are prepared for each hike, with a plan, route and recap of each trip. You can check out the list of requirements here, they are good skills for ALL hikers to have. You may remember me talking about using the Hiking Merit Badge as a personal training challenge, back in May . My Spring trips got cancelled, summer flew by, and suddenly I found myself getting ready for a Fall BWCA backpacking trip and 20 miler hike 1 week apart!

It’s been 4 years since my first 20 miler , back when our sons were still Scouts. We’ve all grown and changed since then, and most of the scouts on that first hike are adults now. It doesn’t seem like that long ago…but today felt a little nostalgic, like tradition, and maybe I’ll keep doing it once in a while as a last hurrah to summer as long as these feet still want to do it.

Our Hike

We hit the trail just after 7 as the sun was coming up. The air is crisp, leaves are turning color and my allergies are in full bloom! Our starting temperature was a a brisk 39° and the daily high was supposed to hit 50°, perfect weather for a long hike! In addition to the Scouts earning their merit badge today, we had 3 other adults join! I wish we had a patch for them too, they definitely earned it!

Today was my third time hiking a version of this route with the Scouts and since they do all of the planning, it’s different each time. For information on our previous routes, check out these two short posts about Route 1 and Route 2.

Since the Scouts get to pick the trail of their choice, I was interested to see where they would take us. The beauty of this trail system is that it follows the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, and some really great Minneapolis Parks that are all interconnected.

Today’s hike took us through the following parks and lakes with a stop at the the Bread and Pickle restaurant on Lake Harriet for ice cream at 10 am! Our hands were freezing and we got a few funny looks eating ice cream in those cold morning temps, but it was totally worth it!

Victory Park

The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway

Theodore Wirth Regional Park

Brownie Lake

Cedar Lake

Bde Maka Ska

Lake Harriet

The trail was pretty quiet for the first hour until we got to the chain of lakes area. As we expected, it got busy with people walking their dogs, enjoying their morning coffee meet ups and this year’s virtual Twin Cities Marathon event. We brought our masks along and ended up wearing them for almost the entire hike, giving extra distance when we had to remove them to eat and drink on breaks. My mask actually kept my face nice and warm in the cold, but I was glad I brought a second one to switch out at lunch.

Before we knew it, we had looped around Lake Harriet, and were back in Theo Wirth Park, chugging up the last big hill… finishing strong in Victory Park. A solid 7 hour hike, with breaks every 5 miles. We did it!

Finishing strong!

Final Thoughts

Have you hiked a 20 miler? If you are looking for a challenge and live in the Minneapolis area, these are some really great trails to build up your hiking legs and explore year around. They’ve got hills, dirt, lakes and Ice Cream if you plan it right! The Grand Rounds Scenic byway is a 50 mile loop that I would like to explore fully on foot and bike…maybe next summer! I still have no idea how I ended up with a hikers rash today since it was so cold…I think it was my super cushy Farm to Feet knee high wool socks I busted out instead of my standard Wright Socks / Zensah compression sleeve combo. Live and learn I guess. I learned a few things on my backpacking trip that I hope to share soon: like, that my rain pants are NOT WATERPROOF ANYMORE, new dehydrated food hacks and a few tips for reducing waste on the trail. There’s a youtube video of our adventure on the way too- so be sure to stop by and check it out.

If you like what you read and want to see what’s up next: let me know by dropping me a note or hitting the like button and be sure to hit subscribe and share with a friend.

Enjoy these glorious Fall days and take care. 🧡✨



Subscribe to our handy newsletter for curated Art and Adventure content, upcoming events and new releases!

Thanks for being here!

privacy policy

Let's Keep in Touch!

Our curated art and adventure content features trip reports, outdoor skills, upcoming classes and shop updates delivered straight to your inbox 1-2 times per month.

We don't spam and you can unsubscribe at anytime.

2 thoughts on “Hiking Merit Badge 20 Miler | Minneapolis Parks

  1. Looks like a fun 20 mi. day… but I can imagine the crowds from L of the Isles and south. I’ve got to get out along the north end while the weather is good. Headed to Frontenac/Lake City area (both sides of river) sometime this week.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.