We finally had the chance to experience an incredible hiking trail in Lillydale-Harriet Island Regional Park, The Brickyards of Saint Paul. The trail winds through the former site of the Twin Cities Brick Company, which was in operation for 80 years, up until the 1970′s. As a result, the area is an interesting mix of former industrial site, natural reclamation and the efforts of the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation department to turn this into user-friendly, historic nature walk.
The trails offers a couple of paths, one leads to fossil beds where collecting is permitted with a permit. We chose the trail that leads to the Bruce Vento Scenic Overlook. The trail head begins off of Water Street/Lillydale Road, south of Harriet Island from a large parking area known as the Fossil Ground Parking Lot. The head is not well marked and wasn’t obvious to us until we walked up to the interpretive sign and map that marks the beginning of the trail.
The unpaved trail starts off gradually, but gets steeper the further along you go. Much of it is lined with crushed stone and brick, with shallow gullies created by runoff exposing clusters of mortared brick and flagstone. The path runs through fairly dense woods, so it remained cool even on an unseasonable warm day. Along the way, hikers are exposed to remnants of the Brickyard including a brick kiln (where the bricks were fired) and several quarries, as well as caves and trickling streams and waterfalls. Interpretive signage dots the trail offering maps and narrative history of the Brick Company, Pickerel Lake, and the town of Lillydale, in addition to geological information.
The end of the line delivers panoramic views of the Mississippi River valley at the Bruce Vento Scenic Overlook. Large blocks of stone strewn about the overlook offer a place to sit, soak in the surroundings and catch your breath for the trip back down the bluffs.
Our family is by no means hiker or outdoorsy types, but enjoyed the experience very much. Our 8 and 5 year old kids handled the trail with relative ease, as did our new 4-month-old Goldendoodle puppy “Junior.” We saw several other families passing by along the way, some with children younger than ours, all seemed to be enjoying themselves. A casual hike up and down the trail, with several stops to explore along the way, lasted probably an hour and a half.