As usual, there are lots of ways to enjoy St. Paul’s spectacular summer days this weekend and into next week. Here are a few of my recommendations to get you in the water, on the trails, or digging in the dirt.
Saturday, July 25
• If you’re not already paddling in Saturday + Sunday’s Mississippi River Challenge, at least go and cheer on those hard-working folks and splash your toes in the water. You can also register to kayak or canoe last-minute and in person, at the Coon Rapids Dam. You’ll be paddling 22 miles each day, but keep in mind that you’ll be paddling downstream. The Saturday paddle ends at Fort Snelling with overnight camping, a great big dinner, live music, and tons of fun. Buy your ticket for Night at the Fort now!
• Kids and their families will love the Junior Ranger SeedStarter program at Cosby Farm Regional Park. You’ll learn about native plants, why they are important, and how to care for them. You’ll even get to take home a native plant so you can care for it yourself. In September, those plants will be transplanted into restorations on the banks of the Mississippi River. Sign up by calling Ranger Rebecca at 651-290-3030, x229.
We’re in the thick of summertime now, and there is a lot to do. Here are a few of the upcoming activities to add to your active + outdoor planner:
Saturday, July 18 — Bike With a Ranger, starting at Harriet Island
Meet at downtown St. Paul’s Harriet Island Regional Park at 10 a.m. for an 8.5-mile ranger-led bike ride along the Mississippi River. The trip starts promptly at 10 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. It’s free, but registration is required: (651) 293-0200
Saturday + Sunday, July 18-19 — Geocaching 101 at Fort Snelling
Always wondered what this whole geocaching business is all about? Head to Fort Snelling for one of two, free hands-on trainings at either 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. (each day). Call to register—these workshops fill up super fast: (612) 725-2724. A limited number of GPS unit will be available.
The sun isn’t supposed to reappear for a few more days (at least, that’s what Weather.com tells me), but you can start planning now for the better hiking and biking weather that’s sure to come.
One of the best places to start is Harriet Island, just across the Mississippi from downtown. One of the first things you will notice about Harriet Island is that it is not an island. The river channel that separated the island from the mainland was filled in the 1950’s, so now it is an island in name only. But that does not change the fact that it is one of the most charming places in the city to take a picnic and drink in some seriously dramatic views of downtown.
You can also launch a great hike or bike ride from here. Park in the south parking lot (accessible by taking a right on Plato Boulevard after crossing the Wabasha Street bridge from downtown) and head south on the paved trail adjacent to Dr. Justis Ohage Blvd. The first few hundred yards is a bit industrial, but soon you plunge into the woods alongside the river and forget that you are anywhere near the city.
For 2.8 miles the paved trail meanders next to the river and through picturesque forest. You will even get glimpses of Pickerel Lake and the occasional reminder (such as the appearance of a mile-long freight train crossing the railroad swing bridge or a huge barge passing by) that you are sharing space with two thriving transportation corridors.
The trail is flat until you reach the Pool and Yacht Club. There it becomes the Big Rivers Regional Trail* and begins a dramatic ascent up the bluff. My husband and I started our latest hike there (with the baby in tow) to take advantage of the serious cardio workout and the equally serious views.
The trail is nestled between limestone cliffs and the river – part of an old rail corridor that is still active (although the active part is thankfully 50 feet down the bluff). As you climb, the view of the river becomes more breathtaking until you reach the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. This spot is considered sacred by many people native to Minnesota and it is easy to see why. The milky brown of the Minnesota can be seen blending into the deeper green of the Mississippi. It is worth the trip just to see two big rivers becoming one.
* It is important to note that the Big Rivers Regional Trail is closed weekdays until 5:30 p.m. through July due to construction. The trail is open after 5:30 and on weekends.
The next few weeks are packed with outdoor events worthy of planning for. Here are a few of my picks for getting outside, getting active, or cheering for your favorite athletes in St. Paul. I hope to see you out and about!
June 6: Who needs to travel to some far away, exotic destination for a volunteer vacation when you can get into nature and help spiff things up right here at home? June 6 is National Trails Day and there’s a local service project happening at St. Paul’s Battle Creek Regional Park. You’ll make new friends, feel good about your work, and get free lunch and a free wicking t-shirt. That’s the kind of staycation that’s way cheaper than, say, a volunteer vacation in Cambodia. Pre-registration is required. Contact Mikaela for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 952-884-4315 x. 203.
June 7: There is a ton to do and see during one of St. Paul’s most festive days of the year—Grand Old Day—but for active types, get involved by signing up for a morning race. Choose from the in-line skate, 8K run, 1/2 mile youth run, or the 5K walk/jog and register here. Sports fans should head to the “Sporting District” between Fairview and Cambridge for interactive games, demos, and/or scrimmages by the Minnesota Rollergirls, Timberwolves, Minnesota Thunder, St. Paul Saints, and more.
June 10: Get absorbed in the high-speed energy of the Minnesota Bicycle Festival, which starts in St. Paul. Watch pro racers speed by (Mears Park is the best viewing spot) during the evening races. The women’s pro/elite race (40 laps) starts at 6 p.m.; the men’s race (45 laps) at 7:40 p.m. More info on the pro races is here. If you have kids under 12 who are budding racers, bring their bikes and helmets and sign them up for the Hoigaard’s Tour de Kids, which starts at 7:15 p.m.
June 13: REI is hosting its free Paddle Demo Day at Ft. Snelling State Park. Whether you’re a novice or a pro-paddler, you’ll find something at this Snelling Lake event. You can test boats and accessories, and get paddling tips from REI staff. Just bring a snack, water, and dress for getting wet. REI provides the boats, personal flotation devices (PFDs), paddles, plus a 15 percent off coupon good for the purchase of a full-price boat in case your passion for paddling is ignited. More info here.
June 14: The Happy Trails Family Nature Club is hosting a family walk at Crosby Farm Regional Park from 10 a.m.-Noon. The walk starts along a paved forest trail and goes to a soft, sandy beach along the Mississippi River. Happy Trails says about the event, “We will spend the majority of our outing playing and relaxing in this beautiful area on the beach. Kids will love testing their skills as they climb the bent-down-low trees in this area.” Feel free to bring a picnic! Meet near the pavilion in the first parking lot.
Now you have no excuse for hiking your same-old, well-worn trail or worse, getting stuck inside. Put on your hiking, running, walking or biking shoes and get out to enjoy the abundant active life that St. Paul has to offer!