Avid bikers, joggers, and dog walkers have been enjoying St. Paul’s paved path along the north side of the Mississippi River for a while now. But last month, a stretch of that path officially became the first signed section of the Mississippi River Trail, known as the “MRT” for short.
The MRT, which follows the river from its headwaters in Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, provides about 3,000 miles of on-road bicycle trails and pedestrian pathways. I personally think it’s an honor for St. Paul’s 17-mile (or so) stretch of trail to be the first official part of the MRT!
One of the most accessible and beautiful lakes in the Twin Cities is also one of the best-kept secrets in my opinion. Sure, Lake Phalen can be crowded at times (like this weekend I imagine), but on a recent, gorgeous Sunday afternoon, my husband and I basically had the lake to ourselves. What’s more, I read that the beach at Lake Phalen is St. Paul’s only swimming beach! (Could that really be true?)
Just a few minutes northeast of downtown (off 35E), Lake Phalen is a summertime dream for picnickers, swimmers, walkers, bikers, runners, or those who just want a sandy beach to sunbathe on. Fishing fans can catch walleye in the lake, while boaters can launch their own boats or rent canoes and sailboats.
We packed a picnic lunch and after a brisk 3.2-mile walk around the lake, spread our blanket on a grassy lakeside spot before running into the sand and jumping in the water to cool off. The well-maintained sand volleyball area was just waiting for players. No one swam at the beach. Where was everyone? Must have been a lucky weekend for us.
There’s much more to explore in the Phalen area, too. Phalen Park boasts an 18-hole golf course, boat launch, play ground, amphitheater, and of course, picnic areas and a pavilion. The swimming area is small, but just right for a quick dip. Lifeguards are present, too, so you can feel good about lounging on the beach with a book while the kids splash around in the water.
Earlier this summer, a St. Paul Staycation blog reader and parks + rec guy named Brian made his case for the Lake Phalen area, pointing out lesser known places to explore. His tips were so helpful that I am re-posting them below. Enjoy!
“Highly recommend you and the family … head out to the very north tip of Lake Phalen Regional Park. In fact, go all the way up to Frost Ave. in Maplewood, and park in the Round Lake Park lot/entrance. It’s a 1.1-mile loop around little old Round Lake (which connects to Keller Regional Park to the north and Lake Phalen to the South and East).
“It’s especially nice and quiet on early weekend mornings,” Brian continues.
“Sip coffee, enjoy the trees and native plantings, wander the trails, and listen to the birds chirp before all manner of walker, biker, rollerblader, and the din of local traffic gets going. We really like being in that area around sunrise. Once you get a feel for the main paths, you can venture into some of the dirt trails that wander through the re-planted oak savannahs and woodlands.”
It’s comments like these that act as a reminder that no matter how long you live in a city, there is always more to discover! Thanks, Brian!
Where: 1615 Phalen Dr., Saint Paul, MN 55106
Phone: (651) 632-5111
Hours: Sunrise – 11 p.m.
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!