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.