First stop, Battle Creek Regional Park, St. Paul, Minnesota:
After hopping off of 94 East onto Highway 61 South, after a few miles, Battle Creek Park is sure to catch your eye. There are cliffs of sandstone you can see from the highway as well as a parking lot. After a turn onto the frontage road, visitors can park in the lot for free. There are paved trails surrounded by a hidden serenity that will surprise many, seeing as it is nearly in the city. As well as the paved trails, there are man-made trails through out the woods that lead to great views and exciting rock features. There is also a small creek that runs through the park that adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Another nice element to the park are picnic tables that are available for a pleasant picnic. This is a great place for a relaxing hike, a jog, as well as a scenic spot great for photo shoots!
Second stop, Cottage Grove Ravine Park, Cottage Grove, Minnesota:
Back on Highway 61 South and the hiking adventure continues. Just off the highway at the Keats Ave. exit, hang a left, your first right, and just to your left will be the entrance of Cottage Grove Ravine Park. This park, located in Cottage Grove is beautiful, with challenging trails and beautiful scenery. It is heavily wooded with a variety of bird species, as well as rabbits and deer. The park also has a lake and some prairie areas that are great spots to sit and read or just gaze into the sky. There is a picnic shelter, a pier for fishing, as well as cross country ski trails in the winter. Parking permits are required and are twenty-five dollars for the year, or five dollars for the day. Despite the charge for parking, this park is definitely a great stop for anyone who loves the outdoors.
Stop number three, Hastings River Flats Park (Lake Rebecca, Lock and Dam # 2), Hastings, Minnesota:
Just a few miles further, right on the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota, lies Hastings River Flats Park. This park is a romantic hot spot. It has a path that stretches from downtown Hastings to Lock and Dam # 2 and wraps all the way up to the middle of Hastings’ suburbia. This is a definite “sunset” must-see. There are paved paths along the river as well as along Lake Rebecca. People may fish, and there are many benches to sit, relax and enjoy the river. Many Hastings residents love to walk there dogs here and it is a very easy path to walk. There is a platform at the lock and dam where visitors may stand and see boats go through, depending on if it is open. Just past the lock and dam, further down the path, it swings around to the other side of Lake Rebecca and a part of the river. This part of the path is personally my favorite part. It is secluded and has benches, along with a rocky beach. You may observe beavers and cranes flourishing in their natural habitat, along with beautiful greenery in the summer. Need an idea for a first date? Head down to downtown Hastings, grab a bite to eat, then follow the river path for a romantic walk and an enjoyable sunset. Parking in any of the areas of this park is free.
Stop four, Vermillion Falls, Hastings, Minnesota:
Still in Hastings, Minnesota, Vermillion Falls is tucked away just next to the old mill in town! For years I drove past it never knowing it was there, and once I went, I couldn’t believe what I was missing! It is a generally short trail system, but a scenic one. Vermillion Falls is a fantastic waterfall, right in the middle of Hastings. Once you check out the falls, which are right at the beginning of the trail, there is a trail to a bridge that overlooks what one could pretty much call a canyon, and it is rather exciting to see the rushing water below you! Further down the path after crossing the bridge, there is eventually an old mill, dilapidated and abandoned that is definitely cool to see. For those who are brave, there are various man-made paths that make for a fun and challenging adventure. One can hike all the way down to the rapids and walk along the shore when the water is low. It is very fun! On the other side of the bridge there is a trail that leads to a forest area that is fun as well. This trail is great for biking! Definitely a park that should not be missed. Parking at this park is free.
Stop five, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota:
We’re back on Highway 61 South, venturing out of Hastings, away from the cities, and towards the casino? It’s true, we’re off to Red Wing, Minnesota, a tourist town known for its historic downtown, as well as Treasure Island Resort and Casino. Who knew, it also had some great hiking spots to offer! What doesn’t this town have? I have the answer, it doesn’t have you hiking in it yet! Barn bluff is a huge bluff overlooking the city of Red Wing, and to be honest, when I first looked at it, I thought to myself, “no way.” However, I later found out, it had one little thing that deemed helpful in my defeat of the bluff; stairs. Barn Bluff has a few different trails, the two in which I personally traveled were the North and the South Trail. When one climbs the first set of stairs in the beginning of the park, there will be a map and signs telling you which path is which and where to go. All of the paths are unpaved, and are a bit challenging to the typical “paved-path hiker.” The North Trail is a beautiful trail, and gives off almost a Muir Woods impression when you first enter the forest. There are wooden steps that go up the hill, and it ends up at a quarry where rock climbers can hook up and climb. There technically is a way to get to the top of the bluff from here, but lets just say, you have to have a little crazy in you to get there. It is an almost vertical free climb. Me being the cry baby of heights that I am prefers the South Trail. The South Trail is just like the others, beautiful. On the way up there are spots to look out over Red Wing as you get higher. This trail gets you to the top much easier with some wonderful stairs. Though there are a lot of stairs, this hike is totally worth it. Once at the top of the bluff, overlooking the city, wind blowing through your hair, it is a serenity that you’ll never want to leave. Sheer beauty and peace. This hike is about 1.2 miles one way, up hill, but like I said, is worth it. Parking is free.
Final stop of the day, Memorial Park, Red Wing, Minnesota:
Its been a busy day. You’ve traveled fifty miles and hiked five parks so far, one of which, included conquering barn bluff. It’s time to relax, have a picnic, and enjoy a view. There’s only one place to go to finish off this awesome trip. Memorial Park in Red Wing, Minnesota. Memorial Park is a little drive up a big hill to the top of a bluff that is higher than Barn Bluff. At the top, there are areas with picnic tables, some great look outs, along with a frisbee-golf course. It is a great spot to relax, and an even better spot to have a dinner picnic and watch the sun set over Red Wing and the river. There’s not a whole lot more I could say about his park except that its a wonderful hidden gem, it is peaceful, romantic, and a great spot to end the day on this fantastic hiking adventure. Parking here is free as well.
I know that it is winter right now, and many of these places would be a pain in the winter, and the snow and cold may suck some of the beauty right out. Hopefully come next summer and spring, you have a few new ideas for places to go hike, get some pictures taken, go for a picnic, relax, or spark some romance. There’s nothing more romantic than a sunset hike, take it from a girl! Get out there and exercise, enjoy nature, and enjoy Minnesota!