Fort Snelling State Park

Exposed Cottonwood Roots on the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling State Park

The Drive: Good news for all you Twin City dwellers, Fort Snelling State Park is just five minutes from both Mall of America and Minnehaha Falls. This means you have absolutely no excuse not to go check it out. It also means there's not much to talk about in the drive section.

The Park: This park has a lot to offer from a swimming beach, to a great interpretive center, to a living history fort. It's biking trails connect to the citywide bike system. (That means you can bike there from almost anywhere in Minneapolis which really leaves you no excuse). At the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, the area has been politically and spiritually important for American Indians for thousands of years. The park is the site of one of the first European settlements in the state. It is also the site of the Dakota Internment camp where thousands of Dakota were imprisoned during the US-Dakota War of 1862. The old fort is run by the Minnesota Historical Society and is definitely worth checking out.

Historical interpreters bring history to live at the restored Fort Snelling

The Hike: The Hiking Club route loops around Pike Island, named for Zebulon Pike the famous explorer who also discovered Pike's Peak in Colorado. From the parking lot, head past the visitor's center (but be sure to check it out at some point and take note of the bucks with interlocking antlers mounted on the wall) and follow the trail to the bridge. The island is right at the Minnesota-Mississippi confluence, so you can see these two great rivers gently flow into each other. Giant cottonwoods line the beginning of the trail, many with hollow spaces big enough to completely envelop a person. There are many deer on the island, so keep a weather eye out for them. One final thing to look for are the water marks on the trees. If you catch the forest just right, you can see a change in bark color at exactly the same height on every tree. Water can be six or more feet above trail level during spring floods.

Cumulative Miles Hiked: 23.5

Cumulative Miles Driven: 694 (If we include my jaunt to the boundary waters, it would be 1494 miles, but we'll leave that out for now).

Arbitrary Rating: 4/5