Fall hikes are the best: beautiful colors, no bugs, cooler temps -- and, depending on the route or the day, lots of company. We wondered whether there were some routes less traveled, yet still within an easy drive.
For expert advice, we turned to two groups, the Minnesota Rovers Outdoor Club (www.mn rovers.org) and the Twin Cities Hiking Meetup (www.meetup. com/hiking-177). Members were generous enough to share five of their of their favorite less-beaten paths.
Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area, Eden Prairie
Five plant biomes are among the 125 acres of this area improbably adjacent to housing developments and business districts. The terrain can be a workout over four miles of trail, but the rewards are glorious autumn views of the Minnesota River Valley, and even a natural spring fountain. Many waterfowl can be seen during the fall migration. Explore "big woods," a sedge meadow, oak savanna and prairie along the Elizabeth Fries Eliet Interpretive Trail.
Westwood Hills Nature Center, St. Louis Park
This nature center is a little gem with forested hills, a lake, wetlands and restored prairie, traversed along a boardwalk and wood-chipped paths over 160 acres. Many animals make their home in this park: deer, turkeys, swans, mink, snapping turtles and owls.
Swede Hollow Park and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, St. Paul
Swede Hollow is a huge surprise even to nearby lifelong residents. The reforested city park covers the bluffs, hills and valley of the old Payne Creek, which was the only natural path to the Mississippi River. The former Hamm's Brewery is on the north end of the park. The adjacent Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary is a living environmental education center covering the river bottomlands under the bluffs of Mounds Park, which long served as a rail yard. Here you will see wildflowers, a variety of trees, natural creeks and ponds in sight of downtown St. Paul, the Kellogg Bridge, freeways and railways.
Willow River State Park, Hudson, Wis.
Willow River State Park is a pleasant surprise because of its waterfalls, the best in the region. Heavily forested trails, several high scenic overlooks and a variety of recreation activities make this a good place to gather with friends or family for the entire day.
Woodland Trails, Elk River
This 330-acre park has a lot of variety, with rolling hills, prairie and wetlands as well as a wide range of trees, grasses and colorful shrubbery. There's also a flat, paved trail (formerly a railroad bed) that goes through the park for those who don't want the hills or would rather bike than walk. In the winter, it's a cross-country ski area, so the trails are great for fall training.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185