Few seasons kick off as sweetly as spring, with sap flowing through sugar maples, and venues across the state stoking fires and cooking it down into syrupy goodness. Weekend Fort Snelling State Park programs throughout March show how to do this in your own backyard . The Landing in Shakopee offers a historic twist on syruping events with costumed volunteers and horse-drawn trolley rides into the woods March 18. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers a syrup-themed few days this weekend with stops along the Maple Trail, visits to the sugarhouse and a brunch with pancakes, maple-frosted rolls and more. It's also an ideal time to get out your spring gear, tune up bikes and get ready to hit the trails for the arrival of birds and flowers and competitions with sweat, grit and triumphs. Here's where to find more outdoor fun in the months ahead:


Amp-up family fitness efforts (Saturday)

Pick up inspiration and new tips for exercise, nutrition and wellness at the free Family Fitness Expo at Maplewood Community Center. The event runs from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (612-695-0512; familyfitnessexpo.com)

Scout deals on gear (Saturday)

Look for deals on returned and slightly used products at REI's annual garage sale, beginning at 9 a.m. at the stores in Bloomington, Roseville and Maple Grove. (952-884-4315; rei.com)

Get road racing (March 25)

Start spring with a tradition and some reasonable mileage: Minnesota Distance Running Association's 7-mile race in Hopkins. The race begins at 9 a.m. at Hopkins Pavilion. The race is free to MDRA members and $25 for nonmembers. Entry for nonmembers also gets a one-year MDRA membership. (runmdra.org)

Learn more about hiking (March 26)

Join REI for "Hiking the Twin Cities Best Places" with this guided hike from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Afton State Park. The event covers 10 essentials of backcountry travel and how to leave no trace. (bit.ly/aftonhike)

Great Lake adventure (March 26)

Iona's Beach on the North Shore of Lake Superior has its day with a special DNR program on the Scientific and Natural Area. (1-218-525-0001, mndnr.gov)

Get ready to camp (ongoing)

Make your summer reservations for Minnesota state park campsites and I Can! Programs and classes on climbing, fishing, archery and more. (651-296-6157; bit.ly/minnparks)


Seek out spring arrivals (April 8)

Bring your own or borrow binoculars for a guided spring bird hike through the woods at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage. (763-694-7777; threeriverspark.org)

Circle Nisswa lakes (April 28-29)

Close to 1,500 participants line up for Brainerd Jaycees Run for the Lakes, which circles Lake Hubert and Clark Lake near Nisswa with options for a 5-kilometer, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. (runforthelakes.com)

At one with the wolf

April 1-2: Families gather for Wolf Family Rendezvous at Ely's International Wolf Center. Parents and children ages 6 and older sleep over in the museum's auditorium after a day packed with wildlife tracking hikes, crafts and programs focused on wolves. (1-218-365-4695; wolf.org)

Pedal bluff country gravel roads (May 19-20)

Free, low-tech (register by postcard) but grueling, the Almanzo 100 is the king of gravel road races. Anchored in Spring Valley, Minn., the race follows gravel roads through the southeast's bluff country. If 100 miles seems too, uh, easy, the Alexander 380 and Royal 162 can make those calves burn (almanzo100.bike). The ride is free — but be mindful that this is fully self-supported riding. There is more gravel and scenery at the LeGrand du North Gravel Cycling Classic May 27 in Grand Marais. (visitcookcounty.com)

Becoming an Outdoors Woman (ongoing)

The series from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources features morel mushroom hunting May 7 at Whitewater State Park; looking for birds and blossoms May 13 along Stillwater's Brown's Creek trail; and walleye fishing June 10-11 with professional angler Nancy Koep in Glenwood, Minn. (651-296-6157; mndnr.gov)

Paddle with history (May 5)

Stillwater's Friday morning Herons and History paddling trips begin for the season. Wahoo! Adventures guides point out cliff swallow nests, a heron rookery and a lumber camp cave. Children ages 5 to 10 can paddle in tandem with an adult. Tours run through August. (651-280-7299; mywahooadventures.com)

Watch the white-water rodeo (May 5-7)

Join or cheer on passionate paddlers who race from Banning State Park to Robinson Quarry and show off tricks and stunts in the white-water rodeo as part of Sandstone's annual Kettle River Paddle Festival. (651-302-1774; kettleriverpaddlefest.com)

Swap gear, seek adventure (May 16)

Get ready for summer sports and adventures with the Minnesota Rovers' annual Gear Swap, which opens to the public at 6:30 p.m. at Como Park in St. Paul. The group does multiple trips, such as Astronomy Weekend on May 19-22 at Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario, Wis., paddling on the Kickapoo River, and biking on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in western Wisconsin. (mnrovers.org).

Join 20th birding festival (May 18-20)

David Sibley, a leading American ornithologist and illustrator of "The Sibley Guides" to birds, is the keynote speaker at the 20th Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Sibley will also guide a field trip to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and Hamden Slough, which attract many species with their convergence of habitats along the international Pine to Prairie Birding Trail. Presentations include an update on loons after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. (1-800-542-3992; visitdetroitlakes.com)


Get out and visit state parks for free

June 11: To celebrate National Get Outdoors Day, the state of Minnesota is waiving the daily permit at its 75 state parks and recreational areas. There are special activities planned, too. One biggy: An attempt at a paddle of every navigable river mile of the Minnesota River State Water Trail.(bit.ly/getoutday)

Celebrate birds, landscapes (May 31-June 4)

North House Folk School offers courses on photography, North Shore geology, forest ecology, spring phenology and birding, as well as public programs on bird banding, loon biology and climate change during its Northern Landscapes Festival in Grand Marais. (1-888-387-9762; northhouse.org)

Battle stadium obstacles (June 3)

From messy obstacles to ones mimicking boot camp, Badass Dash will set up more than 40 challenges over a 7-kilometer course at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The event includes children's races and one for adults and their agile canines. (badassdash.com)

Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based writer. Find more information at 10000likes.com.