Earth’s steady angling toward the sun brings the crunch of iced-over puddles, an earthy whiff of warming soil and a deep need to get outdoors. It’s time to wash snowpants and put away skis as sap flows through maple trees and translucent leaves unfurl. As warm days disperse cold nights, swap your coats, open the garage, tune up your bikes, prepare for the fishing opener (May 9!), organize gear, and plan ahead for the season. From birds and biking to hikes and summer planning, here’s how to embrace the best of Minnesota’s spring.
Watch eagles soar
With the return of bald eagles that gather along Mississippi River bluffs, Wabasha’s National Eagle Center amps up programming with special workshops, flying bird shows and hands-on programs weekends throughout March (651-565-4989, www.nationaleaglecenter.com).
Tap your sap
Freezing nights and sunny days from mid-March through mid-April help sap flow freely in Minnesota’s maple trees. Look for syruping events in the Twin Cities through the Three Rivers Park District (www.threeriversparks.org) or head to Fort Snelling for annual how-to lessons on making your own from back-yard trees (www.dnr.state.mn.us). March 21 ranks as the best day for sweet fun with several syrup events converging, including two at Minnesota Historical Society sites (www.mnhs.org) and the University of Minnesota Arboretum’s pancake breakfast and sugarbush tours (www.arboretum.umn.edu).
Gear up, get organized
Organize your warm-weather gear. Stock up on bug and tick repellent. Tune up your bikes. Replace or repair gear that’s broken. Take advantage of gear swaps, garage sales and Craigs-list to add to your collection. Need advice or ideas for your next adventure? Check out the Outdoor Adventure Expo hosted by Midwest Mountaineering and the University of Minnesota April 24-26 (www.outdooradventureexpo.com).
Master a new skill
Learn a new sport or outdoor skill through groups such as Minnesota Rovers Outdoor Club (www.mnrovers.org), which coordinates camping experiences, offers wilderness first aid classes and seasonal outings. Another option: Classes at the REI Bloomington store with upcoming sessions on outdoor photography, using a GoPro video camera, training for a triathlon, learning to rock climb, bike maintenance basics or joining a run club (www.rei.com/outdoorschool).
Follow the wildflowers
Minnesota’s woodland wildflowers flourish mid-April through May. Look for guided walks at Minneapolis’ Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary (www.minneapolisparks.org), or head to southern state parks such as Nerstrand Big Woods, Whitewater and Beaver Creek Valley to see carpets of flowers. Carley State Park hosts a May 9 bluebell festival with wildflower walks plus archery and trout fishing programs for children (www.dnr.state.mn.us).
Book your campsites
Reserve summer camping spots early. The choice sites (think weekends, lakeside, flush toilets and hot showers) can disappear faster than a roasted marshmallow in flames. Campground listings at Explore Minnesota include close to 70 state park campgrounds, almost as many state or national forest campgrounds, and more than 400 private campgrounds or resorts with camping spots (www.exploreminnesota.com). Look for camping cabins, tepees, yurts and everything from remote wilderness sites to social settings with swimming pools, beaches and golf.
Hike to waterfalls
Melting snow and spring showers add rumbles and roars to Minnesota’s waterfalls. Take a hike at Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Falls (www.minneapolisparks.org), or hop over to Willow River State Park (www.dnr.wi.gov) in Hudson, Wis. Itching for a day trip? Meander the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway to hike around Mankato’s Minneopa Falls as it spills into a mossy grotto or Minnemishinona Falls dropping into a ravine. Crave waterfalls that thunder? Head to the North Shore (www.dnr.state.mn.us).
Savor spring wildlife
Spring can be a choice time for spotting fawns, baby birds, raccoons and even cinnamon-colored bison calves that once roamed the southwest prairies. You’ll find bison-viewing along with delicate spring blooms such as pasque flower and prairie smoke at Blue Mound State Park near Luverne. No time for a road trip? Check out bison and other native species at the Minnesota Zoo’s Minnesota Trail. Bonus for kids: farm babies throughout April (www.mnzoo.org).
Cycle with songbirds
Pick a riverside trail for a stellar bicycling soundtrack — returning songbirds serenading sweethearts. Take a cruise along the St. Croix River with the Gateway-Brown’s Creek Trail (gatewaybrownscreektrail.org) or follow the Mississippi on the West or East River parkways. Take a backpack or saddlebags for loading up with spring greens and produce at Saturday morning’s Mill City Farmers Market on the West River Parkway (www.millcityfarmersmarket.org). If you’re more serious about birding than biking, check out the 18th annual Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes May 14-17 (www.visitdetroitlakes.com).
Ride the rapids
Whether you’re wet-suited and slicing through icy slaps of water or observing from shore, there’s plenty of action at Sandstone’s Kettle River Paddling Festival May 1-3 at Robinson Park and Banning State Park (www.kettleriverpaddlefest.com). Watch kayakers, canoeists and rafters race down the roiling rapids, check out stunts at the Whitewater Rodeo and swing by a gear swap and paddle-making demonstrations. Minnesota’s whitewater rafting season begins in late April and runs through the fall (www.mnrafting.com).
don’t forget mom
Mark it down. Mother’s Day is May 10. You can go for flowers or candy or brunch, or you can get creative. If the weather cooperates, pack a picnic and head to a nice spot at a nearby state, county or city park. If river views are in order, consider Pioneer Park in Stillwater (515 N. 2nd and Laurel streets). It sits above the city and the St. Croix. Bonus: a nice playground to keep the young ones interested. Need more ideas? Check out the Minnesota DNR’s ParkFinder at http://tinyurl.com/kgbmqrs.