These are the months most Minnesotans wait for all year. Time to pop the tents and campers, lace up the hiking boots or running shoes, find your favorite paddle and get your cameras ready. With Minnesota celebrating the 125th anniversary of the state parks and trails, there are more events than usual.
Head to the headwaters
While national parks celebrate 100 years, Itasca State Park marks its 125th year with a variety of weekly summer programs on its storied history and mysteries, its lodge, the return of trumpeter swans, guided kayak tours, wildlife talks and more. Look for a 125th birthday concert and celebration July 30-31. Check the website at dnr.state.mn.us/125/events for more details. State parks also are running the 125 Miles by Bike, Boot or Boat challenge. Visitors can track their miles across the parks — either through official events or DIY exploring — and earn a 125 miles sticker.
Float through the city
Take a 2½- to four-hour paddling tour on the Mississippi River through Above the River Sports. The longer tour includes two trips through the lock-and-dam system and a finish at Minnehaha Falls (612-825-8983; abovethefalls.com). Minnesota Adventure Company offers three-hour tours that start at Fort Snelling and end in downtown St. Paul, or the more intimate and swifter tour of Minnehaha Creek from Lynnhurst Park in south Minneapolis to St. Anthony Falls (1-800-667-4307; minnesotaadventureco.com).
Compete in the Dirt Cup (Ongoing)
Riders can test their speed and skill with the Dirt Cup Mountain Bike Sprint Series that rotates between Elm Creek Park Reserve, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve and Lake Rebecca from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 27, and Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31 (763-559-6700; threeriversparks.org).
Cruise the Gunflint (July 3)
The Chik-Wauk Museum on Saganaga Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway celebrates the grand opening of its new nature center with hands-on activities at six learning stations from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum highlights the area’s cultural and natural history from prehistoric times to present and includes trails through its 50-acre site. The museum and nature center stay open through Oct. 23 (1-218-388-9915; chikwauk.com).
Photograph the refuge (July 8-10)
Learn how to make the most of macro (photographing small items larger than life size) and close-up photography with a lecture at the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge Education and Visitor Center in Bloomington. The event begins at 10 a.m. and includes time on the trails seeking photos of butterflies, flowers and insects. The refuge offers a second photography day focused on landscapes Aug. 20 (952-854-5900, bit.ly/minnvall).
Elevate camp cooking (July 14)
Add life and fresh skills to the outdoor menu with a gourmet camp cooking class at Bloomington REI from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Ongoing classes and workshops cover climbing, yoga, standup paddleboarding (SUP), hammock basics for elevated camping, and night running essentials (952-884-4315; rei.com).
Get onto Superior (July 16-17)
Get a free introduction to gliding across the clear water of Lake Superior during the two-day North Shore Water Festival in Grand Marais. Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply and vendors will have standup paddleboards, touring and fishing kayaks, and other watercraft and gear. Participants who want to try SUP yoga should pre-register (1-218-387-3136; stoneharborws.com).
Run to the party (July 20)
With a fiery launch and a cold-brew finish, the Torchlight 5K has been a longtime Aquatennial tradition. It kicks off by the Basilica of St. Mary and the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 16th Street N. and wraps up with a scenic finish, crossing the Stone Arch Bridge for a post-race party at St. Anthony and Main Park (952-229-7996; torchlight5K.com).
Climb the quartzite (July 23-24)
People of all ages can give real rock-climbing a try with Vertical Endeavors and Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s “I Can Climb” classes Saturday or Sunday in Luverne, Minn. Ropes are set up on Prairie Walls, one of the larger rock faces on the quartzite cliff at Blue Mound State Park. As a bonus, it’s good timing to see prairie flowers in bloom and look for the park’s resident bison herd (1-507-283-6050; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks).
Sample St. Croix fun (Aug. 6)
Round up picnic supplies and plan to grill out during the Beach Party Summer Sampler 125 at St. Croix State Park (15 miles east of Hinckley). The event includes a chance to canoe, try archery, geocache and fisn near the Lake Clayton beach area from noon-4 p.m. (dnr.state.mn.us).
Become an outdoor family (Aug. 6-7)
Eagle Bluff Nature Center near Lanesboro and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources team up to help families bond and learn with Becoming an Outdoor Family Summer Weekend. Class options include archery, geocaching, fishing, canoeing and a rifle range. The challenging high ropes course also is available. Other public classes at the nature center cover topics such as fly-fishing, fossil hunting, nature art journaling and Amish baking principles. (1-507-467-2437; eagle-bluff.org).
Watch for meteors (Aug. 13)
Grab a blanket and lawn chairs for the Perseid Meteor Shower Party from 7 -10 p.m. at William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix. The evening includes storytelling about night-sky constellations, a University of Minnesota program about the meteor shower and then a chance to watch them through telescopes (651-433-0500; dnr.state.mn.us).
Meander the Root River (Ongoing)
Southeastern Minnesota’s bluff country offers a rare trio of ways to enjoy its Root River: Bike the Root River State Trail, paddle its mellow waters, or rent a tube and float along. Lanesboro’s Little River General Store has rentals and shuttle service. Bike options can include two- and three-wheel recumbent models and children’s sizes or trailers (1-507-467-2943).
Join the GreenFit series
Get in shape with Three Rivers Parks’ GreenFit series, which has instructor-led activities three times a week at French Regional Park in Plymouth or Hyland Regional Park’s Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington. The fall series begins Sept. 6 and wraps up Nov. 17. Outings may include Nordic walking, yoga, archery, canoeing and more (763-559-9000; threeriversparks.org).
Celebrate monarchs (Sept. 10)
The Monarch Festival-Festival de la Monarca in Minneapolis celebrates the butterfly’s 2,300-mile journey from Minnesota to Mexico with activities including exhibits; the chance to tag and release a monarch; make a milkweed seed bomb; play games and do crafts; enjoy live music and dancing; and see a costume parade and puppet show by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (monarchfestival.org).
St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick writes guidebooks and travel features for national and regional publications