Hiking & Running Trails in the Twin Cities
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are home to hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and trail running. Almost all our city, county, regional and state parks have trail networks.
Whether you’re looking for trails near your home, somewhere to meet a friend or want to discover new trails across town you have tons of options. Maybe you plan to visit the Twin Cities—this is for you, too.
We’ve divided these trails by county so you can easily choose the area where you live or where you want to visit.
A few things first:
- We’ve limited our selection to those trails that are NOT along roadways. We prefer to focus on those that are embedded in the parks and natural areas for a more relaxing and secluded hike or run, and a better way to experience nature.
- We don’t include many of the regional and state trails that are dozens of miles long since many hikers prefer a loop trail for a shorter distance. If you’re a runner looking for more miles or you enjoy out-and-back hikes, they’re certainly an option, though. Check out our Biking section for more details on those.
- We include both paved and natural-surface trails—dirt, gravel and mowed grass. The paved trails are all considered multi-use so you can expect to share them with bikers and others on (human-powered) wheels. The natural-surface trails are usually limited to pedestrian traffic only.
- We’ve discovered along the way that so many of the parks have a network of spur trails that aren’t on the park maps. These are usually dirt and head off into the woods off the main trail to who-knows-where. If you love discovery, take the time to explore them! They’re sometimes the best places to hike and may end up being among your favorites.
- We’ve also discovered that for those who love more challenging dirt-trail hiking, our local mountain bike trails are some of your best options. They’re likely to be hilly, twisty and through the woods. Almost all the singletrack parks in the metro area welcome foot traffic—just keep your eyes and ears open for bikers and give them the right-of-way. For more on those see our Biking section.
The most popular time for hiking in our area is during the summer months and into September and October, our fall color season. No surprise there. But don’t limit yourself to those months. Any time of year works for hiking and trail running when you have the right gear and the right mindset!
Which are the best hiking trails? That’s really up to you. Do you prefer more natural or more urban? Do you like a challenge or prefer flat terrain? A short hike or a longer one? A popular spot or one that’s more unknown? The best way to find out is to check out as many as you can—then you’ll know which are the Twin Cities’ best hikes for YOU.
Let’s take a look at what each Minneapolis-St Paul area county has to offer:
Anoka County (North)
Anoka County has 18 regional and county parks. 13 of these offer enough trails in natural areas to be worth listing here. Most of these trails are paved and for multi-purpose use, although some are natural-surface trails for foot traffic only.
Of this county’s two largest parks—Bunker Hills Regional Park and Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve—Bunker has by far the largest system of both paved and natural-surface trails. Rice Creek’s several hundred acres include lakes and wetlands with fewer miles of trails.
Some of the smaller parks offer excellent hiking, too, especially Rum River Central Regional Park and Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park (the paved trail crosses the dam over the Mississippi River into a Hennepin County park). A couple of other small parks along the Mississippi are Riverfront Regional Park and Islands of Peace County Park.
Coon Creek Regional Trail is worth mentioning too as it’s just 6 miles long with several access points. It winds among neighborhoods, through woods, and along Coon Creek and Sand Creek for much of the way.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Anoka County…
Carver County (Southwest)
Carver County has three regional parks, two of which have a small network of trails for foot traffic—Baylor and Lake Minnewashta Regional Parks.
Carver Park Reserve (part of the Three Rivers Park District) has 36 miles of trails. Many of those are paved and multi-use, but there are also plenty of natural-surface options too. Some of the best trails for hikers are the foot-traffic-only ones around Lowry Nature Center, including over boardwalk. And there are several miles of horse trails on the park’s west side that are open to hikers and runners (horses have the right of way).
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Carver County…
Dakota County (South-Southeast)
Dakota County has six regional and county parks. What sets them apart is the extent of natural surface trails—they offer among the most of any county in the metro area.
Lebanon Hills Regional Park and Whitetail Woods Regional Park provide most of these trails, with about 20 miles each. Included in that is the singletrack park in the West Sector of Lebanon Hills.
Other parks in the county have much smaller but still beautiful trail systems: Lake Byllesby Regional Park, Miesville Ravine Park Reserve and Spring Lake Park Reserve. Spring Lake has a couple of unique features of its own including the popular Schaar’s Bluff trail with scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River and the metro area’s only (park-based) bison herd.
Dakota County also hosts four paved trails. One of the most used is Big Rivers Regional Trail with views of the Minnesota River, Mississippi River and Pike Island of Fort Snelling State Park.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Dakota County…
Hennepin County (West-Central, including Minneapolis)
Hennepin County has 19 parks and reserves, offering a wide diversity of terrain for hiking and trail running from urban to suburban to rural.
Four of these parks have 19 or more miles of trails to choose from, both paved and natural surface: Elm Creek Park Reserve, Baker Park Reserve, Crow-Hassan Park Reserve and Lake Rebecca Park Reserve. Included are a couple of singletrack parks also open to hikers in Elm Creek and Lake Rebecca. These are all in the outer areas of the county for a rural, woodsy atmosphere.
Chain of Lakes Regional Park has paved trails around several of the urban lakes with great views of downtown Minneapolis and immersion in the bustle of city life. It’s arguably the most popular Minneapolis park. Theodore Wirth Regional Park, while popular for other activities like cross country skiing, has very little to offer hikers with just over a mile of pedestrian trails.
Other favorite hikes in the Minneapolis area are the Winchell Trail, trails along Minnehaha Creek, and Minnehaha Regional Park with our only urban waterfall, Minnehaha Falls.
There are several lovely smaller parks around the county with trail systems as well like Bryant Lake Regional Park, Fish Lake Regional Park and Mississippi Gateway Regional Park.
As can be expected, the closer to Minneapolis you go, the busier the trails are, with the downtown areas sometimes pretty packed—especially the parking lots.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Hennepin County…
Ramsey County (East-Central, including St. Paul)
Ramsey County includes the smaller of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, the city of Saint Paul. The county has 16 regional parks, preserves and trails perfect for hiking and running. Some are paved and multi-use, but many are natural surface trails for foot traffic only.
Parks with the most miles for hiking include Fort Snelling State Park, Crosby Farm Regional Park, Hidden Falls Regional Park and Vadnais/Snail Lake/Sucker Lake Regional Park. These are very scenic with trails along either the Mississippi or Minnesota River, lakes or both. Phalen/Keller Regional Park is also a favorite place for lakeside hikes.
Ramsey County hosts several paved regional trails including the Sam Morgan Regional Trail with especially nice views of the Mississippi River. These offer both urban and natural environments for out-and-back hikes and runs of various lengths.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Ramsey County…
Scott County (South-Southwest)
Of the Twin Cities area counties, Scott County is the most rural. It has three regional parks, two of which have a small network of trails for foot traffic. It also hosts part of the Minnesota Valley State Trail, which includes many miles of unpaved trails.
Even though the county has few parks, these host many, many miles of trails for hikers and runners. Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is especially ideal for natural surface trails, as well as being a local bird sanctuary.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Scott County…
Washington County (East)
Washington County is home to eight regional parks, state parks and park reserves with some of the best, most extensive trail systems in the Metro area. Its eastern border is the St. Croix River with its gorgeous river valley.
Afton State Park and William O’Brien State Park are on either end of the county. In both of these, the majority of the trails are natural surfaces. Lake Elmo Park Reserve also has a lengthy system of mostly natural-surface trails.
Smaller parks in the county include St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park, Pine Point Regional Park and Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park.
The county is also home to the Brown’s Creek State Trail and the east section of the Gateway State Trail, both lovely multi-use paved trails through plenty of natural areas.
Head over to Hiking & Running Trails in Washington County…
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Southcentral & Southwestern Twin Cities)
The 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge borders several Twin Cities counties and offers 34 miles of hiking trails through forests and wetlands. The northeastern-most unit is just across the Minnesota River from Fort Snelling State Park.
It’s quite amazing to have a wildlife refuge of this size so close to the urban Twin Cities, isn’t it?
There’s no reason why we can’t keep hiking during the winter months! It takes some specialized gear that’s made for cold weather, wind and traction in icy conditions, but it’s so do-able.
Many miles of our parks’ hiking trails are groomed for cross country skiing during our snowy months. But there are plenty of others that are maintained for winter hiking, or not maintained but still hike-able with the right footwear or with snowshoes (which is a form of winter hiking, really).
NOTE: Please never hike on the groomed ski trails! Skiers pay a fee to use them and we want them to stay in pristine condition for them.
Twin Cities Hiking & Trail Running Guide
Published in 2020 and updated in 2023, our 48-page digital Hiking & Trail Running Guide is the easiest way to find hiking and running trails in all seven counties of the Twin Cities metro area.