Hiking in Elm Creek Park Reserve

Maple Grove, Hennepin County • No park permit needed

woman hiking amid fall leaves
A glorious fall day at Elm Creek Park Reserve

We couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to hike at Elm Creek. The fall colors were simply stunning. But as we know, there’s beauty in every season here in Minnesota, so don’t wait for fall!

What You’ll Find at Elm Creek

Elm Creek Park Reserve is one of the metro area’s largest parks at 4,900 acres. The park includes mainly hardwood forest, prairie, wetlands, several lakes and two creeks, including Elm Creek, of course.

There are almost 50 miles of trails here, including 12.7 miles of natural-surface trails for hikers only. Depending on where you start, you’ll hike through a nice variety of landscape and scenery.

Maple Tree Alley for Stunning Fall Colors

I’m sure there are maples all over the park, but our route took us through some of the best fall colors I’ve seen anywhere.

We parked on the west side off Fernbrook Lane (see the map here) and started our hike toward Eastman Nature Center.

We could’ve driven up Elm Creek Road to park next to the Nature Center itself, but if we had, we would’ve missed out on some of the most scenic parts of our route (like the photo at the top of this post…and the one at the top of our home page).

woman hiking through yellow maple trees
Lovely trails through the woods…

Natural Trails near Eastman Nature Center

It was when we reached the Nature Center we were able to get off the pavement onto natural-surface trails.

This is also where we had more variety in the landscape. After a few minutes through a grove of very old and tall trees, we emerged into a restored prairie area with tall grasses and a few late season flowers.

grassy trail through the prairie
And over the prairie

It got a little confusing out here. We had the map with us (be sure and have a colored one since the trails are color-coded! They’re available at the Nature Center or as a PDF download) but we still found ourselves turning back once or twice after having taken a wrong turn.

What We Loved about Elm Creek

We loved Elm Creek’s beauty and its size, I think. It’s wonderful to feel the woods all around even when it’s so close to urban areas.

We look forward to exploring more trails, whether it’s peak fall color or not. In fact, snowshoeing in the winter would be amazing here, and the park is well-known for it’s great cross country ski trails.

There are many miles of off-road hiking, which is one of the best things. A true hiking experience.

woman on a foot bridge in the woods
Photography tip: Brightly colored clothing adds a splash of color to your pictures!

Winter Hiking?

Yes, there’s plenty of winter hiking at Elm Creek, too. To see where the plowed and multi-use trails are, go to this page and scrolling down for the winter map. You have 6-7 miles of options in the park’s south side.

You can also use the trails in the singletrack park for hiking in the winter (and summer). You’ll share the trail with snowshoers and fat tire bikers.

What Else is at Elm Creek?

We already mentioned snowshoeing and cross country skiing, above.

Elm Creek is a super biking destination, too. There are almost 30 miles of paved trails as well as a great singletrack park with 14 miles of dirt trails. The paved trails are connected with a couple of the area’s regional trails if 30 miles isn’t enough for you!

Elm Creek also has a couple of camper cabins, a group campsite and some horse camping sites.

How to Get There

There are several parking areas and entrances to Elm Creek Park Reserve. The main entrance is off James Dean Parkeway, just north of the intersection of Highway 610 and Highway 81.

Take a look at the map to see what part of the park you’re most interested in, and shoot for the entrance and parking area that’s most convenient.

Hiking Guide cover

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.

Click here for the details…

Here’s more…

Sharon Brodin
Latest posts by Sharon Brodin (see all)