As you might have guessed from our blog posts this fall, our #parkchasing trips have come to a standstill for now. While we can’t wait to get back on the road, for now, we’re doing our part to curb the pandemic by sticking a little closer to home. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on spending time in a national park. Our base camp in St. Paul is about 2 miles from the park headquarters of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
To be honest, we’re not sure why we haven’t featured the park here before. Suppose that we’ve sort of taken our nearness to the river for granted. The Mighty Mississippi is such a part of how we recreate here that we don’t always think of it as a national park. That was until the pandemic. Now, very few days go by without us acknowledging the impressive park we live close to. It’s become our national park home while we’re stuck at home.
So for the next few weeks, we’ll be spotlighting how we spent the pandemic in the park, and everything Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has to offer.
About the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Location: Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (one of five national park units in Minnesota)
Size: 54,000 acres / 84.02 square miles
Established: November 18, 1988
Annual Visitor Count: 374,682 in 2019
About: Mississippi National River and Recreation Area was established to preserve and protect the lands and historical structures in and around the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The National Park Service works with federal, state, and local agencies to co-manage many unique areas. Some of our favorites include Historic Fort Snelling, St. Anthony Falls, and Lilydale Regional Park.
Indigenous History at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
As part of our commitment to recognizing the inequalities surrounding our public lands, it’s important to note that the lands in and around the Twin Cities area and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area were historically inhabited by the Mdewakanton Dakota people. When French, British, and Americans arrived in the 1500s, the Chippewa, Menominee, and Winnebago became involved in the fur trading and pushing back on white settlement in the area. It began three hundred years of sometimes violent exchange between whites and American Indian communities. The treatment of the Dakota and other Indigenous people over the lands in the MNRRA corridor represent some of the darkest moments in Minnesota history.
When to Visit Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Call us biased, but we really don’t think there’s a ‘bad’ time of year to visit Minnesota. We’ve spent all four seasons exploring the park near our home and find there are different ways to enjoy it regardless of the weather.
Late-March to May in the Twin Cities is pure magic. After we all come out of hibernation from the long winter, Minnesotans flock to the Mississippi River for springtime activities. In recent spring months, we’ve experienced some historically high waters along the Mississippi River. As the spring floodwaters recede, it’s time for hiking at Minnehaha Falls Regional Park and the spring maple sugaring at Fort Snelling State Park.
June, July, and August are the most popular months to visit the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, in part because there’s so much to do. Every year we log hundreds of miles on our tandem bike up and down the park’s trails. If you’re really adventurous, it’s even possible to bike the entire length of the river, some 3,000 miles from the headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. We also enjoy many of the park’s festivals and events (Red, White, and Boom on the Stone Arch Bridge; Aquatennial; Irish Fair at Harriet Island.)
Trying to choose a favorite season in Minnesota is a bit like choosing a favorite child. But if push comes to shove, we’d have to recommend peak fall color (mid-September to mid-October depending on the year) for when first-timers should plan to visit. The Mississippi River banks between Minneapolis and St. Paul become a rainbow of reds, oranges, greens, and yellows. A sunny afternoon scenic drive down Mississippi River Boulevard easily rivals the scenic drives in the big national parks out west.
Don’t be fooled by the memes and The Weather Channel jokes. Minnesota winters aren’t as bad as the rest of the country likes to think. In part, we get through the cold and the snow because we’re above-average as a state about getting out and enjoying the recreation opportunities in the winter. Cross-country ski trails zig-zag through many of the park’s areas, and there’s always a place to take out the snowshoes.
Our Local Playground
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be showcasing some of our favorite trails, biking routes, museums, and iconic photo ops throughout the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s how important it is to spend time outdoors close to home. We hope our curated lists of ways to enjoy the park help you make the most of your next visit to our Twin Cities local playground.
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