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A Newcomer’s TOP 5 List of Minneapolis Park Activities

Hello park-goers! My name is Madeleine Koski, and I am the newest member of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation team. I couldn’t be more excited to be in Minneapolis and working to uphold and create amazing parks and public spaces for this community. I’m especially excited moving into the spring and summer months to find time to get outside and enjoy some of these areas that are just now seeing the sunlight again.

As a new resident, there is still so much that I’d like to explore. So, after diving into some online resources and talking with new acquaintances, I’ve built a short list of my “Top 5” Minneapolis parks and activities that I’ve made it my goal to get to this summer. It can hopefully act as a springboard for others who haven’t been to these places, or a reminder for others of how wonderful and expansive the Minneapolis Parks System is.

#1. Kayak the Chain of Lakes and the Mississippi River

With every summer that passes, I find myself more and more excited to get back out in a kayak. The peacefulness of gliding through the water mixed with the adventurous spirit of it has me hooked. There’s a great kayak rental option at Bde Maka Ska, as well as an organization called Mississippi River Paddle Share along the Mississippi river.

Chain of Lakes

Chain of Lakes Map, Image Courtesy of Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB)

The Chain of Lakes is an amazing water course, as you can spend the day traveling from lake to lake, enjoying the unique qualities of each, without ever leaving your kayak. Starting in Bde Maka Ska, you can explore the vastness of the largest lake in this chain before making your way north, to Lake of the Isles. Though it may look much smaller than Bde Maka Ska, its endless bays and meandering shoreline will be sure to keep you paddling for much longer than anticipated. From here, you can head through the Kenilworth Lagoon, which takes you out to Cedar Lake, aptly named for the numerous cedar trees lining its banks. Cedar Lake is typically less populated than the larger lakes, offering a nice respite from the hustle of a busy summer day. Lastly, you can navigate towards the smallest of the lakes, Brownie Lake, to finish off this expansive circuit. Then get ready for the return trip…

Mississippi River

Kayakers on the North Mississippi River

Another amazing opportunity to kayak lies along the wondrous Mississippi River that flows through Minneapolis. As mentioned, Paddle Share is a great kayak service that offers various options for kayak rentals within the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. There are so many sites along this wild river worth exploring – one at the top of the list is the North Mississippi Regional Park. With abundant wildlife including blue herons, deer, beavers, hawks, and eagles, as well as summer prairie flowers, this is a gem worth discovering.

#2. Picnic at Minnehaha Regional Park and Falls

Minnehaha Falls, Image Courtesy of MPRB

This 170-acre park truly captures the natural beauty of Minnesota, and is home to a stunning 53 foot waterfall. It boasts several trails that run along Minnehaha Creek and extend towards the Mississippi River, and you can make your way out to the sandy beaches at the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The open green spaces in this park are seemingly endless, and with warmer days ahead (we hope!) an outdoor picnic is just what the park is calling for. There are numerous tables, grills, and pavilions available for renting, or open fields for a more intimate setting. I’m already looking forward to packing up a lunch, beverages, and a blanket, and setting out with a group of friends for an afternoon in the park!

#3. Farview Park

City Skyline View from Farview Park

Located in North Minneapolis, this recreational area is best known for its beautiful panoramic hilltop, showcasing views of the downtown skyline. Looking southwest, towards the city, it is sure to capture a beautiful summer sunset. Farview Park also holds a newly installed treasure of Minneapolis, a 15-foot-tall hollow, purple raindrop, embodying Prince’s Purple Rain and honoring the late legend. There are also numerous spaces for recreational use such as: a basketball court, baseball and softball fields, a football field, a playground, and walking paths, surely keeping you busy for hours.

#4. Nokomis Naturescape Gardens

I am a botanical garden connoisseur. There are numerous stunning gardens throughout Minneapolis – Longfellow Gardens, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Northeast Minneapolis Municipal Iris Garden, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden – just to name a few. Though I’m looking forward to visiting a number of these, I have heard great things about Nokomis Naturescape Gardens because of its educational aspect. With many signs identifying the variety of native wildflowers and grasses featured in the garden, I am eager to bring some knowledge home with me. Often dreaming of having my own garden one day, this will hopefully plant the seed of inspiration for future growth.

#5. Bike the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway

This is my final goal this summer. It is quite the expedition even for someone who would call themselves a biker, and that is not something I would call myself. However, the Grand Rounds is a staple of Minneapolis, and knowing that, I feel it is an adventure worth conquering.

The Grand Rounds is a 52-mile urban bike and walking loop that weaves throughout the city, along the Mississippi, in and out of unique neighborhoods, past lakes, and much more in between. Following the Grand Rounds map, you are guaranteed to hit a little bit of everything – great scenery, historic sites, modern and contemporary art, outdoor recreation, and great shopping and dining.

A few scenic and historical points not to miss!

  • St. Anthony Falls, Stone Arch Bridge, and Mill Ruins Park.
  • Lyndale Park Rose Garden, which is said to have been the inspiration for the rose garden at the White House, next to Lake Harriet.
  • Victory Memorial Drive in North Minneapolis, offering a parkway of trees and memorials to honor the servicemen and nurses of Hennepin County who died in WWI.
  • Ridgway Parkway Park in Northeast Minneapolis for a spectacular view of the city skyline.
Victory Memorial Parkway. June 2010 Photo by Scott A. Schneider for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

With endless opportunities to fill up a summer day, this list is just a start to the myriad of parks and recreational activities that Minneapolis offers. I hope to see you all out there!

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