Fort Snelling State Park
Geographic Location: south side of
Minneapolis, MN (44.89327, -93.18697)
Length: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2012
Overview: A lollipop loop featuring an historic fort and two rivers.
Park Information: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00154#homepage
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=724036
Directions to the trailhead: The
for historic Visitor Center is located southeast of downtown Fort Snelling Minneapolis at the intersection of SR 55 and SR 5. From SR 55 northbound or SR 5, there is an exit directly to the parking lot. From SR 55 southbound, take the Visitor Center exit, then take left turns at the first two opportunities to arrive at the Wold-Chamberlin International Airport parking lot. Visitor Center
The hike: If you think of wars involving the
United States during the early 1860’s, probably the first one to come to mind is the Civil War. Yet in 1862 the United States fought another war on its northwestern frontier in Minnesota: the Dakota War. For better or worse, the short-lived war was a resounding defeat for the Dakota. Much new territory was opened up for American settlement, and over 1600 Dakota people were taken prisoner here at . Fort Snelling
was built in the 1820’s atop a high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Fort Snelling Minnesota and . The area was first scouted by Zebulon Pike (of Mississippi Rivers Pike’s Peak fame) in 1805, and the island featured on this hike bears his name. The fort’s strategic location allowed its occupants to control commerce on both rivers and therefore throughout much of Minnesota.
is still operated as a military installation today, in 1961 the historic fort and 3711 surrounding acres were converted to a state park. A new Fort Snelling was built in 1997. During my visit on a late weekday afternoon, the Visitor Center had closed for the day, but I have read that it contains some nice historical exhibits. Visitor Center
The best hiking in the park can be found on
where three nested loop trails depart from a common access point and offer hikes of 1, 2, and 3 miles respectively. The trails explore the river lowlands with lots of standing water and therefore lots of mosquitoes. Be sure to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and insect repellent on this hike. Because I had to squeeze in this hike just before sundown, I could hike no more than the intermediate 2 mile loop described here. If you have more time than I did, then by all means you should hike the full 3 mile loop to the confluence of the two rivers. Pike Island
|Minneapolis skyline, as seen from Fort Snelling overlook|
|Entrance to Historic Fort Snelling|
At 0.6 miles, turn left to reach
by crossing a concrete bridge over a slow-moving side channel of the rivers. On the other side of the bridge, you reach the main access point for the island’s trails, where the wide dirt trail encircling the island goes left and right. To reach the Pike Island Mississippi River first, this description will turn left here and use the right trail as the return route.
|Pike Island Trail|
At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench with a nice view of the
Mississippi River on the left. Most of the riverfront in the Twin Cities has some degree of development, but only a few signs of the modern world can be seen from this point. Unfortunately, the nearby airport and freeways ensure that the sounds of the modern world encroach more than the sights.
The cut-off trail heads south through the heart of the island and under some powerlines. You will need to step around some wet spots, remnants of river flooding from earlier in the spring. Upon reaching the south side of the island, turn right to begin the journey back to the trailhead.
|Minnesota River, looking upstream|
The trail eventually begins curving to the right as it passes back under the powerline. At 2.7 miles, the concrete island access bridge comes into view as you close the loop. Turning left to cross the bridge, then right to reach the bike trail, then left to climb the hill to the fort will lead you back to the trailhead to complete the hike.