Thursday, June 27, 2013

Minnehaha Regional Park (Blog Hike #385)

Trails: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Minnehaha Regional Park
Geographic LocationMinneapolisMN (44.91729, -93.21152)
Length: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2012
Overview: An urban hike featuring famous Minnehaha Falls.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Southeast of downtown Minneapolis, take SR 55 (Hiawatha Avenue) to 46th Street.  Head east on 46th St.  Take 46th St. 2 blocks to Minnehaha Avenue and turn right on Minnehaha Ave.  Take Minnehaha Ave. to the Godfrey Street traffic circle and enter east (left) on Godfrey Street.  Park in one of the large parking lots on either side of Godfrey Street.  There is no park entrance fee, but the parking lots require feeding a parking meter.

The hike: The idea for Minnehaha Park started with George Brackett, the state of Minnesota, and the newly-created Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in the mid 1880’s.  At that time, New York state was the only state to operate a park, and Minnehaha Falls was located well outside the city limits of Minneapolis.  When the state legislature failed to come up with the promised funds to buy the land, Brackett personally signed a $100,000 promissory note and gave the money to the state for the land purchase.  In 1889, the dedication of Minnehaha State Park marked the creation of one of the first state parks in the United States.  The name Minnehaha comes from the Dakota Indian word for “waterfall.”
            Although it bore the state’s name, the city of Minneapolis performed all required tasks to maintain and operate the park.  In 1906, the land officially became part of Mississippi Park, owned and operated by the city.  Depression era work programs put in months of labor to build park facilities, and much of their work can still be seen today.
            Many picnic areas and other structures have been added since the Depression, but 53-foot Minnehaha Falls remains the 193-acre park’s centerpiece.  The falls can be seen from an overlook on a park road, but the best view of the waterfall will be gained by hiking to its base.  The hike described here takes you to the base of the falls and then tours the glen below the falls, a green oasis in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
            From the parking lots along Godfrey Street, walk southwest past the picnic shelters and pavilion to a blacktop road with a stone wall at its opposite side.  This road is closed to vehicle traffic, and the stone wall provides the topside overlook of Minnehaha Falls.  With enough water, the 53-foot ledge-type waterfall is very impressive: a large column of water takes a single drop into a large plunge pool with horseshoe-shaped glen.
Minnehaha Falls, as seen from roadside overlook
            To reach the base of the falls, descend into the glen using the concrete steps to your left.  The base view puts the high falls and rocky glen into proper perspective.  After you have had your fill of the waterfall, continue the hike by following the wide packed-gravel trail down the glen with the creek on your left and rock wall on your right.  The area around the falls is very crowded, but the crowds thin as you head downstream.
Minnehaha Falls, as seen from base
            At 0.3 miles, you pass a wading area in the creek.  A bridge crosses the creek here.  Just past the wading area, the trail uses a long plastic/iron boardwalk to take hikers over a wet area along the creek.  Although this is an urban park, wildlife is rather plentiful in the glen.  On my hike, a blue heron was wading in a still, shallow spot in the creek.
Boardwalk through glen below waterfall
            After crossing the boardwalk and passing under an automobile bridge, the trail turns to dirt, narrows, and gets rougher with some rocks and roots to impede your progress.  Vertical rock walls uphill to the right prevent any effort to leave the glen, so keep pressing your way downstream.  At 0.9 miles, you pass a developed campsite with a fire ring surrounded by several trash cans and benches.
            1 mile into the hike, you reach the final bridge over Minnehaha Creek just before the creek empties into the Mississippi River.  The trail crosses the bridge to arrive at a sandy area along the river.  From this point on the outside of an eastward bend, great views can be had both up and down the river.
Mississippi River, looking downstream
            To begin the hike back to the trailhead, pick up the wide sandy trail that heads northwest from the river.  Ignore rough angler trails that tread directly on the creekbank and riverbank.  This trail stays further from the creek than the outbound trail, so it is easier but also less scenic.
            At 1.7 miles, leave the creekside behind and angle right to begin the moderate ascent out of the glen.  About half way up the hill, the gravel trail joins the blacktop trail that leads to the wading spot you passed on your way down the glen.  After climbing out of the glen, continue straight on the paved park road, following signs for Godfrey Street.  A deep hollow now lies to your left.  At 2 miles, you arrive at Godfrey Street with the large parking lots, one of which contains your car, to the left, thus signaling the end of the hike.

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