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Best lakes and parks around the twin cities for the summer fun
It’s not called the “City of Lakes” for nothing. Boasting some 20 lakes and wetlands, Minneapolis/St. Paul has a lot of ways to cool off during the summer. Add with over 300 parks within the Twin Cities area, deciding where to go for the most outdoor summer fun can feel a tad overwhelming. Rest assured, the following six destinations won’t let you down.
3000 Calhoun Pkwy.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
As part of the Chain of Lakes, Lake Calhoun is the largest lake in Minneapolis and is host to a variety of activities within its 3-mile-plus circumference including walking, running, biking, swimming (at three beaches), sunbathing, volleyball, fishing, wind surfing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing. It is home to the Calhoun Yacht Club as well as the Lake Calhoun Sailing School and features a great view of the city skyline.
Enjoy fish and chips or fish tacos followed by a cold beer at the independently owned Tin Fish, right on the popular lake’s shore.
4135 West Lake Harriet Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55409
If you want someplace a little less bustling than Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet is just a little farther south. As the southernmost lake in the Chain of Lakes, Lake Harriet consisting of 67 acres of land and 344 acres of water for a total of 411 acres of recreational fun! Enjoy biking, walking, swimming and kayaking, or stroll through the beauty of the nearby Lyndale Park Rose Garden, home to 3,000 plants in 100 different varieties.
The Lake Harriet Band Shell, recent winner of the 25-Year Award given by the American Institute of Architects’ Minnesota branch in recognition of the extraordinary beauty and longevity of the structure, is the perfect setting for free summer concerts and movies.
Sink your teeth into a juicy burger or seared walleye sandwich at Bread & Pickle – all locally sourced, sustainably grown and waste-free.
4955 West Lake Nokomis Pkwy.
Minneapolis, MN 55417
Named Best Place to Get Away from it All Without Leaving Town in City Pages’ ”Best of the Twin Cities,” Lake Nokomis is located in the southeastern reaches of the city. Though smaller than Lake Calhoun and Harriet, it’s also quieter with less of a crowd, if true relaxation is what you’re after. Lake Nokomis is a picturesque location for a multitude of recreational pursuits such as walking, jogging, biking, fishing, sailing (it is one of Minneapolis’s three sailing lakes (in addition to Harriet and Calhoun), canoeing, kayaking, sunbathing and swimming at two beaches, and playing ball on the baseball diamond.
There’s also a playground for kids ages 5-12 that features uniquely designed equipment that is sure to keep your little ones busy for hours while helping them master balance and coordination.
Once you’ve completely exhausted your energy, head over to the Sandcastle for a Nokomis dog and an order of fried cheese curds, finished off with a soft serve ice cream cone. Sandcastle is all fresh, local, and eco-friendly!
Teddy Bear Park
S. 2nd St. and Nelson St.
Stillwater, MN 55082
If you have children age 7 or younger, and you could use a break from the city, Teddy Bear Park in Stillwater is a short drive east of St. Paul, just shy of the St. Croix River. This magical playground will delight any child with its peppering of teddy bear statues and assortment of play equipment such as trains, log tunnels, tree house, and webbed climbing structure. There’re plenty of benches for parents to congregate or just relax while their kids have the time of their lives.
Hyland Lake Park Reserve (and Hyland Play Area)
10145 Bush Lake Rd
Bloomington, MN 55438
Just south of Minneapolis, the Hyland Lake Park Reserve is part of the Three Rivers Park District. A sanctuary of prairie landscapes adjacent to the tranquil waters of the Hyland Lake, the reserve features an award-winning play area with 50 foot tunnel slides, hexagonal climbing structures and even a play area for children with disabilities.
The Richardson Nature Center is sure to be an educational experience your kids won’t mind repeating with an active beehive, resident critters to meet and greet, and free use of frog, bug and pond exploration kits.
Activities on the reserve include hiking, biking, boating, paddling, disc golf, fishing, dog trails, and geocaching (a kind of treasure hunt using GPS technology). And if you like the reserve well enough, you can return in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Hyland has it all.
Elm Creek Park Reserve
12400 James Deane Parkway
Maple Grove, MN 55369
A whopping 4,900 acres, Elm Creek Park Reserve is the largest park within the Three Rivers Park District. The playground alone is worth the drive if you have kids. This large and colorful display features multiple, super-fast tunnel slides, a zip line, an18-foot climbing net, a 30-foot dinosaur buried in the sand box and that’s just the start.
If you get a little overheated on the playground there’s a swimming pond (with lifeguards) for cooling off.
Other park activities include disc golf, horseback riding, an off-leash dog area and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine from archery to mountain biking to tubing. You can truly get lost in the rolling hills and forests and lakes of one of the greatest nature reserves in the area at Elm Creek Park Reserve.
Want a more in-depth view of all the parks and lakes in the area and what they have to offer? Check out Minneapolis Parks and Recreation’s detailed map here.
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