Monday, June 7, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Elm Creek Park Reserve, Maple Grove, MN

We head back to a Three Rivers Park for this week's Tuesday Trail. (St. Paulites, don't worry, I'm headed your way soon). This week's report is on Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove.

Like most Three Rivers Parks, including the previously reviewed Hyland, Elm Creek offers something for everyone: hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, cross country skiing and more! You'll be surprised to learn that this post focuses on running the park's soft trails.

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Growing up in the northern 'burbs about 11 miles from Elm Creek, I used to bike there with my family. I remember sliding down the zip line and swimming in the impossibly clean and huge man made lake in the park. In recent years, I've been back to the park for early season cross country skiing (they have one of the longest man made snow courses in the Twin Cities).

So this past week I headed back with some MDRA running buddies for my first summertime visit in nearly 20 years. Imagine my surprise that the huge man made lake of my childhood was in fact only about the size of 4 swimming pools! A part of childhood just died...

In any case, we had a fantastic trail run, so much so that I wanted to share the report with you all while it's still fresh in my mind. This is one park that is worth the drive!


According to their map, Elm Creek has over 50 miles of trails, the vast majority being soft trails. On our run, we covered about 15 miles of trails. We were treated to deciduous forestlands, native prairies and wetlands. Yes, lots of wetlands, so BRING BUG SPRAY!! The mosquitoes were thick every time we stopped for even a moment. There wasn't a lot of commiserating in the parking lot after our run.

According to their website, the park is building 12.5 miles of new singletrack trails for mountain bikers and runners using the sustainable trail design (Lebanon Hills in Eagan has the best example of this construction technique). This is exciting news and will definitely bring me back! Sustainable trail design in hilly terrains makes for a lot of long, rolling hills. It provides a better, more consistent workout and most importantly, better protects the trail from erosion and degradation.


I really enjoyed the tranquility of Elm Creek. The trails were well maintained, like any Three Rivers Park, but with few park structures and no neighborhoods in sight, this park felt really remote. Only by the ski chalet and beach did the park have a more urbanized, sanitized feel.

I particularly enjoyed the dense forests and rolling terrain around Rush Creek in the middle of the park. The big northern loop felt most remote, and had some very challenging sections of rolling hills. Surprisingly good hill workout for a northern metro park!

Getting There

You can enter at the main entrance from Highway 81 by the chalet, but the preferred spot for trail running is the hiker parking lot on the west side off of Elm Creek Road. There's a small nature center there with bathrooms. You can even buy a T-shirt if you feel so inspired!

While parking at the hiker's parking lot, make sure to take time to check out this great perennial garden!

Race Venue

I'm not familiar with any races at Elm Creek, but Google is. There is a race Notes for Cliff 5K at the park next Saturday, June 19. Know of any others?

Enjoy the Trails!


Jean said...

Great post, Nathan. Elm Creek is a magnificent park.

Every October, there is the Autumn Woods Classic race out there (a 5k and a 10k). A pretty time of year to have a race out there!

Julie said...

I am with Jean, I also love the Elm Creek Reserve! It is so pretty and has so many running trails. I ran in the Autumn Woods classic this past snowed the night before and was 23 degrees the day that my daughter and I ran in it:) It made for an interesting run.

Thanks for the great post!