Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Lake Elmo Park Reserve, Lake Elmo, MN

First, a reminder to lend your voice to the Minnesota Trail Survey! Check out the MDRA website and click on the survey link in the upper right.

As promised, Tuesday Trails lands on the east side of town this week. This week's post takes us to Lake Elmo Park Reserve in Washington County right off of I-94.

This gorgeous park is about 15 minutes from St. Paul, and about 30 minutes from Minneapolis. It is definitely worth a drive, especially in the fall. There are probably 15 miles or so of hiking/running trails. They are grassed/mown trails that double as cross country ski trails in the winter (a common refrain for these multi-use regional parks.)


I have met my running club out here a few times. Since it's one of the few parks we go to that charges an admission ($5 last I checked), we generally meet outside the park at a coffee shop and carpool in to save some money.

Every fall, I do work in Lake Elmo Park Reserve in my capacity as a water resources engineer, and that gives me free admission (and pays for the 30 minute drive across town), so I always make sure to bring my running clothes with me and when the work day is over, I change and hit the trails as the sun is setting.


According to Lake Elmo's website, there are 20 miles of trails. (The Winter Ski Map is much better than the Summer Map). At least 12 of those are soft trails. The western loop (A Loop) is a beautiful prairie loop. Other than the occasional McMansion sighting, the trail feels very remote. The B and C loops (central and eastern) are more wooded, although there are prairie sections as well. The terrain there is steeper and some portions of the trail near the Eagle Point Dam are quite eroded and could use some redesign using sustainable trail principles.

Watch out for gunfire on the eastern side of course! There's a shooting range there. I haven't been hit yet!


There is no park in the metro that is prettier in the fall at sunset, in my opinion. The prairies are golden during the day, and turn a deep reddish gold at sunset. I just read "Prairie Erth" which is about the remnant tallgrass prairies of Kansas, and when I was reading the book, it was the prairies of Lake Elmo and Afton that I was imagining.

Getting There

The park is located a couple miles north of I-94 in the small city of Lake Elmo. From I-94, take Keats Avenue/County Road 19 north. Keats becomes the main park road. There's a park office where you have to pay (have exact change for the pay envelope). The main trail parking is about half a mile up on the left. If you pass the "Primitive Campground", you've gone too far! You'll know the Primitive Campground by the large protruding foreheads and usage of stone tools.

As far as I can tell, while there are other pedestrian access points to the park, there's no convenient parking at any of those locations. Best bet is to use the main entrance.

Race Venue

While the Ragnar Relay often uses the park as a checkpoint, very little of that race takes place in the park.

As far as I can tell, there are two races run in Lake Elmo. The first is the Lake Elmo Lions Huff-n-Puff 5K and 1/4 Marathon on August 14, 2010. 1/4 Marathon is an interesting distance. Some call that a 10K (with a short warmup). This race appears to be in the park, but on the roads. Price is pretty good: $12!

The second race in Lake Elmo uses the trails. The Wildwood Lodge Great Pumpkin Chase 5K and 10K will be run October 30, 2010. I've run this race before, and while I enjoyed the challenging routes picked (it's run on the hilly B and C loops), I did think that the race was slightly overpriced ($25 to $35), particularly since it didn't include the $5 park entry fee (and the shirt kind of sucked). I notice that this year the park entry fee is included, so it's a better deal now. I do wish more races had a cheaper option if you didn't want the shirt, but that gripe should be the topic for a different post! I may have to come back and give this race another chance. It's certainly run at the prettiest time to be in the park!

Enjoy the Trails!


Anonymous said...

I just moved here and have been running around the uptown lakes. It's nice but flat as a pancake. I'm looking for hills since I'm training for a marathon with a lot of elevation. As I was searching the web for hilly trails in MN I stumbled upon your page. This site is great!!! Keep it up!

Twin Cities Hardcore Punk Realtor said...

Great trail with many options for short or long runs. Plenty of ups and downs - just watch out for the horse crap. The Great Pumpkin Chase 10k was a lot of fun.