7 Family-Friendly Nature Hikes Near Mankato


Want to get out in nature, but not sure your children's little legs can handle it? Here's a list of several (short) nature walks we've done with our family, children ages 10 to 1. I don't know about you, but we've had to explain to our children that a "park" doesn't equal a "playground"! If you're looking for big thrills, these probably won't get your adrenaline running. But taking a nature walk with your children is an unforgettable and educational way to connect. 

1. Bluff Park, North Mankato

Highlights:

  • The main trail makes a figure 8, with the bottom of the eight going through the woods, and the top of the eight circumventing a meadow (which is currently under "contruction" for prairie restoration).
  • Bring your trikes, bikes, and scooters. This trails is great for little legs. (That being said, even my preschooler got tuckered out on his trike here, so Daddy had to carry it halfway!)
  • There are some green areas toward the back of the meadow where you could kick a ball or play catch.

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms and a drinking fountain are available at the parking lot.
  • If you go after a good rain, the bugs may be biting. Bring along your repellent.
  • The main trails are paved. If you trust your children to stay on the path, it is safe for them to go ahead without you. However, there are some drop offs if they stray from the path.
  • When you enter from the parking lot, you can soon go to the right or the left. These two paths re-connect near the entrance to the meadow. The one to the right is less than a quarter mile; the one to the left is about one quarter mile. The loop around the meadow is a half mile in length.

2. Kiwanis Recreation Area, Mankato

Highlights:

  • The main trail here is a lightly wooded loop that offers views of the Minnesota River.
  • You might make friends with some of the puppies playing in the (fenced-in) dog park toward near the parking lot. Remind the kids to ask before petting, but you're sure to find lots of willing owners.
  • There's also an area for archery and a boat lauch available at the Kiwanis Rec Area.

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms and a drinking fountain are available at the parking lot/picnic shelter.
  • The main trails have compacted woodchips. There are some drop-off areas near the river, so be sure to keep the kids close for safety.
  • When you enter from the parking lot, head down the sidewalk toward the dog park. You'll see a path going into the woods. This mapwill help you stay on the shorter trail and not find yourself halfway to downtown as your children whine that they are hungry, thirsty, and have to go potty!

3. Williams Nature Center, Mankato

Highlights:

  • There are two decks which overlook the Minnesota River.
  • This is a quiet nature hike. You may very well not see anyone else walking. It is very level; no steep inclines. This is a great place to invite the grandpas and grandmas in your life to join you.
  • These trails loop around and come back to the Interpretive Center. You won't get lost if you keep going one way on the path.

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms are available at the Interpretive Center.
  • One of the times we visited, some of the beams were missing from the deck overlooking the river. Be sure to check for safety before letting your kids run to it!
  • Feel free to bring bikes and strollers along on these paved paths. The total for the paths is 1.5 miles.

 

4. Minneopa Falls/Seppmann Mill, Mankato

Highlights:

  • The obvious highlights in these two hikes are the waterfall and the historic mill. There are also buffalo and other wildlife near the mill.
  • Both of these hikes are within Minneopa State Park, but they are in two different locations. You'll have to drive between them.

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms and a drinking fountain are available near the Visitor Center.
  • You will need to purchase a day pass ($5) to enter this State Park, or a year pass ($25).
  • Visiting Minneopa Falls:
    From the Visitor's Center, the path to see the waterfall is paved. It is about 1/2 mile. You will reach the end of the pavement and see a staircase. The staircase is quite steep and irregular. Children can easily fall between the stairs and the rail, so keep them between you and rising side of the cliffs if you choose to descend. At the bottom, you can cross a bridge. You can ascend another staircase on the other side and hike toward the falls, but when we did this, we were disappointed that there was no good view. Alternatively, you can hike on footpaths to the right once you cross the bridge, just feet (and inches, in some cases!) from the river. You may have to assist children so they don't slip into the river. If you hike about a 1/4 mile or so and keep to the right, you'll be rewarded with an awesome view! Just follow the sound of the Falls!
  • Visiting Seppmann Mill:
    You'll need to drive through the Buffalo pasture in order to get to the Mill. Enjoy the 10- to 15- minute drive and pause to look for wildlife. There is parking on the side of the road, and you will walk on foot paths less than a quarter mile to see the Mill. There is a foot trail that goes on from the Mill, if you'd like to go further. But, if you just want to see the Mill, you won't need a baby carrier or a stroller.

5. Daly Park, Mapleton

Highlights:

  • This nature hike features walking around the perimeter of the park's "island," which is really a peninsula.  To get to the right spot, you'll drive your way through much of the park, and park your car near the bathhouse. If you walk behind the bathhouse, down the hill, you'll find the nature path that leads around the peninsula. This map will help you. 
  • Beautiful Lura Lake is a big draw to this park. You can go fishing or wading in some of the shallow areas.
  • There is a playground at this park. In fact, two! One is near the entrance to the park, near the caretaker's home. The other is closer to the "island."

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms are available, but are very spread out throughout the park. There isn't one on the "island." I didn't see drinking fountains.
  • This hike is very primitive; you will not be able to push a stroller through the woods. Opt for a baby-backpack if you need it. It is likely that you will need to move fallen branches from the path if you visit after a storm. There are some steep areas, too.
  • Keep your children close at hand. There are drop-offs into the lake from the unpaved foot paths. The loop is approximately 1.5 miles long.

6. Rasmussen Woods, Mankato

Highlights:

  • This hike features a hilly walk through the woods, and it's especially beautiful in the fall time.
  • There are many great activities at Elks Nature Center. Check it out if it's open and you have the time.

What Mom Wants to Know:

  • Bathrooms and water are available in Elks Nature Center.
  • The trails are made from woodchips and some areas are very steep. Don't plan on using a stroller here.
  • The total length of all of the trails in the park is 5 miles. But the individual loops are probably only 2 miles each, tops. Consult this map before you go. We've always entered from Stoltzmann Road and parked by the Nature Center. We've never been able to make it all the way to the Indian Creek entry before the kids have tired out. So, unless you're feeling really ambitious (or need to wear the kids out!), stick to the loops and wind your way back to the beginning.

7. Red Jacket Park, Near Rapidan 

Highlights:

  • This hike is for the child daredevils in your family: a trestle bridge high over the Le Sueur River!
  • There are beautiful views of the river. It would also be a wonderful place for a picnic. 

What Mom Wants to Know:

  •  Port-o-Potties only here, folks. Enter at your own risk!
  • This is a popular trail for (fast!) bikers. Although they do call out when they are passing, children are often surprised by the warning and move in unpredictable ways. On this hike, we keep our children close, just in case we need to move them out of harm's way.
  • You can make this hike as long or short as you'd like. Just turn around and retrace your steps to the parking lot when you feel you're halfway to your tolerance level. If you want to follow the trail over the bridge, you'll have to walk as if you are exiting the parking lot, and you'll find a steep, paved incline. It's less than a half mile to the bridge. Otherwise, you can view the river from near the parking lot and enjoy the Red Jacket Trail going away from the bridge toward Mt. Kato. Be sure you keep your children close if you choose to go down by the river.

Take It A "Step" Further

Now that you've chosen a place or two to hike, consider some of these ideas to extend your ambitions:

Start a weekly tradition:

Choose a day of the week and let the children look forward to their "family hike." Maybe Saturday afternoons, or Monday evenings after work and school.

Have a scavenger hunt: 

Look online for pre-made scavenger hunts, or invent your own. Children love to have a list to check off when they see certain sites in nature. Even pictures work for pre-readers. Just be sure you don't take nature with you and you leave no trace of your visit.

Bring along a book that helps you identify trees, birds, or flowers.

Our children love referencing these types of books. I have to admit, I learn a lot from my children as they teach me what they find out!

Keep brainstorming ...

We will be adding to this blog as our family finds more hikes in the area! Stay tuned!

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TAGS: Motherhood, Local, Exercise

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