Off the beaten path

 

The Twin Cities is home to a vast array of green spaces, including a fantastic mix of small neighborhood parks, many phenomenal regional parks and even a variety of educational farms nestled into urban areas. 

With so many choices, it’s easy to miss some of the metro’s lesser-known natural areas. If you’re looking for a new adventure this summer, check out one of these five destinations. Go for the afternoon or check out our accompanying suggestions to make it a full day trip!

EAGAN

Holz Farm  

Tucked behind a suburban neighborhood in Eagan, this city-run historic site lets families experience farm life right in the middle town. 

Situated next to small playground, the farm hosts a spring festival, a plant sale and summer day camps for ages 5 to 12.

Featured activities throughout the year include pony rides, haystack climbing, rope making, corn shucking, food for sale, guided farmhouse tours and hay rides that feature talks about the history of the farm and the area.

Upcoming events include a Grandparents, Grandkids & Seniors Day on Aug. 26 and Lone Oak Days Sept. 24–25.

Fun fact: There are several oaks on the property estimated to be more than 200 years old. 

Where: 4665 Manor Drive, Eagan 

Make a day of it: Stop also at the Minnesota Zoo (five miles away) or Lebanon Hills Regional Park, just a mile away.

Info: cityofeagan.com

 

MINNEAPOLIS 

Cedar Lake East Beach

Formerly known as Hidden Beach, this small sandy stretch was once known as the only nude beach in Minneapolis, perhaps because of its out-of-the-way nature.

Today all ages enjoy swimming — and playing in the Mud Hole, a large area filled with a grayish claylike mud that rinses off easily in the lake. A lifeguard is on duty from noon to 7 p.m. daily June 11 through Aug. 28. Because the beach is located at the end of a dead-end street, you’ll have to park on the streets nearby and hoof it to the sands.

Fun fact: This beach is one of 12 in the Minneapolis park system. See minneapolisparks.org for a complete list. 

Where: Though the official Minneapolis Park and Rec Board address is 2000 Upton Ave. S., punching that into Google maps will send to you to 2000 S. Upton Ave., which is on Lake Calhoun. This beach is actually at the end of West 21st Street just west of the popular Kenilworth Trail.

Make a day of it: Treat the kids to Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s on Hennepin Avenue, just 8 minutes away, three blocks east of scenic Lake the Isles.

Info: Get accurate directions to the beach by clicking on “get directions” at tinyurl.com/hidden-beach-mn.

 

EAGAN

Caponi Art Park and Learning Center

More than 30 sculptures are scattered around 60 acres of rolling woodlands here, courtesy of the park’s late artist-in-residence, Anthony Caponi. Your kids may have to look closely to see some of the art because many of the sculptures are built whimsically into the sides of the hills or tucked under ferns. The park’s Theater in the Woods hosts several events throughout the summer, including a Summer Performance Series and weekly Family Fun Tuesday performances that encourage kids to sing, dance, hear stories and experience art from other cultures. 

Fun fact: In the fall, this park hosts a Medieval Fair for all ages.

Where: 1220 Diffley Road, Eagan

Make a day of it: Kids still full of ya-yas? Buzz three miles up the road to Good Times Park, an awesome indoor playground in urban Eagan.

Info: caponiartpark.org

 

ST. PAUL

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

This 27-acre urban oasis sits in the heart of St. Paul on the north shore of the Mississippi River, just a 10-minute walk from downtown destinations such as Mears Park and the Union Depot

Families can explore paths that lead to stunning river and skyline views, towering limestone and sandstone bluffs, a babbling brook, spring-fed wetlands frequented by herons and other birds — plus views into a large cave (pictured, right) that Native Americans revered as a spiritual place known as Wakan-Tipi, meaning “dwelling of the great mystery.”

One of the park’s highlights is its sandcastle-like cliffs. Children can climb them with some help or simply play barefoot in the sand below. 

Fun fact: This park opened in 2005 after major restoration efforts supported early on by U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento.

Where: Fourth Street East and Commercial Street, St. Paul

Make a day of it: Check out the Science Museum of Minnesota just two miles away.

Info: stpaul.gov, nps.gov 

 

MINNEAPOLIS 

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary 

One of the oldest public wildflower gardens in the U.S., this 15-acre park has trails with interpretive stations that wander through a variety of landscapes and native flora.

Fun fact: More than 130 species of birds and 500 plant species have been spotted here. 

Where: 1 Theodore Wirth Pkwy., Minneapolis 

Make a day of it: This area offers a wonderland of outdoorsy options: Theodore Wirth Parkway to the west is another system of trails that lead to Quaking Bog, a part of Theodore Wirth Regional Park. And just across Glenwood Avenue to the north, there’s a playground, more tails, sand volleyball and Wirth Lake Beach. 

Info: tinyurl.com/eloise-mn