The Winchell Trail, Hiking Minneapolis

minneapolis winchell trail mississippi river
The Winchell Trail along the Mississippi River on a late fall day.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway (and who isn’t these days?) you can take a five mile hike in the woods, without ever leaving Minneapolis. Like the rustic trails at Fort Snelling or Minnehaha Park, the Winchell Trail, which parallels the West River Parkway in Minneapolis is a welcome urban respite–without the drive out of town.

You can get on the Winchell Trail, which happens to be the oldest walking trail in the Minneapolis Park System, just north of the Lock and Dam Number One observation area. There’s a small parking area at Godfrey Parkway (near what would be 47th Street South) and the West River Parkway. Walk about 100 yards up the Parkway until you see a sign for the Winchell Trail and join up there.

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The Winchell Trail is an asphalt or packed dirt path that follows the Mississippi River along the steep river banks and gives you multiple views through the now mostly leafless trees to the river below. It’s mostly an easy path with just a few small descents and climbs. On a couple of occasions where ravines down to the river intervene, the Trail will take you up some steps for a short jaunt along the more civilized walkway of the West River Parkway. But never fear, soon there will be another opportunity to descend to the more peaceful wood.

minneapolis winchell trail mississippi river shadows
Near the southern beginning of the Winchell Trail. The trail usually has a fence on the river side to keep you from rolling down the hill.

For most of the trail, you don’t get too near the river, unless you want to brave passing through one of the many gaps in the fence and skitter down a steep bank to the water. An easier way to get down to the bank is the road you’ll encounter just north of the Lake Street bridge which is marked for the Minneapolis Rowing Club. If you walk down that road for a bit, it will put you on a path that will take you right down to the water. There are actually a couple of beaches there, and even on a late October afternoon, I saw a group of three people who had built a fire and were having a picnic.

From that beach, you’ll make a gradual ascent up the path and eventually get to a stairway taking you back up the bank to the West River Parkway. At this point, make your choice of returning on the West River Parkway, or simply turning around and retracing your steps along the Winchell Trail itself back to your starting point. Either is pleasant, but the Trail is easier on your feet than the asphalt of the Parkway. The entire route, up and back, is about six miles.

minneapolis winchell trail mississippi river frozen
Along one of the many ravines that run down to the river, you might even see the late fall remnants of a frozen water course.

The Winchell Trail is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area of the US National Park System.

Here are some other ideas of things to do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Some other hikes you can take in the Twin Cities metro area include Fort Snelling State Park, Minnehaha Falls, Westwood Hills Nature Center, and Afton State Park.

More info from MNTrips

See the list of all Minnesota State Parks, including basic permit information. We also have a list of all Minnesota Historical Society sites. We’re adding our commentary for the park and historical sites as we visit them.

When you plan on hiking or biking the Minnesota State Parks, be sure to download the Avenza Maps app to your phone. The app allows you to download the trail maps for almost every state park, and they are invaluable for navigation, especially because many of the parks don’t have as many directional signs as they should.

Also, if you’re planning on camping at Minnesota State Parks, you’ll need a reservation. Here’s the online reservation form.

Check out our recommendations for what to carry in your hiking day pack when you check out the extensive Minnesota State Park and National Park system.

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Tom Bartel
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