The Winchell is a little-known section of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area that is believed to have once been used by local indigenous people. Unpaved paths drop down below the main trail, that follows the west side of the river, and into the lower Mississippi River Gorge. The paths meander up and down, through woods and nice views of the bluffs, with side paths down to sandy beaches along the river. The best time to do this is on dry fall days when the trees are turning - gorgeous! There are several old stairways along the way for climbing back up to the paved walking/biking path. The trail is 2.5 miles in length and 5 miles RT.
Access is near the Franklin Ave. or E. Lake Street Bridges, depending on how long a hike you want to take, and the trail winds up in near 44th Street. There's no designated parking - find a spot on the street near either of the bridges. Hikers/walkers wanting to make a great afternoon of it can start near the Franklin Ave. (longer hike) or Lake Street Bridge (shorter hike), go all the way to Minnehaha Park on either the paved path or combination of Winchell/paved path, explore the falls and trails, cross over the Ford Parkway Bridge and loop back to Franklin or Lake Street along the paved path on the St. Paul side of the river.
Reference the NPS map link and website below for more information:
See also my tips on Sea Salt Eatery (restaurants) Minnehaha Park, and Mississippi River Gorge Walk (things to Do)
Photo: Minneapolis skyline from Lake Harriet.
Minneapolis, the “City of Lakes”, is notable for 3 clustered lakes-- Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun & Lake of the Isles. My niece, Nina, and I race-walked after her Jack Russell terrier around Lake Harriet on a warm Thursday morning among multitudes of all ages. Does anybody work here?
For a quiet picnic or afternoon walk by the river, check out Nicollet Island. It's easily accessed by foot, car, or bike. The island is sitting in literally the heart of the city, the Mississippi River, and offers a great view of the river, surrounding wildlife, and urban skyline. The history if the island is deep and worth checking into; I can't site specifics here, but it was a burial place for the first inhabitants of the island. The bridges that span the river are well worth walking. This is one of my all-time favorite spots in the city that I love.
Minnehaha Creek flows through Minneapolis and into the Mississippi River. You have probably heard of Minnehaha Falls even if you have never been to Minnesota because they were immortalized in a Longfellow poem in 1853. Interestingly, he had never been there either.
Minnehaha Regional Park in south Minneapolis is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and houses the highest waterfall in Minnesota outside of the Northshore Area of Lake Superior. (See my Duluth and Grand Portage pages for more info on some of those waterfalls.) Minnehaha Creek drops 53 feet at Minnehaha Falls and shortly afterward joins the Mississippi River still within the Park. In addition to this very unusual site for a large city, the park also houses the Longfellow House Hospitality Center, picnic areas, and a major section of the Grand Rounds, the first National Scenic Byway located completely within one urban area.
Lake Mille Lacs lies approximately 1 1/2 hours north of the Twin Cities, and is a relatively large lake with excellent fishing opportunities for boaters. For those who don't want to travel that far (or don't have a boat), there are literally hundreds of smaller lakes within a 50 mile radius of downtown, so finding a piece of water to throw a line in shouldn't be a problem.
Canoes are available to rent at a number of city lakes as well (Medicine Lake being the largest) for those who would prefer to get "offshore".
Taylor's Falls offers a bit of scenery along the St. Croix river, as well as an area to camp if you want to get out of the city. There's a couple short trails for hiking, as well as a spot for cliff jumping (although I believe it's technically outlawed). Call ahead if you want to stay overnight though, as during the summer it fills up months ahead.
This is the seminal point of the mighty Mississippi River. At the river's beginning point, you can actually walk across on these rocks. That's me with the Big Bird shirt on when I was a kid.