Hiking in Minnesota is a year-round activity. It’s enormously popular across the state, but especially so in Rochester. That’s because the city boasts so many outstanding parks and trails. If you’ve never been hiking before or if you’re not familiar with the parks in Rochester MN, then you’re in luck. You don’t need any special skills to become a hiker, and this guide will help you to discover some of the best parks in Rochester as well as the trails that they provide.
When someone mentions “hiking,” you might conjure up an idea of a strenuous, multi-day trek through mountainous terrain. While that is one kind of hiking, there are plenty of day hikes around Rochester that are suitable for people who have been sedentary for a long time or for those who want to get their children and pets in on the fun.
A simple walk offers wonderful exercise. Almost anyone can participate, and there are many ways for people with mobility issues to work around these limitations.
In the lists below, you’ll find some of the best hiking trails in Rochester, MN. Additionally, this list of the best parks in Rochester may give you ideas about playing a team sport, taking up swimming, or getting out in a kayak. Centric Healthcare reminds you that anything that keeps your body and mind active is a good idea.
Best Parks for Families
1. Oxbow Park
This Olmstead County facility is rightfully popular and well-known for numerous reasons. The park itself was established in 1967, with the Zollman Zoo being added in the 1970s. If you have young children, then you probably already are familiar with the zoo. Moreover, the park boasts a fantastic nature center and an innovative natural playscape that no child can resist.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Oxbow Park is just for little ones. If you’re excited about trying out your hiking shoes, then you’ll be delighted with the 600 acres of trails. Located in this park, you’ll also find facilities for camping in the summer and skiing in the winter. It’s a true four-season destination, and it’s just a short 20-minute drive to the west of the city.
2. Whitewater State Park
Whether you are a total novice or a seasoned hiker, there is a perfect trail for you at this park. A facility of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, you can be certain that this park is always well maintained and ready for visitors.
This is another four-season park that features interpretive programs all year as well as trout fishing. You can even camp here in winter or summer. Spring brings a bounty of wildflowers that has to be seen to be believed, and the visitor center is always available for directions and advice.
If you’re looking for an easy hike, then you can’t go wrong with the self-guided Trout Run Creek Trail. This two-mile out-and-back trail provides an easy, level stroll. Another easy option is Meadow Trail, which is one mile long and takes hikers along the Whitewater River.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you’ll find an additional 10 miles of trails in the park that will have you exploring bottomland and valley overlooks.
3. Root River Park
This is one of the newest public facilities to be developed by Olmstead County Parks. The land was purchased in 2007, with a parking lot and other amenities were finished in 2010. Now, there is a wonderful, two-mile loop trail that surrounds the countryside that makes up the park. Along each section of the trail, you’ll be treated to views of the Root River and stunning meadows. There are even opportunities to climb some tree-covered hills. An old carriage bridge is fun for the whole family to explore. Bring a picnic to enjoy at this park, which you’ll find at 4012 80th Street SE.
4. Essex Park
This facility may be only 10 miles to the north of Rochester’s downtown, but it feels like it’s a world away. With 160 woodsy acres to explore, your family will want to come back here again and again. Kids love it for the little playground and all of the birds and wildlife that are on view.
Essex Park is a wonderful place to play all year. Available amenities include horseshoes, archery, a picnic shelter, and a sand volleyball court. Also available are miles of both paved and unpaved trails so that the whole family can get in a fantastic workout.
5. Soldiers Memorial Field: Wooden Castle Park
Located in downtown Rochester, it is incredibly easy to get to Soldiers Memorial Field Park. You’ll find the park on George Gibbs Drive SW. Most visitors love the facilities at this park, which include a softball diamond, football field, numerous lighted tennis courts, and a playground. The centerpiece of the facility is the gorgeous and thought-provoking memorial to military veterans.
Kids are naturally drawn to the sand play area, and there’s also an inviting farm area. Of course, the wooden castle playground is the highlight for them. If you want to take a walk, head to the running track or just enjoy a ramble through the grounds.
6. Cooke Park
One of the best parks in Minnesota, Cooke Park is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon or even an entire day. This park is managed by the city of Rochester, so you can expect it to be loaded with amenities that the whole family will want to enjoy again and again.
Active families won’t be able to resist the baseball diamond and the horseshoe pits. The park also features a playground, an open playfield, tennis courts, a sand volleyball court, and a softball field. Be sure to pack some food so that you can make the most of the picnic shelter. A paved trail provides the ideal place to enjoy a gentle stroll that the whole family will be able to appreciate. You’ll find Cooke Park conveniently located at 722 7th Street NW.
7. Quarry Hill Park and Nature Center
This facility boasts some of the best hiking trails in Rochester plus a whole lot more. It definitely deserves its reputation as a family-favorite destination across the region. In fact, with so much to do within the park’s boundaries, many families come here on multiple weekends throughout the year.
A visit to Quarry Hill Park could not be considered complete without a stop at the Nature Center. People traveling with kids will definitely feel compelled to spend some time getting acquainted with the many living creatures on display here, which include all sorts of mammals, fish and more.
You can explore all 300 acres of the park in every season. If you visit in the winter, you can get your exercise by renting cross-country skis or snowshoes. The park’s many trails offer plenty of opportunities for these activities. When snow doesn’t cover the ground, you’ll find that a wealth of hiking is waiting to be discovered. From family trails with smooth, level surfaces to the hillier woodland trails, there’s something for every ability level at Quarry Hill.
Best Parks with Lakes
8. Silver Lake Park
A city of Rochester facility, Silver Lake Park is the ideal location for you if the sight of water helps put you in a calm and relaxed mood. It’s conveniently located at 840 7th Street NE, and it boasts a broad array of amenities.
Sports-loving families will appreciate the baseball, football, softball, skating and soccer facilities. The tranquil lake is surrounded by a paved trail, the perfect excuse to enjoy a gentle stroll or even an energizing power walk. In the summer, be sure to bring swimming gear as it is possible to enjoy a dip in the lovely waters. Don’t forget that swimming is a wonderful exercise that’s easy on the joints and good for the cardiovascular system.
9. Chester Woods Park
A mere 15 minutes from downtown Rochester, you’ll find a park that offers some of the best hiking in Minnesota. This Olmstead County facility has all sorts of wonderful amenities including a campground, horse trails, and watercraft rentals. In the summer, you can enjoy paddling on the lake in canoes, kayaks, and boats or on paddleboards. The lake is stocked with panfish, catfish, and bass to delight anglers, and the ski trails open up when the snowfalls.
If you want to hike, you can choose from the hard-surface trails that link the various areas of the park together or explore the nearly 12 miles of primitive trails that are found throughout the less well-developed areas of the facility.
10. Foster Arend Park
At the center of this beautiful park is a sparkling, 18-acre lake. It features a fishing pier and is a popular spot for kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding. The swimming is excellent too, but it pays to be aware that the drop-offs are steep and there is no lifeguard on duty.
Located at 4051 E. River Road NE, Foster Arend features both paved and unpaved trails. Be sure to allow the kids some time to enjoy the playground too.
Best Dog-Friendly Parks and Trails
11.River Road Park
If you’re looking for a place to play with your four-legged best friend, then this is the park for you. It features plenty of grassy fields and fenced-off areas so that you and your pup can play to your hearts’ content. Located at 6253 West River Road NW, this park is one of the best places for your entire family to enjoy an active outing.
12. Douglas State Trail
A list of dog parks in Rochester would not be complete without mentioning this project of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This is a perfect spot for you, the kids and the family dog to enjoy an outdoor adventure. The trail winds for more than 12 miles beginning in the northwestern quadrant of Rochester and ending at Pine Island. Along the way, it passes through Douglas, from which the trail gets its name.
This trail was constructed on an abandoned railroad grade. As such, it is incredibly level and appropriate for all sorts of activities such as walking, jogging and riding bicycles. Restrooms and picnic facilities are provided along the route.
Best Hiking Trails
13. Elba Fire Tower
Are you looking for a hiking challenge? All you have to do is drive 30 minutes east of the city to find the historic Elba Fire Tower. Just getting to the base of the tower requires a challenging climb that involves 700 railroad tie “steps.” That’s enough for many people, but if you’re up to the challenge, feel free to complete the climb up the 110-foot tall tower. It sways in the wind, but there’s no comparison with the view. The trail is adjacent to Whitewater State Park so you can make a day of it.
14. Indian Heights Park
You won’t have to go far to enjoy some of the hiking trails in Rochester MN. Indian Heights is found in the heart of the city at 1800 Terracewood Drive NW. Despite its urban surroundings, this facility is a fantastic natural area with miles of unpaved trails. If you don’t want to spend a bunch of time in the car, then this is the perfect escape.
The highlight of the park is the trail that circumnavigates the park. This one-mile loop trail is fun for the whole family. The forest setting is both beautiful and peaceful. If you’re looking for an easy walk for you and the kids, you’ll be delighted. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, try jogging at least a few portions of the level trail.
15. Trilobite Ridge
Who wouldn’t love the idea of being able to spot some ancient fossils while out on the trail? That is exactly the opportunity that you get when you choose the Trilobite Ridge Trail in Quarry Hill Park. The going can be rough as you make your way to the old quarry with rocks, hills and uneven surfaces. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to inspect several cephalopod fossils in the limestone floor. If you are lucky enough to find a fossil that is small enough to carry, you are free to keep it.
16. Izaak Walton League
The Izaak Walton League of America maintains a gorgeous wetland property that is found on South Salem Road near the Weatherhill neighborhood. There’s only about one mile of trails in the park, but the scenery is stunning. Moreover, this is an excellent trail for little ones.
17. Willow Creek Reservoir
Located at 1343 Lone Pine Drive SW, this hiking trail is hidden behind the Willow Creek Golf Course. It’s a loop trail that’s easy enough for the whole family. Wildlife viewing can be excellent. Eagles frequently are spotted here. A pier juts out into the reservoir if you fancy a dip in the water or if your kids just want to try skipping stones.
18. Gamehaven Reservoir
Located inside the Gamehaven Boy Scout Ranch, this two-and-a-half-mile loop is fantastic fun for the whole family. It’s especially beautiful in the fall as the leaves begin changing colors. Bring the mountain bikes if your family wants to try a new challenge. The fishing is decent if you’re an enthusiast.
19. Zumbo South Trail
Part of the larger TrailLink project of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, this gorgeous trail is a delight for the entire family. It’s an out-and-back trail that extends for nearly 10 paved miles. With its level grade, this is the perfect place to enjoy a walk, jog, bike ride or inline skating adventure. The trail also is wheelchair accessible.
20. Bear Creek Trail
This trail is considered easy because of its negligible elevation change, yet it is a nearly six-mile out-and-back trek. You could easily use this for an introductory hike or for a more challenging cardiovascular and endurance workout. The trail is paved, making it appropriate for all levels of ability. Feel free to bring the stroller, the kids and the dog to this beautiful spot at 1237 Marion Road SE.