National Take A Hike Day : New Trail, New Friends

Ruth and her friends Liz and Shelly standing on a large landscaping rock after their hike for a photo. Ruth is holding a Women Who Hike patch.

#56hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Empire Lake Trail, Whitetail Woods Regional Park, Farmington, MN

In my never-ending quest for hiking in new places and the challenge of having dedicated time to travel to parks to hike, I’ve been continually reminded that we are very lucky here in Minnesota. We are surrounded by both urban parks and large tracts of National Park and Forest lands. What we lack in mountains, we make up for in other ways.

So when National Take A Hike Day came along, I knew that I wanted to share a hike with some of the wonderful Women Who Hike (WWH) ladies of Minnesota. An informal meet up hike would be just the ticket. And picking the location? Well that was made easy by the Dakota County Parks. A quick look on the park website lead me straight to Whitetail Woods Regional Park.

It’s the county’s newest park that is bordered by the University of Minnesota’s UMORE Park and the Vermillion Highlands Modified Wildlife Management Area. At the southern end of the park is Empire Lake and on the northwest end are three camper cabins. I decided that the park was definitely worthy of a visit.

Visitors to the park can download the park’s map or use the Avenza app to download a free map. But be wary of GPS navigation to get you to the park entrance. Two of us spent nearly 20 minutes attempting to access the park from the east. The one and only access point is on the northwest of the park off of Station Trail. Consider yourself in-the-know now if you’ve never visited.

Group of five women hiking on a grassy trail with fall leaves.

Thankfully we persisted and found each other at the park’s Ampetheater parking lot. Two of us had met before and another hiker was on her first meet up with WWH. One person was running late, but we decided to start and text her our location when she arrived using the parks numbered intersections as waypoints. As we started off we encountered a solo female hiker and asked if she’d like to join us. She did!

As we hiked we learned about each other and scooped up bits of trash along the way. Shelly was especially resourceful, having found a lost pillowcase near the parking lot that became her #11th essential for the day’s collection!

The park itself was an unexpected delight. There are paved and unpaved trails. We opted for as much unpaved as we could, circling around Empire lake across muddy spots and a boardwalk through the wettest of the wetland in the park. There are sweeping vistas and sheltering wooded areas. With nearly 10 miles of trails there is plenty to enjoy.

We quickly learned that one of our group didn’t feel confident reading a map so we stopped often to consult the signs, printed map I’d brought and our various apps to help her feel more confident. Our fifth group member, an experienced hiker caught sight of us across the lake and managed to catch up to us in no time.

We arrived back to the parking lot after the four miles as a group of new friends who I hope to see out on the trails. Shelly and I ceremoniously dumped the contents of our trash bags (and that pillowcase) into the trash bins. We said our goodbyes and then I stopped by the camper cabins for a peek. They are lovely and if you’re able to snag a date, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Despite the initial challenge of getting to the park, it was the perfect cool fall day hike. I look forward to revisiting the park again in a different season for more adventure.

Minnesota Fall Hikers Be Careful Out There

A note to Minnesota hikers heading out in the fall on trail: Please be sure to add something of bright orange to your wardrobe and check the park website or even give the park a call. It’s hunting season out there. Be seen. Be safe.

GEAR: REI 650 Down JacketVasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots,  Marmot Kompressor Pack, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview: On December 3, 2019 I’ll be presenting a session on Trip Plans at Midwest Mountaineering. Before that, I’ll post some tips from my trip planning to get you thinking about your next adventure!

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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