Looking for a hike that offers scenic views, some challenging trails, colorful wildflowers, and...maybe...even a place to fly a model airplane? Then check out Spring Lake Park, a few miles west of Hastings. This river town southeast of St. Paul is one of Minnesota’s oldest communities, established in 1857, and is set along the Mississippi, St. Croix and Vermillion rivers.
A Dakota County Park, Spring Lake Park Reserve is a wooded area that sits above the Mississippi River. The park’s Schaar’s Bluff trails, more than three miles long, feature shady, moss-covered forest paths and expansive river views. On a clear day, hikers can see the big city, some 30 miles away. And there’s no better place in the area to see a sunset. According to local B&B owners, the bluff is also a romantic destination for couples to pop the question.
The park’s forests and fields are habitat for more than 20 types of wildflowers. In the spring, watch for Dutchman’s Breeches, Yellow Lady Slipper and violets. Special programming and events include a spring foraging workshop complete with chef demos (May 17) and a music festival on Aug. 17, 2014.
The park offers an unusual find: an airfield for model airplanes. It got its start 20 years ago as a place for a local club to fly their radio-controlled model airplanes. The club is now gone, but the field is still open by permit to any model airplane enthusiasts interested in testing their skills.
There are two entrances to the park; to find the Schaar’s Bluff area, follow the signs off Hwy. 55 or County Road 42; there is no entrance or parking fee.
The park has several picnic areas, but a drive into Hastings offers many dining options. Downtown, The Onion Grille is where locals line up for home-cooked fare. Onions, per the name, are showcased in most dishes, including the signature baked onion. The restaurant offers river views and a model train circles the interior, chugging along as patrons eat.
Also in town is the Alexis Bailly Vineyard. Wise wine connoisseurs are stationed behind the sampling counter, and large oak barrels line the walls. Outside, you can play bocce ball or stroll through a sculpture park. On certain afternoons, you can listen to live jazz.
So enjoy your hike, savor a meal in town, and top it off with a glass of wine. Salut!