With fall color season on the way, I couldn't help but think about all the wonderful opportunities we have to take a walk and enjoy the crisp, fall air under trees ablaze with color without even leaving the city. A hidden gem popular with runners and hikers is Pike Island, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in Ft. Snelling State Park. I had never hiked it before and decided that yesterday was a perfect day to explore it!
The island is named after Zebulon Pike, who purchased it for the federal government in 1805 as part of the parcel of land that was to become Ft. Snelling. You can see it in the rivers below Ft. Snelling in the historic painting above representing the view from Mendota Heights. The point in the right photo above is where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet, with Mendota Heights bluffs on the right.
The island is reserved for hikers and runners only, with a NO BIKES sign on the only bridge connecting to the island. I was frustrated we didn't find any maps along the route we took… was glad to be able to track where we were on my phone. We did find a couple trail maps posted along the Minnesota River side on our way back. The packed trail around the whole island is about 3 miles, with cut-across paths for one-mile and two-mile loops.
As you cross the bridge there is a trail that branches off to the right, which heads to the Minnesota River side of the island… straight ahead and to the left is the trail to the Mississippi River side.
I found it fascinating how each side of the island has its own distinctive character. The Mississippi River side drops down to a sandy beach where the water continues to erode and expose tree roots above the shore line. I was surprised to find big stands of dune grass on some sections of the sandy shoreline. It's a great place to stroll the beach and look across the river to St. Paul's Crosby Farm Park… and watch the recreational boats on the river. We even saw a water skiier when we were out yesterday!
The trail on the Minnesota River side was much sandier, but there was no sand beach. There were more open spaces and more evidence of flooding… with tree trunks themselves bearing natural markings of flood stages. It would appear that much of the island may be under water during high flood seasons. We noted that we saw only deciduous trees, not sure if there were any evergreens or pines hiding in the woods… we guessed that it must be related to the combination of sandy soil and wet springs.
If you decide to pay a visit to Pike Island, you can enter through Ft. Snelling State Park where you can use your state park sticker or pay a fee… or you can park at Historic Ft. Snelling with no charge and walk to the adjoining state park.
I had gone to the island before through the park and decided to try parking at Ft. Snelling this time. It took me awhile to figure out where to go but it was easy once I figured it out… hopefully this helps if this is your first visit…
When you get out of your car you can go enjoy the lookout view by the Historic Fort Snelling marker, then go back and follow the sidewalk along the parking lot towards and past the barracks. After the barracks you will see paths branching off, but continue straight towards the fort. Opposite the entrance to the fort there is an unassuming path that winds to a paved path with steps down the hill, then joins another paved path continuing down the hill. Follow this path to the state park.
When you get to the bottom of the hill below the fort, this path will connect with another paved path… going to the left continues along the fort on the way to Minnehaha Falls (don't go that way)… turn to the right and in just a short distance you will find an unpaved trail branching off to the left with an informational kiosk. The kiosk, although interesting, isn't about Pike Island… keep going until you see another path branch off to the left heading to a footbridge. This is the bridge to Pike Island, with a bike rack reminder that the island is for foot traffic only.