Anoka county is the home of this expanse of forest and grassland just a bit north and west of Minneapolis. There are multiple ways to get here. If you drive, the best place to park depends on the activities you have planned for yourself. I followed the signs that directed me to the south parking lot. Clearly it was the location for sledders and skiers but I did see people walking too. I checked the map and it looked like the hiking trails were connected but only about one mile of Elm Creek walking path is accessible from the south lot. Connecting to the Rush Creek Trail was not in my plan on that day. The Rush Creek Trail is a 10 mile trail to the Mississippi River at the Coon Rapids Dam. Actually, I knew all along this was the wrong place to park but I wanted to see what was possible from here. I decided to hike at Elm Creek because of this article. She said to start from the Nature Center on the north side of the park. I should have listened. Yes, it was mildly interesting to explore an area that was new to me, but getting back in my car to drive to the north end of the park was disheartening and stole precious daylight.
I almost gave up and drove home, but that did not feel right. I did not drive all that way to just walk a mile or two on an icy paved trail. The north trailhead parking is small, just enough space for about 8 cars and it was almost full. One open spot just for me! There is a loop that is about 5 miles through woods and grassland. It was exactly what I needed. There are lots of intersecting trails so you could go around a few times and vary it a bit each time. Most everything is clearly labeled to let you know if it is a section for hiking, skiing, or multi-use. I’m looking forward to spending more time here in the future and see how it changes with the seasons.