Spring is definitely in the air, if not yet on the ground! It is coming though, and there is no better way to greet spring in the Northland than to get out on the hiking trail with your Girl Scouts. It may be muddy when the snow finally melts, but you’ll be treated with fleeting delights of the season—like spring wildflowers and bug-free nature exploration.
As I gear up for another season of hiking with my family (including my Girl Scout Juliette daughter), I’m dreaming of some of my favorite hiking spots. Many of our area hiking trails are still covered in snow and ice, so it’s a smart idea to call before you go to learn about your destination’s specific hiking conditions. With that in mind, let’s put away the snowshoes, get out our hiking boots, and explore!
- Location: About a half-hour southeast of Saint Paul in Hastings, MN
- Where to hike: The North River Trail leads down to the St. Croix River where there is a picnic area. This trail has many steps and can be slow-going with younger girls on the way back up, but it’s worth it! The Prairie Loop from the Visitor Center is another (flatter) trail that meanders through a breathtaking prairie.
- Features: Keep your eyes to the skies and watch for eagles soaring over the river.
- Location: About an hour south of Saint Paul near Northfield, MN
- Where to hike: Hiking Hidden Falls Trail down into this old-growth stand of hardwood trees is like walking into a fairytale forest. Trails can be rugged and have steep steps at times.
- Features: Nerstrand is known for amazing spring wildflowers that bloom briefly before the forest canopy steals the sun for the summer. Check out a wildflower handbook from the library to toss in your backpack and learn their names as you go.
- Location: 5 minutes from the Minneapolis–Saint Paul airport
- Where to hike: I love taking groups of Girl Scouts to Pike Island because there are 1, 2, and 3-mile loops. You can choose the length of your hike based on the energy level of the group. Too tired to hike the whole island? Turn back at mile marker 1! But if Girl Scouts power up, they’ll be treated to a sandy beach at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. A great place for a snack break!
- Features: It is not uncommon to find groups of wild turkeys or deer on these trails. Watch for evidence of beavers, as they leave their gnawed trees and branches near the river.
- Location: 10-15 minutes outside of Hudson, WI
- Where to hike: Hikers on Willow Falls Trail are rewarded with a stunning view of the waterfall. The trail follows the Willow River and Little Falls Lake.
- Features: Check out the nature center within the park for hands-on displays and live animals (open Memorial Day through Labor Day)
These are just a few of the many beautiful hiking trails in our areas. Don’t forget to check out nature centers, regional parks, city parks, and your own neighborhoods for more places to explore the natural world.
For more fun, add your hike to a badge or Journey you may be working on. If it’s your first time hiking with your troop, be sure to use the Girl Scout Outdoor Progression Chart to help build girls’ skills. When I helped a Brownie troop earn their Hiker badge, we started in the neighborhood by hiking to a local lake. The girls learned to use a map, we practiced some Girl Scout camp songs to sing on the trail, and we talked about what to pack in our backpacks. The next time we met, we went to a state park, where we had a Girl Scout GORP ceremony to assemble our hiking snack before heading off on our hike together.
I’ve hiked many of these trails more times than I can count, but I’m always amazed at what the girls bring to the hike. They share their experiences and notice different things. In a sense, you can never really hike the same trail twice, since nature is ever-changing, and the different mix of Girl Scout sisters and friends who join you on the trail will always impact the experience.
Wherever you hike this year, we want to hear about it. Share your stories with us! Happy trails to you!
Catherine Mandle – Catherine is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She was a Girl Scout as a child, has been a Girl Scout troop leader, and now mentors her daughter on her Girl Scout Juliette path. She has dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Minnesota in anthropology and American Indian studies. Catherine has two children with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and food allergies. She loves to knit, and camps and hikes with her family as often as possible.