If you’ve ever spent time hiking in Minnesota’s State Parks, you’ve likely noticed blue hiking club signs along some of the trails. Those signs designate trails that are part of the Minnesota’s Hiking Club trail system. To find out more about the club, we interviewed Amy Barrett who works for the Division of Parks and Trails. Find the full interview below.
Q: Tell us about the hiking club.
A: The hiking club is an opportunity for people to get out and explore the most significant trails in Minnesota’s state parks. They tend to be easy, family-friendly routes that take people past some of the most significant natural features in these areas. So, if you were driving through and area and you wanted to stretch your legs, but you only had an hour, you could often do one of these hiking club hikes. They give you a real sense of the park.
What is fun about the hiking club hikes is that at the halfway point of the route there is a sign posted with a secret word, so it gives kids in particular something to look for if they start getting bored. It makes it sort of a treasure hunt.
The secret password at the end of each trail has some significance to the park that it’s in. When you find it, you can write it down in the booklet that comes with the hiking club kit. It gives you a way to document your mileage. People who want to track their mileage can see it accumulate and purchase patches that show how far they’ve hiked in the Minnesota State Parks.
Q: How many hiking club trails are in the state of Minnesota?
A: There are 75 state parks across the state and 67 of them have hiking club trails.
Q: What has surprised you most about the hiking club?
A: As a participant it surprised me that couple of the hikes over 6 miles long. The Beaver Creek State Park hike, for example, is 6.2 miles. That’s a more significant undertaking than I expected. However, it suggests is that there is a hike for everyone. Hikes vary from 1 to about 6 miles, with most being 2-3 miles.
Most of the hikes in our parks are geared for a beginner level, but there are also some that are more challenging. If you find a hike is too challenging, you can always do a segment of the hike. You might not always make it to the password sign and back on your first attempt.
Q: What are the trail milestones?
A: The milestones include 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, 175 and all miles. Patches can be purchased when people reach each milestone. At the 100 miles participants receive a free night of camping. They also receive a free night of camping and a hiking club plaque when they reach the all miles milestone.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the hiking club?
A: To someone who doesn’t get out and do it very often, hiking sounds more difficult or challenging than it needs to be. If we would say that we are going for a casual walk it might not seem as intimidating as saying we are in the hiking club. So, that is something that I would want to clarify with anyone who has concerns.
Also, people might not know what to bring. It’s important to pack right for an enjoyable hike. If you don’t have sunscreen, if you don’t have water, if you don’t have snacks, then you might not have a very good time. But, if you have the appropriate amount of food and clothing, you can go longer and have more fun.
Q: What packing advice would you give to people who are new to hiking?
A: Water is the most important thing to bring. Make sure you have enough not only for yourself, but for everyone hiking with you. If you have kids don’t underestimate how thirsty they might get. Water and nutritious snacks will help keep everyone’s energy level up.
Dress for the weather and know the forecast is going to be (even if they aren’t always accurate). Dressing in layers is usually the best way to go. You might start off with a sweatshirt or jacket in the morning, but you’ll be able to throw it in a backpack once you get warmed up.
It’s always a good idea to wear sunscreen, especially if you’re hiking a trail with a lot of sun exposure. We also encourage bug spray because it is not uncommon to find a mosquito.
Bringing a paper map is helpful. A lot people have GPSs and smart phones, but it’s not always possible to get reception when you’re in a forest. We have printed maps available at the offices as you enter the park.
Good footwear is also very important. Comfortable closed toe shoes are best. You wouldn’t want to take kids out on a hike with flip flops. We don’t want them to get blisters, so be careful about the footwear you select when going on the trails.
Q: Are there other things about the hiking club that people might not know about?
A: Something that people might not know about is that the hiking club trail coincides with the Wildflower Geocaching Adventure. It involves finding a hidden box in each of the state parks and when opening the box there is a little log book and a collectible flower card inside. The collectible card has a picture and fun facts about a flower that can be seen in that park. Through the cards, families can learn about natural resources that have been protected at that location.
There is also a Passport Club where you get a stamp for every park that you visit. If you’re in the hiking club, you might as well join the Passport Club for additional rewards along the way (such as a free night of camping or a plaque when you’ve visited all of the state parks).
Q: How do people get involved/join?
A: People can join by purchasing a club kit for $14.95 each at most state park offices that are staffed, at the DNR Information Center in Saint Paul (500 Lafayette Road), or by calling 1-888-646-6367. The kit includes great descriptions of the hikes and a place to log the trail passwords and hike memories. It helps people keep track of where they have been and where they need to go.
After purchasing a kit, look for a blue Hiking Club sign at state parks. Staff at the offices can direct you to the beginning of the trail heads if you are unsure of where to go. The state park trail maps online also show where the trailheads in each park are located.
Q: What North Shore hiking club trail(s) do visitors need to put on the top of their “to do” list?
A: The hiking club trail in Goosbery Falls State Park is 2.2 miles. You start at the visitors’ center and follow the trail to the Gooseberry River, cross the bridge as you take in views of the upper and middle falls. Then hike the Gitchi-Gummi trail known for its high overlooks, stunning views of Lake Superior and the Gooseberry River Valley. The end of the trail brings you to a point that juts out into Lake Superior where you are rewarded with beautiful views from the overlook.
Grand Portage is also another great place to visit. It is a one mile hike on a boardwalk, so it is an easy hike to take if you are with someone in a stroller or in a wheelchair. Along it you’ll get to see Minnesota’s highest waterfall, which is 120-feet on the Pigeon River.
Q: Where can people get more information about the club?
A: For more information on the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/clubs.html or call the DNR Information Center at (888) 646-6367