Washington County Gets Active in the Fall
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Activities like summer boating on the lake or winter cross country skiing may steal the headlines, but residents highly anticipate the fall season in Minnesota. In Washington County specifically, fall offers some of the best outdoor activity to be found anywhere. From hiking through the vibrant color display of area trees to apple-picking through plush orchards, Washington County outdoor activities are plentiful even as the days get shorter!
County and State Parks
The amount of outdoor space that comes alive in Washington County in fall is staggering, with over 4,400 acres of parks and trails for resident and visitor enjoyment. In 2019, the National Research Center performed a survey of Washington County residents, in which respondents stated they have a high quality of life, highlighted by fantastic access to outdoor amenities. In the survey, 60% of respondents indicated they visited parks or trails at least three times in the past year. In addition, excellent recreation possibilities can be found in Afton State Park and WIlliam O’Brien State Park, both situated on the St. Croix River but at opposite ends of the county.
- Big Marine Park Reserve in Marine on St. Croix
- Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park in Cottage Grove
- Hardwood Creek Regional Trail in northwestern Washington County
- Lake Elmo Park Reserve in Lake Elmo
- Pine Point Regional Park in Stillwater
- Point Douglas Park in Hastings
- Point Douglas Regional Trail in southern Washington County
- Square Lake Park in Stillwater
- St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park in Hastings
- Afton State Park in Afton
- William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix
Read on to learn what makes these areas so popular for recreation for all ages!
Washington County has over 75 miles of paved and natural hiking trails winding throughout its carried terrain. It is extremely difficult to point to a highlight as nearly every park has some degree of hiking. William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix has over 12 miles of natural hiking trails weaving through its hills, woods and wetlands bordering the St. Croix River.
One segment of family fun unique to fall is apple picking. Washington County has an eclectic collection of farms where folks can pick their own apples. But there is so much more than just apples to enjoy. Pumpkins, gourds and wagon rides make heading out to the orchards an event everyone of all ages can enjoy.
Bicyclists have access to numerous paved and unpaved trails throughout Washington County. The Hardwood Creek Regional Trail is 9.5 miles and connects as it exits the county to the Sunrise Prairie Trail for longer distance trips. Pine Point Regional Park is the northern terminus of the 18 mile paved Gateway State Trail that begins in St. Paul. Mountain bikers have access to a 1.3 mile course within the park and an unpaved track alongside the Gateway State Trail. The Point Douglas Regional Trail offers sweeping vistas of the MIssissippi River and users can access the Dakota County Regional Trail System from it as well.
Boating & Fishing
Fishing is a year-round endeavor in Minnesota and Washington County contributes to that reputation significantly. Each of the county parks offer fishing and boating, with many having quality boat launches The two state parks provide access to the St Croix River. The best resources in the county may be the eight watershed districts, which manage the 468 lakes in Washington County greater than 10 acres in size! The best resource for finding locations to fish may be the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Name the species and you more likely than not can fish for it in Washington County!
Kayak, Canoe, Paddle Board
Fall is an incredible time to relax on Washington County’s waters. The nationally-recognized wild and scenic river route along the St. Croix River offers paddlers of all experience levels to enjoy water recreation amidst the blazing fall colors. Users can access the river from the St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. The natural shoreline on Big Marine Lake makes it an ideal place for paddle sports. The Big Marine Lake Reserve itself features high-quality upland and wetland wildlife habitat, giving paddlers the sensation of being in a pristine natural environment.
Fall camping offers an altogether different experience from spring and summer. Brisk mornings transition into warm, sun-filled days at Lake Elmo Park Reserve.Those seeking electric and water hookups can head to the modern campground with 80 sites to choose from. Twenty more sites can be accessed by those not needing electricity. Hikers can travel 100 to 300 yards to five tent sites, for ustic, hike-in and modern users. St. Croix Bluffs has 52 drive-in sites with electric hookups and 11 sites for tents. Reservations for either can be made online.
Afton State Park, located next to the well known ski area Afton Alps, has hike-in campsites amongst the 20 miles of hiking trails in the park.
Fall equals fun
Crisp mornings, warm days and beautiful sunsets among vibrant forest colors is what fall is about in Washington County. Plenty of recreation can be found throughout the parks, trails and natural ecosystems present. There is still plenty of time to get out and enjoy them before considering winter recreation in Washington County!