The Minneapolis – St. Paul Trail

  ”  The fifteenth mile felt as fresh as the first – for one reason only; no fuel feeds a fire like the satisfaction of curious desire.  Accompanying the river , this beautiful dirt footpath, broken by eroded draws and uplifted stones, continued downstream, into the undergrowth and around a bend.  Never had a walk in the park sparked such ambition. Rarely was I willing to drive to St. Paul. Now I wondered… could I walk there? “

 “The fifteenth mile felt as fresh as the first – 

The Vision

To complete, support and protect 40 miles of footpath along the natural spaces of the Mississippi River corridor between twin downtown districts, and become the first urban “National Scenic Spur designated”:

The Minneapolis – St. Paul Trail


Envision an unpaved, continuous,  and globally distinct unpaved hiking & backpacking trail linking two major metropolitan areas via the natural wilds of the Mississippi River corridor, the first urban wild trail. A natural recreation destination paired with two urban playgrounds. A route weaving deep into the only gorge on the Mississippi River, through oak savanna, floodplain forest, over bluff top exposures and sandstone outcrops, past ponds, lakes, creeks and spectacular waterfalls.


Imagine the opportunity for wilderness hiking and multi day backpacking in the backyard of an urban population of three million. Imagine losing sight of a city skyline, surrounded by limestone cliff and leafy canopies. Imagine enjoying fish tacos and cold craft brews at an urban eatery halfway point and letting light rail transit carry your exhausted legs back to the trailhead. Go bigger, testing your trekking kit with a weekend circuit made possible with a Fort Snelling State Park campsite. Imagine the world’s most infamous urban trail running marathon event. Will you be the one to hold a point-to-point or circumnavigation record?

An Overview of The Trail

The loftiest vision for The MSPT is a continuous unpaved track. A wilderness area trail experience. Geographic choke points in the river gorge and the existence of paved trail infrastructure checks this vision. In the interest of immediate experience, this trail survey combines unpaved single track and paved trail infrastructure into an already existing MSPT route. Red areas indicate segments where the natural corridor experience is currently inaccessible and would require trail construction, land acquisition or easement approvals.

Numerous variations of MSPT route are possible. The corridor is traversed by two major routes.

                     North & East Bank                                             South & West Bank

An incredible mix of urban and natural amenities are encountered, including the bars and restaurants of downtown waterfront districts, and wild attractions of state and city parks. Light rail transit stations connect the terminus and halfway points, solving most shuttle challenges. Combine the pursuit of biking, paddling, fishing, hammocking, picnicking, nordic skiing or snowshoeing for the ultimate urban outdoor adventures.


The neighboring Ice Age National Scenic Trail is used by more than 1.25 million people, contributing $113 million annually to local economies. MSP is home to a population of potential users more than twice that size. Imagine the economic potential of a national scenic trail book ended by the amenities of two major metropolitan areas. This distinct world destination would be a hot bed foundation for trail tourism, stimulating the creation of trail events, with their influx of tourism dollars and increase in general consumer spending.

Trails, and investments in outdoor recreation spaces, particularly in urban areas, reap benefits in increased property values, livability indices, health care savings, development and jobs.

Greater MSP, our economic development partnership has conducted research that finds, after good jobs, our cities’ greatest attractor is our outdoor recreation infrastructure. Young talent around the world with MSP job offers or opportunities are comparing quality of living with access to outdoor recreation opportunities their leading qualifier. What better to solidify ownership of an urban wild brand, to project a culture of urban outdoor explorers, than the development of a trail unlike any other in the world.


Physical Trail Barriers

The trail, in a more urban than wild form, exists now. To maximize the experience of our metropolitan urban wilds, several segments of the Mississippi River National Scenic River and Recreation Area corridor would require grading a minimal, wilderness style trail. Two other major obstacles to a continuous footpath exist. The first: a water ferry crossing below the Mendota Heights Bridge. The second: a railway crossing adjacent to the western end of Lilydale Park to allow access to the woodland heights above Pickerel Lake.

Overnight Camping Infrastructure

To deliver on the promise of multi-day adventuring on the MSPT construction and maintenance of an overnight camping accommodation is of the highest priority. The Minnesota state park system is adept and entirely capable of managing campground infrastructure. Surprisingly, the most urban of all the parks, Fort Snelling, does not offer overnight camping. A pilot program to host youth camp programming has existed since 2013 and will hopefully yield insights leading to the creation of a campground situated at the midpoint of the MSPT.

Trail Organization & Maintenance

Scenic trails of the caliber the MSPT aspires to become require an organized, responsible and reliable community of maintenance volunteers, policy spokespersons, safety moderators, researchers, urban development planners, event coordinators and fundraisers. A national scenic trail in the backyard of 3 million should have little challenge recruiting commitment to the cause. The people have tread an already existent unpaved path of desire nearer the woods and waters of the Mississippi. National and local government have a responsibility to respond to this with support for a wilderness style trail within the natural bounty of their landholdings.

Congressional Recognition as National Scenic Spur Trail 

This 40 miles of footpath is a global achievement on its own.

But the growing network of national scenic trails is a next level game. The nation has been transected by wilderness area footpaths four times. Half of our states can be crossed on foot via passages of natural beauty. No major metropolitans exist on this incredible network of outdoor recreation. To be the first, MSP would need to expand their urban wild trail to the St. Croix River and follow it upstream to the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail at Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park.

Immediate linkages could be provided by a watercraft fleet connecting ports in St. Paul to Interstate State Park, requiring a 35 mile paddle down the Mississippi to the confluence of the St. Croix, then upriver that waterway. Paddle campsites already exist along this route to accommodate trail travelers.  Such an endeavor adds to the distinct experience of the MSPT. Future easements and acquisitions would develop a land trail that connects MSP to the overwhelming bounty of America’s national scenic trail system.

Such a connection qualifies the trail for application to become a Congressionally recognized National Scenic Trail Spur, joining the ranks of world famous trails like the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide.

Hike the Trail

Explore the trail on this map.

The route is mostly navigable along both banks of the river. There are several sections particularly overgrown or eroded. Travel at your own risk and detour on other developed infrastructure where necessary. Imagine where a future trail might exist from an adjacent route.

#GTFO and #keepmspwild

on January 19 • by

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