Best Nature Trails in West St. Paul

Thanks to Pace’s Tire and Service Center for their support. They specialize in personal, bumper-to-bumper auto care and repairs on foreign and domestic cars and trucks.

We’ve been wanting to do this story for a long time. But it feels especially necessary in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown. Take care of yourselves and follow the official recommendations. It’s pretty easy to maintain social distancing on a nature hike, plus fresh air and exercise can reduce stress and anxiety.

Nature is good. Breathe in the fresh air, listen to the birds, feel the sun on your face. The Twin Cities and Minnesota in general are blessed with bountiful nature—we’ve got parks and trails and lakes, oh my. 

But what about right here in West St. Paul? If you want to make nature more than a weekend warrior experience, you need to find some trails right here at home. 

Top 5 Nature Trails in West St. Paul

So we’ve got a list of the top nature trails (or all the nature trails—there aren’t that many) to help you get out and enjoy nature. Going for a walk along the sidewalks (if you’ve got ‘em) is great, but sometimes you need to immerse yourself in nature, away from the cars and concrete.

(A remote location can be relaxing, but remember to be safe. Walk with a buddy or carry a phone—make sure someone knows where you’re going.)

1. Dodge Nature Center

Wetland walkway at Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul.

Perhaps the best way to get lost in nature while still in the city is at Dodge Nature Center. Founded in 1967, this gem has preserved 110 acres of green space right here in West St. Paul. It’s an incredible attraction and we’re lucky to have it. 

The wetland walkway across Farm Pond is perhaps the highlight, but some of the more secluded trails can be wonderful. Don’t be surprised if you come across deer, turkey, or other wildlife. You can walk past a working farm, bee hives, and the raptor mews (that’s what you call raptor housing)—where you can say hello to rescued bald eagles, owls, and more. With six different ponds on the property, you can enjoy the calm quiet that comes with tranquil water. Listen for the splash of turtles, ducks, or muskrat.

Aerial photo of Dodge Nature Center
Aerial photo of Dodge Nature Center by Andy Berndt, looking west.

Notes: 

  • Download a trail map.
  • Trails are open during daylight hours. 
  • No dogs or bikes allowed. 
  • You can enter off Charlton or Marie and park in those lots. There’s also access via the River-to-River Greenway Trail and the Charlton tunnel, especially if you want to extend your nature walk.
  • Restrooms are available at the main office or education building during business hours only (but probably not during the shutdown).
  • If you enjoy the trails at Dodge, consider making a donation to support their work.

2. Dodge Marie Property

Boardwalk at the Marie Property of the Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul.

It might feel like cheating to list the Dodge Nature Center’s Marie Property separately, but it’s worth its own mention. This 40-acre plot is tucked away south of Marie Avenue with no signs visible from the street. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d never find it. But once you find it, it’s a quiet and peaceful preserve with streams, little bridges, and a wetland walkway. 

If you go all the way down to the wetland walkway, it’s about a 1.2-mile loop. It’s definitely downhill as you head south, so you’ll likely feel the climb as you come back north to Marie. The trail can also be pretty muddy, especially the southern section past the boardwalk. You can make a shorter loop by either bypassing the wetland walkway (saves a quarter mile) or taking the Rock View Trail bridge for a much shorter loop (about a half mile). 

Aerial photo of the Dodge Marie Property
Aerial photo of Dodge Nature Center by Andy Berndt, looking south. Marie is in the bottom right, Charlton is on the left side, 62 is at the very top.

Notes: 

  • Download a trail map.
  • Trails are open during daylight hours. 
  • No dogs or bikes allowed. 
  • There is no parking lot, though you can park on Marie or at the main Dodge property.
  • There are no restroom facilities on site.
  • If you enjoy the trails at Dodge, consider making a donation to support their work.

3. Thompson Park

New boardwalk at Thompson Park in West St. Paul.

Known mainly for the Dakota Lodge, activity center, and playground, Thompson Park also has some tucked away trails in its 57 acres that you might overlook. 

There’s the obvious looping trail around Thompson Lake, a roughly half-mile paved trail that passes the picnic shelter, fishing pier, playground, and Dakota Lodge. It’s a lot of mowed grass and more nature-adjacent. On the north end you can cross the boardwalk and see the forebay that filters out pollutants and will help improve the water quality in Thompson Lake. 

But there are also more hidden hiking trails if you know where to look. Skirting the eastern edge of the parking lot there’s a half-mile looping trail with a lot of ups and downs. South of Dakota Lodge there are several trails, including a third-mile secluded trek south of the paved bike path.

Notes: 

  • Download a trail map.
  • The park is open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • There are two parking lots on the northern end, and the park is also accessible via the paved bike path—to the east it connects to Kaposia Park and to the south it continues through West St. Paul (as part of the River-to-River Greenway Trail). 
  • Restrooms are available at Dakota Lodge and the picnic shelter (depending on availability due to the county’s emergency declaration).

4. Garlough & Marthaler Parks

Paved path at Marthaler Park in West St. Paul.

These two parks are the largest and perhaps the most natural of all West St. Paul city parks. They’re separated by Kraft Road, but the paved bike path running between them offers a perfect connection, creating a single trail experience (as it should, it’s the River-to-River Greenway Trail). With tall, mature trees, these secluded paths are a great way to get away from the noise of traffic.

The 23-acre Garlough Park features several wood chip paths that veer off from the paved path for a quieter nature experience. There’s also a barely there dirt path that heads south—just as the paved trail leaves Garlough Environmental Magnet School’s playground and goes downhill into the woods—skirting the edge of a wetland and connecting with the disc golf course (watch for players and flying discs!). 

The 34-acre Marthaler Park has the main paved trail, but on the south end you can also take the split in the paved path up the hill. It eventually dead ends, but before that you can go off the paved path and climb to the summit of the hill for a decent view.

Aerial photo of Marthaler and Garlough Parks.
Aerial photo of Dodge Nature Center by Andy Berndt, looking west. Wentworth is in the upper right, Kraft is cutting through on the left. That’s Garlough Environmental Magnet School in the upper left corner.

Notes: 

  • City parks are open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • Garlough shares parking with the school while Marthaler has two parking lots. The Charlton tunnel and bike path also connect to Dodge Nature Center if you want a longer nature hike. 
  • There are portable toilets in both parks.

5. Mud Lake Park

Dirt path at Mud Lake Park in West St. Paul.

This eight-acre city park is tucked away near the corner of Moreland and Galvin Avenues. Mud Lake takes up most of the park, but there are benches on the east and west sides of the lake, a trail around the lake, and a fairly large open area on the west side that’s usually empty. For a neighborhood park, it has a surprising amount of open space and natural areas.

The trail isn’t obvious unless you know it’s there. On the east and west sides it’s not really a trail, just mowed grass. But there is a trail through the more wooded north and south ends, so you can make an easy loop that’s less than half a mile. The trail on the south follows the fence line, so it’s clear where to go. But the north trail is less obvious. There’s a clear path on the west end of the north trail, but on the east end it feels like you’re walking through people’s backyards. Since it is so close to people’s yards, be a good neighbor. 

While it’s a small park and trail, it can be a great injection of nature to your regular walk on city sidewalks. It can be especially muddy (hence the name?), especially on the north and south ends.

Aerial photo of Mud Lake Park
Aerial photo of Dodge Nature Center by Andy Berndt, looking north. That’s Moreland at the very top and Galvin on the right side.

Notes: 

  • City parks are open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • You can access the park off Galvin Avenue or a short strip along Moreland. 
  • There’s only street parking.
  • There are no restroom facilities.

Other Nature Sights

There are plenty of great nearby parks to get some nature if you want to go outside West St. Paul. Lilydale, Fort Snelling, Crosby Farm, and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, are just a few of the nearby options.

And if you don’t need nature per se, but just want to get outside—that’s great too. Say hello to your neighbors and be sure to maintain that social distancing.

If you want to see more stories like this one, support West St. Paul Reader by becoming a patron.

Big thank you to Andy Berndt for sharing his photography. If the name sounds familiar, he’s provided photography for the City of West St. Paul and was gracious enough to share with us.

2 comments

  1. Another beautiful trail that is (partly) in WSP is Simon’s Ravine, which runs from Thompson Park to SSP’s Kaposia Park and then down to the trailhead along Concord.

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