10 Secret ‘Local’ Adventures Around GearJunkie HQ

Slot canyons in the city? Ice climbing at night? This guide highlights 10 ‘secret’ local adventures in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Nighttime ice climbing in a slot canyon at Crosby Farm Park, St. Paul
Nighttime ice climbing in a slot canyon at Crosby Farm Park, St. Paul

GearJunkie is headquartered in the urban core of Minneapolis. Living and working in the city can pose a challenge for our gear testers and the outdoors-minded staff. But the Minneapolis area is blessed with parks, trails, wilderness, and an active community that embraces the outdoors year-round.

As a part of a project with Eddie Bauer — a brand with 400 stores nationwide set to outfit adventures small or big — the ‘Live Your Local Adventure’ Tour highlights urban adventures and accessible outdoor places near home. The tour is set to visit six U.S. cities, where we’ll meet readers, find local beta, and head out to explore.

This guide highlights 10 (somewhat) secret area adventures where the staff of GearJunkie tromps, trains, and tests equipment from the July heat to the depths of a January freeze. Here’s what we do in Minneapolis.

1) Unusual Hike: Slot Canyon

Just minutes from the MSP international airport you can find a taste of canyoneering. Head to Crosby Farm Regional Park along the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Hike east toward Crosby Lake. A singletrack trail skirts the edge of the bluff. Continue to hike east a few hundred feet. Where it crosses a creek (dry bed many months) look uphill to find the massive, pinching sedimentary cliffs. Hike up the creek bed and into the mouth of a high canyon with sheer walls and a waterfall at the top.

Twin Cities adventure map
1) Slot Canyon Hike; 2) Down-Creek Swim; 3) Urban Ice Climbing; 4) Orienteering Challenge; 5) ‘Pirate’ Trail Run; 6) Alleycat Bike Race; 7) MTB City Singletrack; 8) Hike The ‘Refuge’; 9) Ice Swimming; 10) Paddle ‘Sky-Color Waters’

2) Swimming For A Thrill: ‘Bomb’ The Minnehaha Creek

In high flow, Minnehaha Creek in south Minneapolis can be a swimmable flume ride for adventurous types willing to risk knees knocking on shallow rock. Tall banks and narrow width make for a creek that pumps water fast. Small rapids and bridge swims — including a can’t-see-the-end tunnel under France Avenue — add to the swimming adventure in the city. Recommended: Hop in near Lyndale Ave. and swim downstream for about a mile to the Portland Ave. bridge; get out and run upstream to the start to warm back up. Tip: Swim headfirst in a front-crawl motion, and keep your knees and feet up to avoid contact with the rocky streambed below.

3) Frozen Ascents: Urban Ice Climbing

Fossil collecting is allowed in the weird quarries of St. Paul’s Brickyards each summer. In winter, the fractured cliff walls seep water, which crystallize to curtains of ice. Climbers kick crampons and swing axes, ascending the 30 – 50-foot routes on top-rope and lead. Hit the ice starting from a trailhead above the Mississippi River off West Water Street across from downtown St. Paul.

Find the flags with a map and compass at an orienteering meet
Find the flags with a map and compass at an orienteering meet

4) Map & Compass: Go Orienteering

The Minnesota Orienteering Club hosts meets throughout the year in the Twin Cities, including a series of “adventure runs” each fall in places like Como Park (St. Paul), Hyland Lake Reserve (Bloomington), and French Park (Plymouth). Participants get a map marked with checkpoints hidden throughout an urban woods. The goal is to run, hike, and bushwhack your way from point to point, a compass and topo lines as your only guide.

5) ‘Pirate’ Trail Running

Ignored wild lands abutting parks, some streaming in and out of municipal and railroad properties, form a beltway of green north to south from the first-ring suburb of Robbinsdale to Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. Start a run in Robbinsdale’s Sochacki Park and head southbound with your trail shoes on. The dirt leads in a splintered network to Theodore Wirth Park, where established paths as well as unmarked “pirate” trails funnel into the scrappy urban woods along Bassett Creek.

6) Street Scene: Alleycat Bike Race

Bike couriers are paid to ride around the city all day, navigating streets and finding obscure addresses to deliver packages and goods. The underground activity of alleycat bike racing gives participants a similar choose-your-route challenge around a city. You’re tasked to find hidden clues and navigate the urban grid. Ask around at bike shops like One On One or Sunrise for beta on the Minneapolis scene. The recurring No Name Alleycat, held the first Sunday night of each month, is a great entry point to this subculture and scene.

7) MTB City Singletrack

Minneapolis is known as a top bike town, and this extends to mountain biking. Theodore Wirth park, just west of downtown, has miles of trails for the off-road crowd. In the ‘burbs, extensive singletrack networks are found at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve (Savage), Elm Creek (Maple Grove), and Lebanon Hills (Eagan).

Map: Lebanon Hills mountain biking trails
Map: Lebanon Hills mountain biking trails

8) Want Nature? Head To The ‘Refuge’

A jewel of true wilderness creates a stop-gate at the south end of town. The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a 14,000-acre chunk of wild land around its namesake Minnesota River. Mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, and winter activities abound in the deciduous river bottoms. Head to the visitor center in Bloomington for maps and naturalist displays. Or, park where Lyndale Ave. dead-ends at the river and journey into quiet nature to the east or west.

Bonus: A permanent “bike ferry” raft at the mouth of Nine Mile Creek in the refuge offers passage over the waterway and a fun DIY crossing where you need to haul hand-over-hand to float to the other side.

9) Cold Plunge: Ice Swimming

We profiled the ‘Night Water Butterflies’ in a video last year. The group uses a sauna, a portable hot tub, campfires, and holes cut in lake ice to make the ingredients for its polar-plunge club. Anyone is welcome to the Minneapolis group’s gatherings. You strip down on snow and jump into icy waters “for a shock of reality in the arctic climate of the North.”

Sveta Vold pulls on a layer after a 'night water butterflies' polar plunge
Sveta Vold pulls on a layer after a ‘night water butterflies’ polar plunge

10) Paddle! Original MN Water Sport

With three major rivers — the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix — in and near town, the canoe and kayak options are endless. Multiple creeks lace the city, too. And more than two-dozen lakes offer a venue for anyone inclined to paddle, SUP, row, kite-ski, and otherwise glide on the region’s famous and abundant namesake sources of natural H2O.

–What did we miss? Leave your local adventure tip in the comments below. And join us and Eddie Bauer on the ‘Live Your Local Adventure’ Tour