In the Woods and on the Water

It’s all fun and games until someone has to bike back to the car at the end of a St. Croix River canoe trip.

The 5th of July was a repeat of the day before, minus a few thousand fireworks. On Sunday, we rolled through Marine on St. Croix under a sweltering sun, throwing candy and rubber bracelets. Monday’s parade took place on the water, where we joined a few hundred people who had apparently also decided it was the perfect day to go paddling on the St. Croix River. We marveled at towering basalt cliffs, watched freshwater mussels create trails across the river’s sandy bottom, and toppled overboard to cool off every few miles. It was all dreamy until I nearly gave myself heatstroke riding back to Interstate State Park to gather our car at the end of the day.

Canoeing on the St. Croix River near Interstate State Parks, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota summers offer a bounty of outdoor adventures – many of them right here in our own backyards. Washington County is home to more than 200 lakes, the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, two state parks, seven county parks, and dozens of city parks and nonprofit nature centers. Here is a lineup of some of the many FREE, fun, outdoor events scheduled for the coming month.

Lake Elmo’s Sunfish Lake Family Nature Day – Saturday, July 10, 9am-noon: enjoy a variety of nature activities including scavenger hunts, nature and garden displays, and live animals while exploring the vast network of trails at Sunfish Lake Park (10,000 Stillwater Lane N, Lake Elmo). The event also includes a free nature photography workshop at 9:30am. Text 651-769-7001 to RSVP for the workshop. Free.

Women’s Woodland Walk at Arcola Bluffs Trail – Monday, July 19, 5:30-7pm: Join staff from Wild Rivers Conservancy and Minnesota DNR to hike and learn about woodland management. Learn how to use iNaturalist and other apps to ID plants and wildlife, and learn about programs to assist woodland landowners in protecting and improving your land (11471-11871 Arcola Trail N, Stillwater). Participant Limit: 10 (due to parking) Register at Free.

Family Fishing with Trout Unlimited at Carpenter Nature Center – Saturday, July 31, 10am-noon: Learn how to cast, bait a hook, and release your fish. Staff will also talk about different types of lures and baits you can use to catch the big ones! Program participants will be fishing from the CNC dock on the St. Croix River and a short, steep hike is required to get down to the water (12805 St. Croix Trail S., Hastings). Register at 651-437-4359. Free.

Summer Saturdays at Belwin Conservancy – July 10, 17, 24, 31, 8am-4pm: Explore 4-miles of hiking trails and a lookout tower at Belwin Conservancy’s Education Center property (1553 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton). Belwin preserves and manages 1,500 acres of prairie, savanna, and woodlands in Afton, including Valley Creek, a designated trout stream. On your way to the Education Center, you can also walk out to a viewing platform at 15551 Division St. to see a herd of bison grazing in restored prairie. 

Forest Lake Arts in the Park, Watershed Pop-Up Event – Tuesday, July 27, 5-8pm: Enjoy live music, food, kids’ games, and vendors at Lakeside Memorial Park every Tuesday in July and August, 5-9pm. On July 27, East Metro Water Education Program will host a pop-up event with live macroinvertebrates from Forest Lake, as well as a water pollution mystery game. Visit for a map of hidden clues on July 27.