With March temps predicted in the 60s for the weekend we knew that we had to get out and explore. Though the temps were high, the winds were howling at 10-20 miles per hour. We hoped that our first visit to the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge wouldn’t be spoiled by cold winds. The visitor center is closed on Sundays and Mondays so we weren’t able to explore inside. However, the trails are open and ready for exploring! This area with miles and miles of hiking trails is a touch of urban wilderness nestled between the Mall of America and the MSP Airport. Plane traffic is a constant companion on these trails, but the giant cottonwoods, eagles nests, and deer signs (tracks and poop!) make this a wonderful spot for exploration.

We were hoping to do a big hike, at least 5 miles and hopefully 6! We hadn’t attempted a hike of that length in a long time, like over a year and a half. We have lofty summer goals that we need to start training for and this spot has long meandering trails along the Mississippi River valley a mere 30 minutes from our house, making it a perfect spot as we begin our training program. We had our packs loaded with diapers, wipes, snacks, lunches, and layers. Minnesota weather can be so tricky and you can never really trust the weather report so I like to come prepared with lots of layers.

As we set off on our day a little after 9:00am the weather was chilly but definitely warmer then we expected. Jack refused additional layers or mittens but insisted on his hat. He wanted to begin the hike by walking himself. We explored, climbed, ran, and screamed our way down into the valley.

The trail was wet and our boots were soon caked in a thick layer of mud as we slipped our way along the trail. Thankfully a little bribery with Jack, in the form of M&Ms, can almost always guarantee a ride in his backpack so he avoided most of the mud.

The trails are wide and multi-use with bicycles. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed or you face a hefty fine. We were lucky enough to have an eagle soar down right in front of us and land in his nearby nest. A fellow hiker pointed out another Eagle’s nest further down the trail.

Shortly after our halfway mark we stopped for lunch, diaper changes, and some dirt-filled play in the duff of the forest. We discovered lots of deer poop and some maggots underneath dead bark on a downed log.

“Deer poop, Mama!”

Jack found sticks for Latigo to chew and an awesome “Hiking Stick” for himself!

This was a long day on the trail and keeping a toddler happy and entertained can be tricky but also provides an opportunity for great family moments. We sing songs, play “I spy”, chase each other, race each other, and laugh.

Tears, tantrums, sore feet, blisters, and over-tired kids and parents are also a part of our day. But, there will always be hard times whether we are home, in the store, or on the trail so we would much rather be out enjoying the sun and exercising our bodies while dealing with the daily woes of a baby and toddler.

This day on the trail was exciting, difficult, invigorating, and we are still feeling sore muscles. It felt so amazing to be out in the woods working up a good sweat. Not having to worry about the warmth of our kiddos hands and feet. Getting to take our time, enjoy the moments and not be wondering if we’d pay for the lallygagging in frostbite.

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About the author


I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.

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