Sometimes hidden treasures are all around us. This summer, the kids and I found ourselves exploring some of Eden Prairie’s conservation areas and parks. While the usual Staring Lake, Miller Park, and Riley Lake Park are on most people’s radars, did you know you can find yourself atop some of the highest elevation points in Eden Prairie, or hiking along the Minnesota River Bottoms? We ventured off the beaten path and discovered some amazing views and serene environments. Whether you check out these areas this week, or later this fall and winter, they’re worth the trip. It will make you appreciate the natural beauty surrounding us, and give you a good dose of fresh air and exercise! I hope you enjoy some of these ‘new to us’ conservation areas and parks!
10092 Indigo Drive
Prairie Bluff is a great place to visit if you’d like to take in some peaceful views of the Minnesota River. Located on the south side of Eden Prairie, you’ll find walking paths among the bluffs. There are paved and unpaved walking trails, with trails marked as easy or moderate. The paved trails run along the back yards of townhomes on Indigo Drive. If you head east from the parking lot and cross over Charlson Road by C.H. Robinson, you’ll find a fun painted tunnel that goes under Flying Cloud Drive, and ends with an overlook area of the river. The walk is .68 miles from the parking lot.
If you head west from the entrance, you’ll be able to access several nature trails, as well as a path down to Frederick Miller Spring. There are paved and wooden steps on parts of the nature trails to the spring.
There is a white gazebo with picnic tables located at the entrance of the small parking lot. It’s the perfect place for having a shaded lunch. There are not many trees along the paths, so you’ll definitely feel whatever Mother Nature has in store for the day. Bring a hat, plenty of water, and maybe even an umbrella or cooling towel. Since you’re higher up on the bluff, the sun definitely feels a bit hotter. If you go in the cooler months, be prepared for some wind.
Smetana Lake Park
7620 Smetana Lane
1.6 mile walk around lake
Smetana Lake Park was a park we had never visited before. Located just north of 494, near what was formerly known as Winter Park, it’s bordered by Lifetouch, Summerhill Co-Op, and a sprinkling of industrial parks. You will hear some highway noise if you are on the south end of the lake. The paved path is perfect for a bike or stroller, or a run. We appreciated the partially shaded areas, and benches throughout the path. If you’re looking for a new spot to test your fishing luck, there’s even a fishing pier and boat ramp! (Sorry – I can’t speak to what species of fish might be in the lake.)
You’ll find a covered picnic shelter area at the north entrance of the park. There is some (outdated) playground equipment available. A portion of the trail runs along this neat water feature, and we saw some pretty neat birds! Beware of the geese and geese droppings!
Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area
18700 Flying Cloud Drive
The hiking paths at Richard T. Anderson are what I would rank as moderate difficulty. Most of the trails are unpaved, and you’ll find a variety of hills and steps if you need some physical challenge. Our kids enjoyed their own version of trail running. One of the unique things about this conservation area is the diversity of landscape you will find. For you tree lovers, the forest is home to different species such as sugar maple, red oak, and hackberry. More of a prairie person? You can spot native grasses along the south and southwest sides along the slopes. Appreciate the floodplain? You may find river-bank grape, wood nettle, and silver maple. Mosquito magnet? Yep, you might find those too!
There are several entrances to Richard T. Anderson. The main entrance is off of Flying Cloud Drive, but did you know there is another parking lot you can access off the Frontier Place cul-de-sac? It is closed during the winter however.
The other marked entrance can be found at the cul-de-sac of Vogel Farm Trail. There are technically two Vogel Farm Trail cul-de-sacs if you look on a map, and it is the one that is between Settlement Drive and Overland Trail. The paved walking path leads to a set of wooden stairs that will take you on an unpaved trail into the park. I would recommend this entrance for those wishing to access the area on foot, rather than parking a vehicle and hiking.
With the many different access points to the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area, there’s nothing keeping you from exploring the 130-acres of woodlands and prairies!
James A. Brown Conservation Area
11449 Landing Road
If you are looking for a great hiking spot that gives you access to the Minnesota River, then the James A. Brown Conservation Area is perfect for you. This conservation area is located just west of Highway 169 and south of Riverview Road. There is not a designated parking lot, so you’ll have to park along residential streets. This area is subject to flooding in the spring. You can hike along the river and through the woods. It’s a very coolplace for being at one with nature and escaping the daily grind. It could be slightly creepy if you venture out alone and haven’t been there before, however.
We were the only ones in the area when we went. While we didn’t observe any wildlife, we saw evidence of critters leaving their mark on the landscape. Check out the gnawed tree in the photos below! I am sure this area is home to many animals other than the mosquitos that left their mark on us!
Riley Creek Woods Conservation Area
9795 Canopy Trail
Riley Creek Woods is a unique find, as it is nestled between Marshall’s farmland and residential neighborhoods. After exploring, you’ll find yourself wondering how you missed knowing this little gem was located in our city. There are a few access points into the area, but we drove and parked at the lot located at 9795 Canopy Trail, just south of Pioneer Trail and east of Dell Road. There is a marked entrance off the Tilia Ridge cul-de-sac, although it doesn’t appear to be used as heavily. There also is a paved path off Sky Lane in the Woods at Riley Creek neighborhood.
Being under a canopy of towering trees, (in the middle of Eden Prairie!), can be a surreal feeling. The makeshift forts in the woods will offer kids a space for creativity and imagination. There are bridges to cross over, and on the days we visited, dry creek beds to explore. The natural trails are an easy to moderate level to hike, but I would not recommend a stroller. Bikes are not allowed in the conservation area.
If you visit, you may notice restoration projects throughout the area. Riley Creek actually begins at lakes Lucy and Ann in Chanhassen, and then flows down through lakes Susan, Riley, and Rice Marsh before depositing into the Minnesota River. An increase in stormwater discharge has created active erosion along the creek. This is a problem because erosion picks up sediments that are pollutants. It also affects the quality of animal habitats.
Other Parks To Note:
6395 Ginger Drive
I’m not quite sure this would be a destination you’d want to rush out and visit. The address listed in the Eden Prairie Parks Directory for this conservation area leads you to a residential cul-de-sac. There isn’t actually a clear entrance to the area, as the park boundary markers are between two homes. There is a wetland area towards to back, otherwise you’re standing in the backyard of a home. There is no path, paved or natural. The homeowners said they occasionally get individuals asking them where the conservation area is, and the owners have admitted they didn’t know their property was listed in guide!
Eden Prairie Senior Center
8950 Eden Prairie Road
Technically the Eden Prairie Senior Center isn’t a park, although it is adjacent to Pioneer Park (8940 Sutton Drive). But – they have a gorgeous garden every year, and this year it is absolutely beautiful! Careful consideration goes into the planting each year, and it does not disappoint. It’s a peaceful place to meet up for lunch, or even a quick photo sesh. Pioneer Park is adjacent to the senior center, and here you’ll find a mix of pickleball and tennis courts, playground, shaded picnic tables, bocce ball court, and permanently affixed cornhole boards. Needing to feel inspired? Take a stroll through the community gardens and dream up next year’s veggie and floral garden plan!
Cedar Hills Park
9580 Eden Prairie Road
This charming playground has a western theme to it. Your kids will find a slide in the shape of a wagon with wagon wheel stairs. There are evenhay bale props to climb on. For the older kids, a basketball court is off in the distance. The park is equipped with picnic tables and a bridge crossing over Riley Creek, which makes for a picturesque ending to your day. The park can also be accessed via a paved path starting at Shetland Road and Thoroughbred Terrace.
I hope this curated list of Eden Prairie parks and conservation areas inspires you to get outside and explore your back yard! For more information on Eden Prairie parks, go to: https://www.edenprairie.org/amenities/parks-trails-recreation/parks
What other hidden gems or areas have you discovered in our city?