7 of the Best Trails to Explore with Your Dog in the Minneapolis/St.Paul Metro Area

Over 50% of Minnesotans live within the 7 county region that locals call the Twin Cities. Named for the two central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, this urban area is also home to a lot of dogs.

So when these dogs want to hit the trails with their humans, where are the best spots to explore? After living in the Twin Cities for over 6 years, here are some of my favorite dog-friendly trails in/near the metro area.

  • Fort Snelling State Park
  • Minnehaha Falls
  • Paved Trails around Bde Maka Ska
  • Lake Elmo Park Preserve (or Sunfish Lake Park)
  • Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Louisville Swamp
  • Lebanon Hills Regional Park
  • Afton State Park

Most of these trails are located in the central to the southern half of the Twin Cities. So if anyone has some great suggestions for dog-friendly hikes in the north metro, please leave us a note in the comments below.

Fort Snelling State Park

Fort Snelling State Park is my favorite hiking destination in the heart of the Twin Cities. Despite the airplanes that you can occasionally hear flying overhead, this park is large enough that it feels removed from the hustle and bustle of the city around you.

My favorite trail is the loop around Pike Island. On this loop, you can enjoy Mississippi River views from a lovely forested trail. This trail is especially nice in the summer when your pup can take a quick dip in the water to beat the heat.

The hike is also nice in the winter, as it is a relatively flat trail without much elevation. And as those who regularly hike in the winter know, it can be nice to not have to worry about navigating icy hills. Keep in mind though that the outer loop on Pike Island is groomed for cross-country skiing when there is adequate snow. Dogs are not allowed on the groomed ski trails. The center of the island is open for hiking dogs year-round.

Please also be aware that this is a state park, so a state park admission sticker is required. Also (like all of the trails on this list), dogs are required to be leashed.

Minnehaha Falls Regional Park

The centerpiece of Minnehaha Falls Regional Park is the 53-foot waterfall from which the park takes its name. But for those looking for a short hike with their pup, a roughly 2-mile out and back trail can be found from the falls to where the stream flows into the Mississippi River.

The falls are beautiful no matter which season you visit during. And if two miles doesn’t offer enough hiking for you, Fort Snelling State Park and Hidden Falls Regional Park in St. Paul are both nearby.

Right next door to the falls is a dog park. Personally, my dogs don’t visit dog parks these days. But if you are a dog park supporter, the dog park at Minnehaha Off-Leash Dog Park is one of the best in the Twin Cities. Just make sure you are following all of the rules and regulations of the local dog park system before entering.

Bde Maka Ska

For those looking for a paved trail option, Bde Maka Ska is the largest lake in Minneapolis Minnesota and is encircled by bike and walking trails. The lake is also part of the city’s Chain of Lakes, many of which have their own walking/biking trails.

The loop around Bde Maka Ska is 3.2 miles in length. This trail is the most urban feeling of any of the trails listed in this post. But sometimes an urban walk/hike can be a fun change of pace.

Lake Elmo Park Reserve

On the eastern side of the Twin Cities, Lake Elmo Park Reserve is a nice dog-friendly hiking option. The trails are gentle and wide with a mix of paved and unpaved trail options.

Dogs are allowed on most trails as long as they are leashed. However, be aware that like Fort Snelling State Park, Lake Elmo Park Preserve does groom trails for cross-country skiing in the winter and these groomed trails do not allow dogs.

Our favorite hiking loop at Lake Elmo Park Reserve is the Eagle Point loop. This trail is 3.8 miles in length and encircles Eagle Point Lake. There are some lovely lake views along this hike.

Lake Elmo Park Reserve is part of the Washington County Parks system, which does charge an admission fee. We purchased a park pass for one year and wrote a blog post to try and help our readers decide if purchasing a park pass is worth it.

If you don’t like admission fees and are looking for a free hiking trail near Lake Elmo, consider Sunfish Lake Park. This park is smaller, but less trafficked compared to Lake Elmo Park Reserve. And the trails are just as nice.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Full disclosure, we haven’t hiked at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge yet. But we have heard other hikers give this hiking location great reviews. And we did enjoy our hike at the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area, which is just a few miles down the river.

There are numerous units to this National Wildlife Refuge, but our online hiking friends tell us that the Louisville Swamp section offers the best dog-friendly hiking at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This section is located on the southwest edge of the Twin Cities.

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

We took our first hike at Lebanon Hills Regional Park last month. The park was beautiful with numerous hiking trails to choose from.

For our first visit, we hiked the Jenson Lake Loop. This hiking trail is a heavily trafficked hiking loop that is a little over 2 miles in length.

The miles of trails were well used, as we passed several other hikers also enjoying the unseasonably warm winter day during our visit. The views were nice in the winter, but we bet the lake is just even better in the summer.

Afton State Park

Our final hiking trail on this list is inside of another state park. Afton State Park is located along the St. Croix River and offers miles of hiking trails ranging from flat to hilly.

Some of the trails have wonderful views of the St. Croix River and there are even a few beaches that allow you to dip your toes in the river on summer hikes.

For first time visitors, I always recommend the North or South River Trails. Combined they offer 3.2 miles of trail (one way) with scenic views of the river valley. Mix and match these trails as desired with other trails in the park system to make a loop and explore more of the park.

Ready to explore the many dog-friendly trails Minnesota has to offer?

There are so many dog-friendly trails in/near the Twin Cities area of Minnesota that it is always hard to choose only a few. But hopefully, this list will encourage you to get outdoors with your pup and start exploring the area around you. And if you find more trails that you think are good enough to be included in this list, please let us know in the comments section below.

If this list doesn’t offer enough options for you and you are still looking for more dog-friendly hiking trails in Minnesota, then check out one of the following blog posts for more suggestions.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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