The Best Summer Running Routes in Minnesota
Running during the summertime in Minneapolis is like a right of passage. The weather tends to weigh heavy with humidity, the sun shines brightly overhead, and every now and then, you’re likely to get caught in a summer downpour. As Minnesotans who have braved the elements all winter long, we await steamy summer running with excitement and anticipation – some of the very best running routes exist in our great state, afterall.
I vividly remember my first summer run in Minneapolis. I had spent months training through ice and snow for Grandma’s Marathon and was beside myself to find the miles and miles of paved, scenic trails all throughout the city. As an East Coast transplant, I never expected to find such beautiful and accessible running routes in Minnesota, and treasured every mile along the river, near the creek, and around the lakes. Hot and humid weather be damned, I love summer running in the Twin Cities!
We searched far and wide for the very best and most favorited Running Routes in Minnesota; from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Duluth to St. Cloud, we hope you find a new route to run this summer!
Best Running Routes in Minnesota
Since this site is called Minneapolis Running, we couldn’t choose just one favorite Minnesota running route for Minneapolis. Nathan is a huge fan of running along the Mississippi River. Starting near his home in Northeast Minneapolis (basically across the street from Mill City Running), you can hop on West River Road and run to St. Paul, cross the Ford Parkway bridge, and head all the way back. There is great shade coverage (yet enough sun to require some sunscreen) and a sense that you’re running next to something strong and powerful. There are also miles and miles of changing scenery; from the variety of homes to the river itself…the river path is just beautiful!
Krysta is partial to the five mile Minnehaha Creek trail that winds and bends along the creek from Fort Snelling to Minnehaha Park. The route is largely shaded and maintains a beautiful view of rushing water. Krysta loves following the creek all the way to Lake Nokomis, where you can add on additional miles and a water fountain & bathroom stop.
My favorite part of the trail is a short stretch near Nokomis where the blossom trees line both sides – when the trees are in full bloom, it feels like running through a tunnel of fragrant flowers!
In St. Paul, it’s hard not to love the popular East Mississippi River Pkwy trail that runs along the East side of the Mississippi River, or the long stretch of Summit Avenue which is featured heavily in the Twin Cities Marathon (and offers views of incredible homes).
If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, the Gateway State Trail has you covered. Starting at Lake Phalen, the trail follows 18.3 miles of the former Soo Line Railway and travels through parks, lakes, wetlands and prairie. The best part? This trail leads you all the way to Stillwater! “I’ve always wanted to run the entire 20+ miles on a marathon-training long run,” says Krysta. “Mostly because once I finished, I could inhale a huge cone of Nelson’s Ice Cream.”
If you’re looking for something scenic to the Northeast of the cities, Stillwater has several beautiful routes. The 4.4 mile Big Rivers Regional Trail travels along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers offering views of the river basin and Fort Snelling. Once the trail hits Lilydale, it connects with the River to River Greenway, a 7.7 tree-lined, paved trail that eventually heads east to the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River Regional Trail.
The newly created Brown’s Creek State Trail offers stunning views of another popular waterway, the St. Croix River. This paved route follows the former Minnesota Zephyr line and passes through woodlands, alongside the river, and by historical sites. It even connects with 18.3 more miles on the aforementioned Gateway State Trail – perfect for a weekend long run!
In Duluth, Amber’s favorite place to run in the summer is the Hartley Nature Center. It’s quite a ways from the tourist hot spots, so you’ll never have to dodge crowds. When Amber runs, she tries her best to get lost in the trees.
One time, I nearly ran into a bear that decided to plop down in the middle of the trail. It was the most exciting run to date—even after adding 3 miles to our run just to avoid it!
Trails in the nature center are unpaved and narrow, so be alert for bikers and other runners. An easy loop called the Tunnel Trail brings you up to Rock Knob which overlooks Duluth (amazing spot to picnic!), but there’s also the Guard Rail trail which is longer and super hilly – something for everyone!
See more great spots to run in Duluth.
Rich recommends several scenic trails in Mankato. The Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, which spans from Faribault to Mankato, is great for summer long runs. Some parts are shady, others are a bit wide open, and the elevation changes are relatively minor. There are even a few small towns along the way to refill water bottles.
The Red Jacket Trail (portions of which are part of the Mankato Marathon & Half Marathon course) is another great run. The majority of the trail is fairly shaded with decent elevation and some beautiful scenic spots. “You owe it to yourself to pause on the Le Sueur River bridge and take a look around,” says Rich. If you need some more serious hill work, break off of the trail at the rest stop just north of Mount Kato and take your pick of nearby gravel roads.
Rich also loves the North Minnesota River Trail which eventually meets up with the Sakatah trail, and offers riverfront views and shaded trails.
If you would like a chance to explore a bit more of what Mankato has to offer, check out the River Warren Trail Series. This “race” series includes 7 separate events over the summer, each completely free (please bring your own hydration) and offers both a “family friendly” (2-3 miles) and longer (5-10 miles) course.
Claire’s favorite place to run in the summer is a tiny little park in Rochester called Essex Park. There’s only about five miles of trails total, but it has a little bit of everything – prairie, forest, hills, flats, and even a paved trail around the perimeter. “Summer is such a great time to run in the park because the wildflowers are blooming and the prairie trails feels more like a life-sized maze than running in an open field,” says Claire.
See more great spots to run in Rochester.
For a little nature in the city, Jennifer suggests you check out the Beaver Island Trail by SCSU. The paved trail along the Mississippi River totals about 5 miles out and back and you can extend your run a few miles by heading over the University Drive Bridge to Munsinger Gardens.
If you’d like a little more nature in the country, check out trails at St. John’s Arboretum. The trails meander through forest, tall grass and lakes and the six trails vary in length from 1.5 to 3.5 miles meaning you can combine them for nearly 17 miles of trail running. And if that’s not enough for you, head on over to the Lake Wobegon Trail with trailheads at St. John’s Abby and St. Joseph, you can run any length of the 46 mile paved trail from St. Joe to Osakis.
Your Running Routes
With a state that stretches from the Iron Range to the ranging prairies; from a great lake and 10,000 others (we know, there are actually a lot more), there is a huge variation of great places to run. What are your favorite running routes in Minnesota?