When the good people of Minneapolis tell you they're hungry for spring, it's not just because of their wearisome winters. Warmer weather brings to life the city's model park system, boasting a stretch of the Mississippi River, 22 lakes, 6,400 acres, and green space every six blocks. The popular southside Chain of Lakes loop trail draws throngs of joggers and cyclists each year. And for those in the know, there are far-less-beaten tracks within city limits.
A lone park bench sits at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, where Zebulon Pike bartered with the Dakota Sioux for present-day Minneapolis. To get there, start at Fort Snelling and follow the path down a bluff. Cross a small bridge to your right that connects to the 3-mile Pike Island loop hike. Bring binoculars to spy on industrious wildlife, including nesting warblers and waterfowl and the coyotes that roam the bogs.
The fat-tire crowd has always plied deer paths through the city's woods, but thanks to some trailblazers, this spring brings a pilot off-road project in hilly Theodore Wirth Park, a 743-acre giant northwest of downtown. Four twisty miles of intermediate singletrack are in place, with an expert loop planned. Find maps at www.mocatrails.org; Calhoun Rental (www.calhounrental.com) offers full-suspension bikes for $10 an hour.
Don't settle for flat water when you can battle big currents on the Big Muddy. Set out from the Lake Street Bridge, paddling your canoe 3 miles upriver past spring ephemerals, sand flats, and the U of M campus; wind up at St. Anthony's Falls, where you'll snag skyline views. Midwest Mountaineering (www.midwestmtn.com) rents boats for $20 to $40. For conditions, check www.dnr.state.mn.us/canoeing/index.html.