Back in Mid-January, John and I talked and we decided we wanted to participate in the 52 Hike Challenge. We weren’t confident that we would complete 52 hikes in a year’s time but without a doubt it would motivate us to get outside and make it a priority. I set a mini-goal for myself: Six Hikes by the end of February. If we can do six hikes during the coldest months of the year then we might just have a shot at this. So how did we do? We came in ahead by one hike-Seven hikes completed, which I am feeling pretty good about. So here they are-all seven hikes in review.
1. Des Moines Y Camp
- Date: 1.15.17
- Miles Hike: 1.5 Miles
- Weather: Overcast, 32 Degrees
- Trail Condition: Mix of snow, ice and mud
We woke up this particular Sunday and the weather said that the high for the day might reach 32 degress so we figured it would be the perfect day to start the challenge. Our original plans had included a trip to Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge which is located near Prairie City, IA but as I was looking at trails, directions, and hours I realized that in the winter they are closed on Sundays. So I went to Facebook to see where people in central Iowa recommended for good places to hike. We had some great suggestions but when my previous supervisor at the camp I worked at said we could come out there I knew that’s where we would be heading. I hadn’t been out to camp for a few years and even when I worked there didn’t spend too much time exploring because I always felt like I was busy working which was no excuse because I lived out there too. I was also excited because I knew that the trails would be pretty quiet. It is not open to the public and you need to get advanced permission to hike around so I knew that the chance of running into someone else was pretty slim.
So we loaded up and headed over to the Des Moines River Valley. Camp’s motto is “The Closest Place to Heaven on Earth”. I was excited to share with Elsie the place we called home for two years. As we descended down into the valley, I could hear the excitement in Elsie’s voice. We had plans to explore “The Preserve” but when Elsie exclaimed she wanted to hike up the “mountain” we were happy to agree with her request. We started up the stairs to Inspiration Point.
After stopping to take a few pictures and enjoy the view of the Des Moines River Valley from up high we continued up the trail. It was pretty much all uphill and there were a few slick spots but Elsie did great going up. We got up to the top and wandered around. What I love about winter hiking is that everything is open-there are no leaves, brush, or plants to obscure your vision and you don’t have to stay on the trails to explore-there is nothing in your way. We found some scat and other animal signs along the way and it was fun to show Elsie what clues the animals were leaving behind. We then hiked down and explored along the river where we found some more tracks. It was quiet and peaceful and the perfect way to kick off the challenge.
2. Robison Acres Wildlife Area
- Date-1.21.17 Winter Trails Day
- Hike a little over a mile
- Weather: Overcast and 43 Degrees
- Trail Conditions: MUDDY!
When planning this hike I extended an invitation to a group of friends to see if anyone wanted to join us for a hike for Winter Trails Day. To my delight, we had a great group of families come out to a a local park for a short, family friendly hike. The trails were super muddy but and we all came out caked with mud. Elsie had a great time hiking with some of her friends but by the end of this one she was tired and cranky. We hiked around an hour but she was hungry and wanted to stop for a snack mid-hike but it was so muddy there wasn’t much of a place or change to sit down. This was actually the only time in all of our hikes that Elsie complained or wanted to be done before we were all ready.
3. REI #ALLOUT Winter Hike-Jester Park-Granger, IA
- Date: 1/28/17
- Miles: 1 (short loop)
- Weather: 28 degrees with a windchill of 16 Degrees
- Trail Conditions: Frozen ground with a bit of snow
Although, it was a bit chilly we decided to head out to Jester Park to check out REI’s All Out 2017 event. They had various seminars on winter activities and had some vendors there to showcase some of their products. There wasn’t too much snow so the snowshoe hikes just turned into winter hikes and we joined the Hike It Baby family hike. We did just a short loop but it was good to get out and move our bodies and get some fresh air. After the hike, they offered hot cocoa and S’Mores which of course Elsie loved! It was fun little event and it got us outside-even in the chilly weather. This was the coldest of our hikes so far. Something I want to remember from these hikes is that whenver we enter a heavily wooded area with tall trees Elsie always asks if these are the Redwood trees as she looks up in awe of their height. I can’t WAIT until one day when we do travel out west and she can actually see what one of these trees really look like!
4. Yellow Banks Park, Pleasant Hill, IA
- Date: 2.5.17
- Miles: 1.75
- Weather: 35 Degrees with peeks of sun
- Trail Condition: Dry-no snow or mud
This day we wanted to squeeze in a hike before the Super Bowl so we headed towards the Des Moines River to check out Yellow Banks Park-a park we had never been too. The problem with this location is that none of the trails were very long so we had to do a handful of short trails and then walk on the road in between the trails. Most of the trails lead to overlooks of the Des Moines River Valley. The longest trail we hiked led to the pond. This was also the first hike that Tally joined us on and she loved getting out to explore as well.
5. Lake Maria State Park-Monticello, MN-Candlelight Hike
- Date: 2.11.17
- Miles: 1.5
- Weather: mild for January in Minnesota
- Trail Condition: Icy!!
I had seen that the Minnesota State Park system had scheduled numerous candlelit hikes/snowshoe hikes/and cross country ski events throughout the winter. I knew we would be heading up to Minnesota to visit family and when I saw one close to where my parents lived I knew I wanted to experience it and I am so glad we did-I think we just might make this an annual tradition. We invited my family along and was excited when everyone decided to join us.
I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had never attended an event like this. Would there be a lot of people there? Would we be the only ones? Would we need a flashlight? When we pulled into the state park, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were quite a few people there. The trails were pretty icy and in fact, I was surprised to see snow since there was no snow at my parents house about 20 miles away. I think because it is a heavily wooded park, the sun just didn’t reach the ground enough to melt the snow and ice.
The young girls had fun checking out the luminaries which were placed about every 15-20 feet and actually did a great job of lighting up the trail. I think the two of them stopped at every single luminary to see how much the candle inside had melted. Elsie also brought along Brownie, her classroom bear. She thought that was pretty fun to have Brownie hike with us :). About halfway on the trail the volunteers had a campfire going to stop and warm up and them back at the trail center they served hot cider and cookies. I think everyone enjoyed the evening and like I said before, I hope to make this an annual tradition.
6. Saint Anthony Falls and Pillsbury Island-Minneapolis, MN
- Date: 2.18.17
- Miles Hike: 1.9
- Weather: Beautiful-sunny and upper 50’s
- Trail condition: Paved
A month or so ago when we decided to do the 52 Hike Challenge I went on Amazon and ordered a few books that highlight hiking trails near the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We travel that way quite a bit since my family lives there and I thought it would be great to explore the area where I grew up. I actually found this hike in the Moon Travel Guide to Hiking Minneapolis/St. Paul. I had never been to this part of Minneapolis and I think I actually fell in love! Beside the hike, we visited the Mill City Museum and enjoyed a few slices of pizza and one of our favorite pizza places-Broadway Pizza.
Hike 7: Myre-Big Island State Park-Albert Lea, MN
- Date: 2.19.17
- Miles: 1.75
- Weather: 59 Degrees, bits of sun peeking through the hazy clouds
- Trail Conditions: Icy, Snowy in spots, and Muddy
After spending a few days up in the cities, we headed back home and it was a beautiful winter day so we scoped out a few state parks along our route and we decided to let Evie pick which one we hiked at-it all was dependent on when she woke up from her afternoon nap. Our drive takes about four hours and this particular state park is pretty much halfway through the drive so it was a great stopping point. Also, there is a little history here with this park-it it the first place that John and I camped at when we first started dating 12 years ago! We haven’t been back since so it was fun to go and check it out a bit.
As we pulled in I was a little surprised to see a full parking lot but it was great to see others out enjoying the late afternoon. We got geared up because there was actually quite a bit of snow. We started from the campground and hiked the Big Island Loop. There was actually a few people camping in the campground and a family was camping in one of the camper cabins as well. The trail was icy, snowy, and muddy in some spots and Tally was just loving it! She even stopped a few times to enjoy a cool off in the snow. But boy was she a mess when we returned back to the van.
We definitely plan to make a stop here again and check out more of their trail system. It is conveniently located just a few miles off I-35 and like I mentioned before about halfway between our place and my parents.
So, two months in and we are so happy that we decided to participate in this challenge. We have definitely spent more time outside exploring and hiking during the months of January and February which was what my ultimate goal is. Elsie looks forward to these outings and Evie just loves being in the carrier. I can’t wait to see all the new places we will explore while participating in the challenge. If this sounds like something you might be interested you should definitely check it out-you can start any time of the year, not just in January.