MINNEAPOLIS — The final stop of our summer "That’s So Minnesota Road Trip" series takes us southeast of the Twin Cities to the Afton and Cottage Grove area of the state.
This road trip is all about the great outdoors. We’ll be covering a lot of area, so don’t fall behind! Let’s start things off with great views of the St. Croix River in Afton State Park.
"Afton State Park has about 20 miles of hiking trails varying in difficulty. We’ve got some beautiful overlooks in various locations throughout the park. We even have horseback riding if you want to bring your own horse and do some trail riding,” says Park Manager Nick Bartells.
The state park is a great place to surround yourself with nature. The bird watching is fantastic and there’s a lot of deer in the park. Just remember a vehicle permit is required. A day pass will set you back $7 or you can get an annual pass for $35.
After working up an appetite on the trails, pick a fresh snack in the strawberry fields at Afton Apple Orchard. One of the many volunteers helping the crowds in the field is Leonard, who’s quick to share how to perfectly pick a strawberry. “I’ll tell the kids to make the fingers like this, like a scissors, and just go right behind the berry and pull behind the berry," he said. "That way the stem comes off with it.”
The strawberries are a little smaller this year, but after sampling a couple right off the vine they are just as sweet and juicy as ever. Don’t wait on these tasty treats as strawberry season is almost over.
With a box of berries in the back seat it’s time to cruise into Cottage Grove where you have plenty of time to plan your visit to a Haunting Experience. The 40 room haunted house is a must visit when October rolls around, but for now the cadavers have time to rest.
Let’s stay active by renting some kayaks at Hazen P. Mooers Park.
A paddle-share system was put into the park last summer with a grant from the National Park Service. There are six single and two double kayaks to choose from. Rentals are done through the City of Cottage Grove website and can be booked for two hours, which allows you to explore the backwaters of the Mississippi.
If there is anything left in your tank, plan to empty it at West Draw Park. It’s home to the 2.4 acre Cottage Grove Bike Park. It’s maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers and features a pump track, dirt jumps and a mountain bike skills area. It’s been built to challenge every skill level from little kids to hardcore mountain bikers and once complete it will be the largest bike park in Minnesota.