A full day of fun at Minnehaha Park

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May 21, 2013
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Minnehaha Falls Park is to Minneapolitans what Central Park is to New Yorkers. It’s our place to gather. We take out-of-town visitors here to show off our city’s attractions but it’s also a place for locals to enjoy the splendor of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. We relax, hike, take in some history and cultural attractions, listen to a concert, attend a festival, and even enjoy great food. 

• MINNEHAHA FALLS This 53-foot waterfall inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write his Song of Hiawatha, but he never actually saw it.

• HIKE TO THE MISSISSIPPI You’ll think you’re on the North Shore walking this lovely half-mile trail past limestone cliffs, towering trees, and prairie wild flowers. The meandering path’s historic WPA-era stone walls were recently restored.

• GARDENS Longfellow Gardens (formal gardens atop Hiawatha Ave.), Pergola Gardens (a display of climbing plants), Song of Hiawatha (an Italian fountain surrounded by cascading perennials), and the Heritage Garden (heirloom vegetables at the Stevens House).

• ART AND SCULPTURES Bronze sculpture of Hiawatha and Minnehaha; a mask of Chief Little Crow; statue of Gunnar Wennerberg, Swedish poet and composer; and I’m not sure if it’s really a sculpture or not, but you can stand in the concrete footprints of President Lyndon Johnson who visited the falls with Hubert Humphrey in 1964.

• CONCERTS From a 47-piece brass band to salsa music enjoy concerts at the Park Pavillion Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights at 7 p.m.

• WHEEL FUN BIKE RENTALS Cover miles of trails on cruiser bikes, low-rider choppers, and covered Surreys for two to four people. Rental rates vary.

• JOHN H. STEVENS HOUSE (open Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.) Visit the oldest house in Minneapolis! Built in 1849 near the falls of St. Anthony, and moved to the park in 1982, this home was the site of many historic events including the naming of Minneapolis and the establishment of Hennepin County.

• MINNEHAHA DEPOT (open Sundays and holidays, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.) Built in 1875, this former Milwaukee Railroad depot was the first train station on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. It’s affectionately called the Princess Depot because of it’s gingerbread ornamentation.

• LONGFELLOW HOUSE (visitors center open weekends, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.) This quaint, yellow house was built in 1906 by eccentric Robert (Fish) Jones who ran an exotic zoo in the park. The house is a 2/3 scale replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, MA. Inside are historic photos of the zoo showing tame bears, performing elephants, and Jones’s prize lion along with early park photos including a long-gone campground.

• MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF BOTANICAL ART In a match made in heaven, this school relocated to the Longfellow House in January. Classes range from Drawing for the Truly Terrified to master classes in painting on calfskin vellum. Classes last from one day to six weeks and students may take just a class or two or work toward a certificate. Students from the school are in the midst of creating a multi-year project documenting the plants at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden—the oldest public wildflower garden in the United States. The first stage of the florilegium will be exhibited at the school later this summer then donated to the park board. Check their website (minnesotaschoolofbotanicalart.com) for exhibit and class information. The school shares the first floor with the park’s visitor center. The school is open most days of the week and is glad to welcome visitors—just check for their “open” sign. 

See? This is a lot to do in a day! No wonder this area was designated a state park in 1889. Though it later became a Minneapolis park, this was actually the second state park in the country—following one in New York state. So pack your cooler, books, and sunglasses and get out and enjoy it.

LUNCH BREAK: Oysters, crab, shrimp, catfish cover the menu at the ever-popular, Sea Salt Eatery. Grab a beer at the drinks counter first, then wait in line to order food. 

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