There are times when running the same routes in the Twin Cities can get a bit dull. I’m at that point. The thought of running another loop around Lake Calhoun is almost unbearable. So this weekend I decided to mix it up and see what Minneapolis’ largest park, Theodore Wirth, had to offer. The following is my review of running in Theodore Wirth Park.
A ‘lil bit about the park
Though Theodore Wirth is considered the largest park in the Minneapolis Park System (759 acres) it’s not actually in Minneapolis it’s in Golden Valley – go figure. It came to be in the late 1880′s and got its name from… well, a guy named Theodore Wirth. He was a Swiss-born chap who was instrumental in designing the Minneapolis system of parks and is widely regarded as the dean of the local parks movement in America. Today the park is used for skiing (both downhill and cross country), biking (both mountain and street), golfing, walking and, thankfully, running!
The map on the right comes from the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. It can also be found here. It’s a decent map of the park that outlines parking, trails, bathrooms, water and roads throughout. For the remainder of this article I’ll be referring to this map for reference.
I have a sneaking suspicion that there are probably quite a few trails that aren’t listed on this map. If you take a look at this map you will see some trails that don’t appear on the map to the right. A follow up article might be in order once further exploration is done.
Running off road at Theodore Wirth
The original intent of this article was to outline all the great trail running at Theodore Wirth. It turns out, however, that there isn’t a ton of trail running to be had. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice woodsy trails that are suitable for running, but you probably aren’t going to be logging high mileage without looping around several times.
Assuming you enter the park from the South entrance (394 & Theodore Wirth Parkway) one of the first opportunities for trail running can be found at the Quaking Bog, about a half a mile North on the West side of the road. As you can see from the map on the left, there is a tangle of cross country ski trails that form a confused snarl of runnable trails. There are eight metered parking spots here at $.75/hr, an outhouse and a water fountain. It is so close to the South entrance of the park that you are probably better off just parking in the neighborhood just to the south of 394 rather than feeding the meter.
Running through the Quaking Bog area was a lot of fun but there are so many diverging pathways that its hard to know which way to go. I looped around several times and probably only logged a mile and a half total while exploring this area. Regardless, it was enjoyable and is a nice diversion from the main concrete pathway the runs through the park.
Further North along the parkway (about a half mile) there is another opportunity to hit some trails. When you get approximatively 200 yards south of the par 3 golf course take a left on the Luce Line Trail. This is primarily a bike trail so hug the side. After about a quarter of a mile you will see a dirt/gravel trail on your right. This leads to some fun trails. Like the Quaking Bog, these trails form a confusing rats nest of winding paths. One major difference, however, is that many of these trails are meant for mountain biking and although I never ran into any bikers, I advise caution here. It’s probably best to stick to the routes that aren’t specifically designated for bikes. It’s also worth mentioning that there is parking by the par 3 course hut. It’s a fairly big lot but there is a sign saying that it is for golfers or those with permits… though I’m not sure how they would know you weren’t golfing.
Sticking to the concrete
The nice thing about Theodore Wirth is the pathway that runs right through the heart of the park. If you don’t want to try out the trails you can just stick the main pedestrian path. The path is concrete, approximately 2.5 miles from one side to the other, offers nice scenery and has a little more contour than a typical Twin Cities route. If you enter the park from the North side, there is a large, free parking lot just before the historic ski chalet.
It would be nice if Theodore Wirth park had a bit more in the way of signage. That said, it’s not quite big enough to get lost in. I had a blast just winding my way through the park taking random trails. There are a ton of steep hills and a variety of surfaces to run on which make it a fairly good place to cross train and do hill work. I’ll leave you with the map of the 6.5 mile route I did while exploring the park (to the left) and one final piece of advice… it’s not a great idea to pop out on the back side of the golf course and run across it. Turns out some people don’t like this.
For more information check out the Minneapolis Park and Recreation site here.