Wildflower hikes abound whether they’re right outside your door or a day trip away

Submitted by Rob Bignell
Crookston Times

    There’s no better way to see wildflowers in the Crookston area than a hike.

    Wildflowers bloom from spring through autumn. Because of that, which ones can be seen on a trail in May will be much different than when hiking it in July or September. In addition, some trails head through areas perfect for spring wildflowers while other trails run across an ecosystem where blooms appear mainly in June or late August.

    Spring is the season most associated wildflowers, and for good reason in Minnesota. Many of our woodlands have ideal understories for flowers to blossom before the tree canopy fills out and blocks the sunlight. While trail conditions sometimes can be cold and wet in spring, hikers also have fewer bugs to deal with and less undergrowth, making the spotting of wildflowers easier.

    Summer offers more warmth and sunlight, making for pleasant hikes. Wildflowers often look more impressive, as colonies of them stand out against a lush green background. On the downside, summer means bushes block line of sight views of many wildflowers.

    Autumn’s crisp and dry days make for excellent hiking. As the leaves thin out, wildflowers become easier to spot once again. Fewer wildflowers bloom in autumn than in spring or early summer, though, making for limited viewing except in very specific locales.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of great hiking trails around Crookston to see wildflowers from spring through autumn. Some are right out your back door, while some are a day trip that you can do in an afternoon.

    • Pembina Trail Preserve Scientific and Natural Area (Crookston): One of the United States’ largest populations of western prairie fringed orchids flourish at Pembina Trail Preserve Scientific and Natural Area. The 1-mile round trip loop on the Pembina Trail heads through the tall grass prairie. Look for the threatened western prairie fringed orchid blooms in early to mid-July. From Crookston, take U.S. Hwy. 2 east. Turn right/south onto County Road 44 then left/east onto County Road 45. Park at the trailhead on the road’s right/south side.

    • Turtle River State Park (Grand Forks): Hikers can see woodland flowers at Turtle River State Park. The 1.74-mile round trip Hollows Trail heads along a ridge overlooking Turtle River then descends and follows its shoreline. Spring marks the best time to hike the trail, as ephemerals blossom before the tree canopy fills out. From Grand Forks, take U.S. Hwy. 2 west. Go right/north onto Park Avenue NE. Park at the visitor center.

    • Greenway of Greater Grand Forks: A variety of wildflowers can be enjoyed spring through summer on the Greenway of Greater Grand Forks. The 21.1-mile asphalt trail runs between Folsom Park in East Grand Forks and Riverside Park in Grand Forks, N.D. Try the 4.5-mile round trip trail segment along the Red Lake River. In East Grand Forks, from U.S. Bus. Hwy. 2, take Second Avenue NE south. After crossing the river, turn left/east onto First Street SE and park in the lot. Walk the trail south to Eighth Street SE.   

    • Old Crossing and Treaty County Wayside Park (Red Lake Falls): Spring ephemerals can be found in the woods at Old Crossing and Treaty County Wayside Park. You’ll need to use degraded footpaths and game trails to enter a forest partially surrounded by an oxbow of the Red Lake River. From Red Lake Falls, take County Road 11 west. Turn right/west onto County Road 3 then right/east onto County Road 104. Park at the historical marker on the right/south. Cross the road at the entry for the historical marker and hike along the higher ground.

    • Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge (Thief River Falls): Wildflowers common to sedge meadows can be see at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.14-mile round trip Rodahl Trail follows a jeep trail with an observation deck overlooking a large wetlands. Wildflowers common to the sedge meadow include lilies, irises and orchids. From Thief River Falls, take Minn. Hwy. 32 north. In Holt, turn right/east onto 280th Street then right/south onto 190th Avenue. An entry road to the parking lot is on the left/east.

    • Frenchman’s Bluff Scientific and Natural Area (Twin Valley): At Frenchman’s Bluff Scientific and Natural Area, day hikers can see wildflowers in a prairie akin to those found in the Rocky Mountains’ rainshadow. A 0.4-mile round trip jeep trail leads around the north side of a former quarry with a spur going to the south side. Among the many wildflowers you can see are American vetch, bearded bird’s-foot violet, culver’s root, nodding trillium, tall meadow-rue, yellow goat’s beard. From Twin Valley, take County Road 31 east. Turn right/south onto County Road 36. The natural area’s entrance is on the road’s right/west side about halfway between County Road 197 and Minn. Hwy. 113.

    Rob Bignell is the author of Minnesota’s Best Wildflower Hikes and four other hiking books about the Gopher State. A former newspaper and magazine editor, his journalism work has won several awards, from editorial writing to sports reporting. He resides in western Wisconsin.

Minnesota's Best Wildflower Hikes
Rob Bignell
Frenchman's Bluff Scientific and Natural Area
Prairie Violet
Culvers Root
American Vetch
Nodding Trillium
One of the United States’ largest populations of western prairie-fringed orchids can be found at the Pembina Trail Preserve Scientific and Natural Area outside of Crookston.