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Locals love it elm creek park reserve

Locals Love It: Elm Creek Park Reserve (Summer Edition)

No other place in the Minneapolis Northwest area got more votes during our ‘Locals Love It’ survey last year. But believe it or not, this was my first time exploring Elm Creek Park Reserve. Locals know it is THE place for outdoor adventure in the area, so I went to investigate what makes this regional park so special.

No other destination in Minneapolis Northwest got more votes during our ‘Locals Love It’ survey than Elm Creek Park Reserve. But believe it or not, this was my first time exploring the park! Locals know it is THE place for outdoor adventure in our area, so I went to investigate what makes this regional park so special.

After visiting it myself, 4 things really wowed me:

  • It’s massive, scenic, and secluded
  • The sheer variety of activities available
  • The playground & beach
  • The facility is completely handicap accessible

I’ll get into each of these more.

Elm Creek Bike Trail Elm Creek Park Nature Elm Creek Swimming Pond

At 4,900 acres, Elm Creek is the largest in the Three Rivers Park District, and it is right here in Maple Grove! The sights and sounds of normal civilization melt away very quickly once you enter the park.  My first impression was that it felt more like driving into a state park than a local park (or even the other 3 Rivers Park District locations I’ve been to). It’s that big.

When Three Rivers says “there’s an activity here for everyone”, that’s not just a marketing pitch, it’s a fact! Elm Creek has 20+ miles of paved bike trails, along with miles of hiking and horse trails. For the more rugged folk, there are 12.7 miles of trails for mountain biking.

In summer, the winter recreation area is transformed into an 18-hole disc golf course. There's a nature center with year-round programming and wildlife exploration; picnic areas with volleyball and lawn games; kids’ play area; swimming beach; and archery range with stationary and walk-through courses. Oh, and it also has one of the 10 best dog parks in the country, according to USA Today! Whether you’re here to play or to let your kids play, you won’t be let down.

Play Area & Swimming Pond

elm creek play areaThe kid’s play area and swimming pond are conveniently located next to each other, making for an easy day-long stop for families. The play structure at Elm Creek is pretty new; it opened in 2011 and was a $1.2 million project.

This is not the playground of our youth. In fact, it’s not even called a playground: it’s a “Creative Play Area.” The design elements and features of the play structure are vibrant, unique, and allow kids to use their imagination. It’s not just a ‘steel island’ of slides and monkey bars, typical of playgrounds past. I've never seen a playground designed with such purpose and concerted effort to be physically challenging for different age groups. The Three Rivers Park District is definitely on the cutting-edge of recreation here. 

With 7 play zones, an 18-ft climbing net, 7 slides, a 30 ft dinosaur buried into the sand, rock wall, and saucer swings, it’s cited as being one of the biggest playgrounds in the metro area. Parents—there are plenty of shaded spots to sit and watch the kids play (because you know they’re going to want to be there all day!).

elm creek slides elm creek play net

It’s a tossup what will be more popular with your kids, though: the play area or the swimming pond. If you’re not familiar, the Elm Creek Swimming Pond is a basically a chlorinated, filtered lake with sandy beaches. It’s like a public pool in a natural setting. It goes from zero depth up to 6 ft and offers changing facilities, restrooms, and concessions. The concessions even offer healthy options like veggies & dip, or pretzels & peanut butter. The swimming pond does cost a $4 admission fee, but it’s worth it. I can’t think of a more perfect spot on a hot Minnesota summer day!

elm creek beach umbrella beach


The Three Rivers Park District has taken strides to make their parks more universally accessible and it shows in the facilities at Elm Creek. First of all, that play area I raved about earlier, is entirely wheelchair accessible. The swimming beach has a handicap ramp into the 3ft depth area. You can rent all-terrain wheel chairs for use on the unpaved trails, floating beach chairs for the swimming pond, and bow stands for archery. They also offer a variety of inclusion services and adaptive recreation programs.  You can read about accessibility and adaptive accomodations offered on the Three Rivers Park District website. They recommend calling ahead of time to arrange any special assistance.

trails at your paceAnother cool program featured at Elm Creek is the ‘Trails at Your Pace.’ Any trail marked with the yellow ‘Trails at Your Pace’ sign is a short, gentle trail designed to make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to begin a walking program. These trails are usually 1.1 miles or less and are especially great for people with arthritis or other health conditions, those just starting a fitness program, parents with small children, and employees who want to take a quick lunchtime stroll. 

I don't want to bore you with the world's longest blog, but there are so many other things at the park I didn't get to go in depth about! Like the Eastman Nature Center, the mountain biking area, how perfect this venue is for groups... guess we'll have to cover those in future blogs! 

About the Author
Minneapolis Northwest
  • Becca Schaar

Minneapolis Northwest native and freelance blogger 

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