Late fall may not strike you as the best time for outdoor fun — the colorful leaves have fallen, and there’s still not enough snow for classic winter activities. Dropping temperatures make it tempting to snuggle up inside with a cup of cocoa. But we’ve found a bounty of family-friendly activities to keep you moving.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Although many of the arboretum’s famous flower gardens are asleep for the winter, the park’s draw continues beyond summer’s bright blooms. Pick up a tour brochure at the visitor center and take the family on a self-guided hike through the arboretum’s Bog Area, home to the Green Heron Pond. This is the arboretum’s most ecologically diverse hike, with a bog, a pond, woods and marshland all represented in just over a half-mile worth of trail. Hikers can learn about the area’s native plant species and ecological history by reading interpretive signs posted along the way. Make sure to lift your eyes every now and then to catch a glimpse of the wide variety of birds that makes the Bog Area their home, including green herons and bald eagles. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chanhassen; 952.443.1400.
For an equine adventure, head to River Valley Ranch in Carver. The ranch offers hour-long trail rides through forested areas, over hills and along the banks of the Minnesota River. No horseback riding experience is required; ranch staff will match riders, according to skill level, with one of more than 55 horses. During November, the ranch is open on the weekends only, so make sure to make a reservation to secure your spot. River Valley Ranch, 16480 Jonathan Carver Pkwy., Carver; 952.361.3361.
Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail
It’s not too late to take the bikes for one last spin. Spend a day biking along 13 miles of the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, which begins in Hopkins and wends its way through Eden Prairie and Chanhassen. Cyclists can enjoy views of scenic Lake Riley and Miller Park. And in case 13 miles isn’t enough, the Minnesota River Bluffs trail connects to several other bike paths, including the Cedar Lake Trail. Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, Three Rivers Park District; 763.559.9000.
Lowry Nature Center
If you and your family would like to see some of Minnesota’s native wildlife firsthand, take a stroll along the trails surrounding the Lowry Nature Center, located on the Carver Park Reserve in Victoria. Now that the trees have shed their leaves, it is the perfect time to see deeper into the woods than is possible in the summer. With a little luck, park goers may see beavers, foxes, muskrats and more than 250 species of birds, including wild turkeys. Late fall is also a very active time for whitetail deer, says Tom Knisely of the Three Rivers Park District. Pack some binoculars and practice your quietest walking, so as not to scare off any wildlife you’re trying to see. Lowry Nature Center, 7025 Victoria Drive, Victoria; 763.694.7650.
Indoor Play If you’re craving some active fun but it’s simply too cold outside, head to one of the southwest metro’s many destinations for indoor playtime. At Eden Prairie’s Airmaxx Trampoline Park, release that pent-up energy with a jump on a trampoline — or a whole room full of them. Airmaxx also offers laser tag, mini golf and arcade games if the kids need a break from bouncing off the walls. Airmaxx Trampoline Park, 7000 Washington Ave. S., Eden Prairie.
If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned fun on a playground, check out the Prairie Play Zone at the Eden Prairie Community Center. This indoor play structure has all kinds of fun equipment, from slides and tunnels to a mini-rock climbing wall. Admission is free for Eden Prairie Community Center members. Eden Prairie Community Center, 16700 Valley View Road, Eden Prairie.
Who says swimming has to end when summer is over? Visit Waconia’s Safari Island Community Center indoor water park and splash the day away. The park has many fun aquatic activities, including a water slide and poolside basketball hoops. If you don’t feel like getting your toes wet, check out the Lion’s Den, Safari Island’s four-level indoor play structure. Safari Island Community Center, 1600 Community Drive, Waconia.