The Pike Island Loop is a fantastic urban hiking trail located in Fort Snelling State Park.
The 4-mile hiking trail circles around Pike Island, an actual island formed between the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River. As you wind along the island’s edge, you’re treated to frequent river views and scattered woodland.
At the hike’s halfway mark, hikers reach the farthest tip of the island and are rewarded with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River and Minnesota River combining into one. When the water level is low, this area even reveals a white sand beach!
All in all, if you’ve ever wanted a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, this hike is the perfect inner city oasis. In fact, we definitely consider The Pike Island Loop one of the Twin Cities’ best hikes, and definitely one of our favorite outdoor activities!
Read on for our complete guide, including insider’s tips and a photo tour.
Pike Island Cost
Pike Island is located inside Fort Snelling State Park. In order to hike the island, you’ll need a state park pass or permit. Daily permits cost $7, while unlimited annual park passes cost $35 for the year.
The Pike Island Parking lot is located about 2 miles from the main Fort Snelling State Park entrance.
After grabbing your pass from the ranger’s station, continue along the winding road. You’ll pass the Fort Snelling Beach on your left and a sign for the Picnic Island on your right. Continue straight, and you’ll eventually reach the large Thomas C. Savage Visitor’s Center, with a roundabout and large parking lot on your right.
Congrats, you’re here!
Here is the official map for Fort Snelling State Park, including the Pike Island Trail.
Interestingly, since Pike Island is located smack dab in the middle of the Twin Cities, you could even just use the maps on your phone. Here’s the map we used our first time hiking the trail:
If you zoom in, you can see the hiking trail designated by the green dashes along the outside of the island. (Not pictured are the many shortcut routes that cut from one side of the island to the other, but we strongly recommend hiking the whole thing!)
Loop Trail Info
Round trip, the hiking route is just under 4 miles. It’s a relatively easy hike. The trial begins paved and then gives way to a well-trodden dirt path. Since it’s an island, the whole path is relatively flat.
More Hike Stats
- Total Length: 3.7 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 80 feet (feels flatter)
- Route Type: Loop
- Dog Friendly? Yes! The City Pup Approves!
Photo Guide of Pike Island
The Hike Begins at the Thomas C. Savage Visitor’s Center.
The path to Pike Island begins near the visitor center. It’s paved and marked, so you can’t miss it.
The path will eventually reach a bridge.
Cross that bridge, and you’re officially on Pike Island! From here, you can hike either clockwise or counterclockwise. The whole path is one big loop, so it really doesn’t matter which direction you go.
Whichever way you choose, you’ll eventually reach the halfway point of the hike. This is designated with a map and a perfect bench for relaxing; we’re always blown away by how quiet this spot is, especially considering it’s right in the middle of the city!
This end of the island represents the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. If you pay attention, you can actually see the different colors of the two rivers mixing together! In fact, the Dakotah Indians once considered this meeting spot to be the center of the earth!
When the water level is low, the spot even reveals a beautiful white sand beach!
The walk back is interspersed with more river views.
And the trail winds through beautiful, peaceful woodland.
Eventually, you’ll reach the bridge again, and from there it’s an easy walk back to the car!
Miscellaneous Pike Island History
For the history buffs out there, Pike Island is named after Zebulon Pike, an early 1800s explorer who was sent to the area by the U.S. Government. The government wanted to set up a military fort to support the fur trade occurring around Minnesota, and Pike eventually found the land that is present-day Fort Snelling.
In 1805, Pike “negotiated” the Treaty of St. Peters, which purchased approximately 100,000 acres from the Sioux Indians for an unspecified amount at a later date. (Although Pike valued the land for $200,000, the Indians eventually received less than $5,000… over 30 years later.)
The military post was originally planned at the confluence of the river (at what is now Pike Island) but was instead established on the bluffs overlooking Pike Island.
The grim Pike Island history continues. After the Dakota War of 1862, the area was the site of a mass execution of 38 Dakota Indians and also served as an internment camp for more than 1,600 Natives. Eventually, the survivors were moved by steamboat to South Dakota, and eventually Nebraska.
In 1957, that sad history took a more positive turn when the land was established as a Minnesota State Park.
Today, the trail is one of the most hiked in the state park system. And while we can’t cover up the dark past, the joy the Pike Island Trail brings to thousands of Twin Cities hikers every year is a happier ending to this land’s critical history.