Fish Creek Natural Area is located in South Maplewood, less than 15 minutes from downtown St. Paul. The area was previously only accessible from privately owned land, but is now owned by the city of Maplewood and Ramsey County. Luckily for the adventurer, the creek, prairies, and stunning views were slated to be turned into a housing development, but now everyone can enjoy the park from sunup to sundown.
The start of a 1-mile paved trail is located at the end of Henry Road, which is lined with a split rail fence. There is no parking lot, just a turnaround and ample parking alongside the road. Taken alone, the paved section is a leisurely walk through prairie and woods above the Mississippi River Valley. Gentle hills on this trail are easily traversed. A lookout halfway through the trail showcases a wonderful view of the Mississippi River and surrounding area. The paved trail does not lead to Fish Creek, but you may still be treated to some deer sightings along the way!
If winter activities are something you are looking for, the trail is not plowed during the winter, so snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are possibilities. The trails are not groomed.
If you are looking a hike, then the creek valley is where you will want to head. The woods are filled with wildlife and beautiful views as the small creek twists through the valley. Getting into the valley is easy. From the parking lot, follow the paved trail down and to the right. A grass trail off of the main trail leads into the valley area. The hike is an out-and-back that is approximately 1 mile round trip. There is no official trail, but deer trails alongside Fish Creek make for easy hiking. The city plans to eventually build a rustic path, but nothing has been put into place as of yet.
The valley was cleaned up when the city and county decided to add the paved walking trail. It was filled with old cars, washing machines, and other large detritus. With the help of local communities and Boy Scout groups, the items were removed from the valley, and a restoration project returned the creek and surrounding areas to their natural beauty.
There are a few points where you can either enter the valley or exit it. Some of them require descending the valley's slope, while others are steep climbs out from the bottom. The steep climb is on a gravel path and so can be very slippery when it has recently rained; the footing can also be tricky as you ascend. It is the fastest way in and out, but the entrance previously mentioned requires you to wind down the valley. The hike is great fun for kids or adults as there is plenty to explore, different paths to choose, and rock river crossings if you so choose. If you continue west, the trail and creek end at Point Douglas Road, where the creek flows under Highway 61 and into the Mississippi backwaters. Near the end, the creek is arguably the most beautiful as it curves between mossy rock ledges.
Note: there are two weekends in the fall when the creek is closed for bow hunting. Signs are posted at all entrances to the creek, so please be aware and read all posted material. The city also runs guided tours of the wildflowers located in the area, and you can sign up for them on the Maplewood City website.