Trail Review: Westwood Hills Nature Center (Spring)

These trails aren’t in Duluth, but they are in my hometown and close to my heart. I grew up going to Westwood Hills Nature Center on school field trips, for summer camps, and for other educational activities. We once went and learned how to make a quinzhee hut, and my dad ended up building one in our front yard.

The nature center has changed a lot over the years, in a good way. There are more trails (I think), more observation spots, and apparently there is a waterfall. I didn’t realize this til after I left or I’d have checked that out. The biggest change is the wetlands area, known as the “Westdale Ponds,” which was annexed at some point unknown to me. When I was growing up, the Westdale Ponds area was actually Westdale Park, and was my neighborhood playground.

I hit all the major trails in the park (all the ones called out on the map), some of them more than once, and even then I only ended up running a little over three miles. That’s the big downside to the park: the trails are short.

It’s right in the middle of a first-ring suburb, so that’s expected. I thought the Marsh Trail (around the lake) was a little bit longer, but it’s only a mile and a half. A person could do worse than doing 1.5 mile laps around the Marsh Trail, which alternates between packed dirt paths, dirt/gravel mixed paths, and boardwalk as it circles the lake. I love running the boardwalk, especially through the marshes; I could hear all kinds of bird noises as I shuffled along.

The trails are non-technical; besides the previously-described Marsh Trail, there’s the Basswood Trail and Pine Trail; both are much shorter than the Marsh Trail and are mostly a dirt or dirt/woodchip mix. The Marsh Trail is flat, but the Basswood and Pine Trails go up and down the hill that makes up the eastern edge of the park.

The trails are not actually quiet, as Hwy 394 goes right by the north side of the park. There wasn’t really a place in the park where I didn’t hear the highway. Maybe on the very edge of the Prairie Trail (which is a very short trail that looks out over the entrance to the park), but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time and so I don’t remember. I still heard plenty of bird calls, so it’s still a nice experience, but I just wish I didn’t have to hear the cars.

I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t bring my phone along (I don’t wear headphones when trail running), but I will be back there this summer for sure and will take some pictures. There wasn’t any snow, only a bit of mud, but the trails were kind of brown and blah. In the summer, when the trees have leaves and the surrounding neighborhood is a bit more obscured, it’s a lot more photogenic.

Westwood Hills Nature Center has nice, short trails, perfect for an easy mileage day, or for a day when time’s limited but the roads don’t seem appealing. I can see myself doing several loops around the lake on a day when I need to squeeze in a run but I don’t want to get too far from my car, or when I’m not sure how fast I feel like running and therefore am not sure what kind of mileage I should attempt. Despite the unfortunate highway noise, it’s still a great place to enjoy nature in the suburbs. Go there even if you don’t want to run, just to take a quick hike or to learn something fun about maple syrup or bird calls or canoeing.

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