Dark brown eyes stare up and with no response, Aria jumps up on the couch and sits down extremely close to me. No cuddling just a persistent stare, as I look over she doesn't blink just locks eyes with mine and looks me up and down. The shoes were put on over five minutes ago; why haven't we left?
Today we venture out to a new location and Aria is giddy with anticipation as I get up and gather our things for today's hike. We get into the car and even though the direction we are going seems familiar, she knows we're going someplace new and settles in for the journey.
Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park is located on the North side of the town Cottage Grove in Minnesota. It is located off of County Road 19 and busy US 61. This park has nothing for markings until you are within a mile of its location and even the driveway, from the road, looks like a private driveway instead of the main entrance. There is no guard office or station once you enter the park, which means they rely on the honor system for all fees.
The entrance has two large gates and the road slopes down to a "y" in the road with a sign that points left for the overlook or right to the picnic area. My curiosity has me turning left to see what kind of a view this area offers. The road goes up a hill and at the top is a blocked road, that at one time, appears to have been used but hasn't been for a very long time. On the right is a parking lot with no view in sight. The whole area has brush and trees that have grown in to cover up the view of the lake that is just below.
My assumption is the view is at the top of the hill that has been blocked off. Probably blocked off due to lack of upkeep which is a shame because I believe it would have offered a great view of the park, highway and of course, the lake. Make a U-turn in the parking ramp and head back downhill towards the picnic area.
The road curves around the lake and brings you to one parking area on the right near the lake or continue further to a second parking area which is next to the shelter and also where the trails begin. The last few minutes have been agony for Aria and she whimpers with anticipation and excitement to get out and explore this new area. We park and I open the door and she is instantly out and looking around with confusion and excitement. Just like on any hike, she takes a look at the surroundings, finds the trail and with a trot and a tug we are off.
This time of day and year there are very few cars and people around but appears to be a very popular area during the summer time. They offer a playground for kids, the lake for fishing and a shelter for entertaining. There are no camping sites here just a great place to spend the day. The paved trail begins at the pavilion/shelter and Aria is pulling me towards the lake area which has a massive dock that stretches out onto the water with a bench to enjoy the view. I'm pulled around the curve where we are greeted by large trees and a smooth trail that twists and turns through the woods.
The trails that surround the park can be accessed either by hiking, biking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There are approximately 7 miles of turf hiking trails that range from easy to moderate with uneven ground, steep hills, and winding curves. It also contains 3 miles of paved trails for bikes which take you around the lake and through the woods.
The paved trail stays on the outer edge of the turf trails and will take you all the way to the Cottage Grove Public Building, from there you can continue on to the trail which will take you under a bridge and continue through the neighborhoods and town of Cottage Grove. Once you get to the top of the paved hill where a bench sits, there is no trail to take you back to the park unless you turn around and go back the way you came. This hike is approximately 35 minutes long but is smooth, easy with no hills.
By now Aria's pace has slowed down slightly and I find her checking back with me to make sure I'm still coming even though she is on a leash and there is no place for me to go. We're both breathing a little heavier and there isn't much enthusiasm in her when she realizes we're turning around and going back. As we do, I remember a sign that pointed towards a turf trail and I believe it will cut across the forest and bring us back to the park quicker than if we stay on the paved trail. We continue on and just around the curve I see the trail and start heading towards it. Aria, seeing where we're going, has just gotten her second wind and is now pulling me up the hill and into the woods. Off beaten trails are her favorite.
There are no maps anywhere on the trails whether it is paved or unpaved, and no indication on where you are and where you are going. However, the park does have signs with arrows on their unpaved trail to give direction on where the trail leads, with a number on each sign. The smaller the number, the closer you are to the pavilion if the number starts getting bigger your getting further away. Even without a map, the park is easy to get around but you may want to grab the brochure that offers a map of the area and where all the trails are located.
Heading back towards the park on the unpaved trail only took about 20 minutes to get back to the car but since we're cutting through the woods we're also adding some steep hills the first one going down only to be followed a few feet later by one going back up. By the second hill going upward, Aria is looking back at me with a look that says, "really"? We continue forward and she finds the will to go on when squirrels decide to jump out on the trail and she immediately picks up speed to follow them up the tree.
The trail continues its twists and turns with other trails veering off to offer more views of the woods. We continue forward and eventually are coming downhill and at the end, I see a metal roof which can only mean one thing; the pavilion is straight ahead. Aria immediately recognizes the area and quickens her pace knowing the car is just a few feet away. We get to the car, load up on some water and the entire roundtrip hike took about an hour to complete.
Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park is very well kept, the trails are clean and well-groomed. The lake appears to be healthy, the paved trails are smooth and you can walk a long distance without meeting anyone. When walking the paved trail it is parallel to the major US highway which can take away from the sounds nature has to offer, but once you step onto a turf trail and enter the woods you are in a whole new world. The highway noise is gone and the squirrels and birds can be heard all around, with the exception of an occasional plane that flies overhead, you will never know you are next door to Cottage Grove.
As with every park I hike, dogs are welcome but must be on a leash and must clean up after them.
For more information please visit https://www.co.washington.mn.us/501/Cottage-Grove-Ravine-Regional-Park, email: email@example.com, or call: 651-430-8368. Fees are $5 for a daily pass or $25 for an annual pass. Hours are from 7a-30 minutes after sunset.
You don't have to go far to have fun. Here are a few places I visit when I'm not driving across country or exploring the Rustic Roads.