Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis: A user's guide
This city park goes beyond the usual amenities with a 15-acre bird sanctuary, mountain biking trails and even a snow-tubing trail with a rope tow.
Sat, Jul 30, 2011 at 08:09 AM
As the largest city park in Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Park has just about everything you’d expect in a park: playgrounds, tennis courts, volleyball courts, walking trails and lakes. Then there are things you wouldn’t expect: a mountain biking trail, a swimming beach, fishing pier and a five-acre quaking bog with a floating boardwalk.
You can swim, hike, bike, swing a golf club and even get married within the park.
The first 64 acres of what is now Theodore Wirth Park were bought by the city in 1889 and named Saratoga Park. After several expansions — and one more name change — the park was named for Wirth in 1938. Wirth, who emigrated from Switzerland in 1888, was superintendent of Minneapolis parks from 1906 until 1935.
Things to do
There are paths for walking or jogging, of course. There are a lot of city parks with that. But there aren’t many city parks with lung-busting, single-track mountain bike trails. The trail twists and climbs for just longer than four miles through a woody, hilly section of Theodore Wirth Park west of the golf course. The trail is mostly for beginner and intermediate riders with a few detours marked by signs for advanced cyclists.
There is an 18-hole, par-72 golf course and a nine-hole par-3 golf course. New this year is an 18-hole disc golf course
Winter lasts for a while in Minnesota, and the Wirth Winter Recreation Area offers cold-weather fun with more than 15 miles of cross-country skiing trails and a snowboard park with advanced technical rails and ramps. There is also a snow tubing hill featuring lighted, groomed lanes and a tow rope.
Why you’ll want to come back
The colors found in Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary within the park changes with the season. Trillium, bluebells and trout lilies peak early in the spring. Prairie wildflowers such as asters, sunflowers, blazing stars, goldenrods are most colorful in late summer.
Flora and fauna
The 15-acre Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary is home to more than 500 plant species and 130 bird species, including American bittern, ring-necked pheasant, Northern flicker, yellow-throated vireo, scarlet tanager and an assortment of woodpeckers, gulls and terns. You may also spot white-tail deer and red fox.
By the numbers:
- Website: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board
- Park size: 759 acres
- 2010 visitation: 372,500
- Funky fact: While head of the city park system, Theodore Wirth wanted to have sheep roaming the park, writing that there was “nothing prettier in landscape effect than a flock of sheep grazing on a meadow or hillside.”