National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings. With more than 45 miles of trails open to hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, you can easily find a trailhead within minutes of Bloomington, Burnsville, Shakopee, Chaska, Carver, Jordan and Henderson, Minnesota. The Minnesota River valley unfolds in front of you, and moments later you can find safe, quiet and beautiful lands filled with wildlife. Visitors can easily find opportunities to try out fishing in ponds, lakes and the Minnesota River, and there are also portions of the refuge open for hunting.
To visit the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center
Bloomington Education and Visitor Center
3815 American Blvd. East
Bloomington, MN 55425
From Interstate 494: From Interstate 494, exit at 34th Avenue and head south. At the stop light on American Blvd. East, proceed east for 1/4 mile around a small bend in the road to arrive at the entrance and parking lot. Visitors can also take the Metro Transit Blue Line train south to the American Blvd. stop, and cross 34th Avenue to the east. Follow the sidewalk 1/4 mile around the bend and up a small rise to find the entrance and parking lot.
To visit the Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center
Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center
15865 Rapids Lake Rd. (formerly Carver Highlands Dr.)
Carver, MN 55315
Driving Directions from US Highway 169: From US Highway 169 in Jordan, proceed north 3.5 miles on County Road 9. You will cross over the Minnesota River bridge (where it becomes County Road 11), and up the bluff to Carver Highlands Drive, where you should turn right. Continue onto Rapids Lake Road, winding down into the river valley to the center and parking lot.
Driving Directions from US Highway 212: From US Highway 212, exit on Jonathan Carver Parkway (County Road 11) and head south. Proceed 2.5 miles, continuing on County Road 11 by turning left. Proceed 1.9 miles, and turn left onto Carver Highlands Drive. Continue onto Rapids Lake Road, winding down into the river valley to the center and parking lot.
There is no charge to visit.
Restrooms are available inside the Bloomington and Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Centers during open hours. There is a heated comfort station accessible from outside the Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center. A restroom facility with running water is available at Old Cedar Avenue trailhead in partnership with the City of Bloomington May-October 15. Vault toilets are available at the Rapids Lake Unit hunter lot off of Jonathan Carver Parkway, Louisville Swamp Unit north parking lot and Bass Ponds trailhead.
Points of Interest
Let our staff and volunteers at our visitor centers help you plan your visit!
The Bloomington Education and Visitor Center is a great starting point for visitors to become more familiar with the refuge and the wildlife that live here. Visitors can watch a 5 minute refuge orientation video in the auditorium, find local artists’ work in the Confluence Gallery, browse nature and wildlife exhibits and obtain maps and brochures. Enjoy a view of the river valley from the overlook out the backdoor and take a short walk around the restored prairie or a brief 10 minute hike to the wetlands below the visitor center along the Hillside Trail.
While at the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center, visit the Minnesota Valley Refuge Friends Blufftop Bookstore for field guides, t-shirts, and other educational items. Proceeds support the Minnesota Valley Refuge Friends.
Before leaving Bloomington, stop at the Old Cedar Avenue Trailhead. The recently restored Old Cedar Avenue bridge crosses over the marsh and a board walk to the south provide views of swans, geese and other waterfowl foraging in the wetlands below. Children will enjoy the Nature Play Area north of the restroom facility.
Make a stop at the Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center for stunning views of the river valley and a restored prairie year round. The visitor center offers historical and nature exhibits, restrooms and a chance to talk with staff and volunteers. View the historic Gehl-Mittelsted homestead along the river bank and walk the Rapids Lake trail for sights of egrets wading in wetlands and eagles soaring above. Quick, easy hikes are possible just steps from both visitor centers, and for more adventure or solitude you can find longer hikes that take you through scenic bottomland forests and the Minnesota River valley.
What To Do
If you have 15 minutes
- Visit the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center:
- Bird watch at the bird feeders and catch a sunset at the overlook
- Chat with a volunteer, explore the exhibits, watch our film in the auditorium and find local artists’ work in the Confluence Gallery
- Take a walk along the Hillside Trail
- Visit the Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center:
- View a vast array of native flowers blooming in the prairie in summer
- Take in views of the frozen river in winter or changing leaves in the fall if you have one hour
- Bike along the Minnesota River on the River Bottoms Trail - departing from Sorenson Landing in Bloomington
- Hike the Forest Loop Trail at Rapids Lake in Carver
- Go fishing at Bass Ponds in Bloomington
- Watch for warblers and other birds along the Bluff Trail in Bloomington
If you have half a day or more
- Hike to the glacial erratic along the Louisville Swamp Trail just north of Jordan
- Enjoy an afternoon of free play and picnicking at the Nature Play Area at Old Cedar Trailhead in Bloomington
- Explore the paved trail via bike or stroller along the Minnesota River Greenway Trail in Burnsville. This is a great spot for fishing too!
Know Before You Go
Bring the following with you:
- Refuge Map - intersections are well marked but will not make sense without a map. Maps are available at trail heads, the refuge visitor centers or online for download.
- Water - no potable water is available on the trails. Bottle filling stations are available inside the visitor centers during open hours.
- Protective Clothing - weather can change quickly and biting insects can be abundant.
Plan to pack out what you pack in. Trash receptacles are only available at a few trailheads, and we ask that you practice Leave No Trace ethics while visiting the refuge.
Bringing your dog? Bring up to a 6-foot leash and bags for packing out dog waste with you when you leave.
Be aware, some areas may be closed during peak bird migration or due to maintenance or management activities. Trails are also prone to seasonal flooding. You can check conditions at the visitor centers, call us at 952-854-5900 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or watch for closure and warning signs at trail heads.
You can discover hundreds of species of birds, numerous plants, mammals, reptiles and insects during your visit. Seasons bring different opportunities to experience nearby nature, and every time you visit can bring a new discovery.
Wildlife viewing is best in the morning, or in the evening before dusk. Be aware that trailhead parking is limited and becomes very busy on weekends.
We have a variety of items available as part of our free outdoor equipment lending program. Binoculars, snowshoes and Explorer Backpacks are available at both visitor centers during operating hours.
- April - May is a great time for a hike and a special time to see migrating song birds just before the leaves pop out. You might even find morel mushrooms as the weather warms.
- June - August is perfect for fishing and biking. Make a list of wildflowers and enjoy identifying native plants in our prairies.
- September - November is cooler and provides enjoyable hikes with fewer biting insects.
- December - March provides snow for a snowshoe hike and view trumpeter swans and eagles on refuge around wetlands.
There are many ways to enjoy your refuge! Visitors can enjoy more than 45 miles of trails on foot or by bicycle year round, find a multitude of birds and other wildlife to watch or photograph, shore fish for native Minnesota freshwater species, hunt in select areas of the refuge or take part in free educational programs about nature.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge offers close to 50 miles of trails along the Minnesota River from Bloomington to Henderson.
Learn more about the trails and current conditions below. View an interactive map, download one of the following trail maps to print or save to your device. You can also download a georeferenced trail map to use on apps like Avenza, to track your location without using internet or network connection.
Downloadable Trail Maps
- Long Meadow Lake and Black Dog Units trail map
- Bloomington Ferry and Wilkie Units trail map
- Rapids Lake, Chaska and Louisville Swamp Units trail map
Trail and Hiking Related News:
Trail Conditions and Flooding
- This page will be updated with flood impacts as information becomes available.
Other Facilities in the Complex
Rules and Policies
Welcome to your National Wildlife Refuge. Discover new places to hunt, fish, take pictures, watch wildlife, walk, bicycle, cross-country ski, and snowshoe. Enjoy spending time outdoors alone or with friends and family. Please consult the refuge manager at 952-854-5900 if you have questions. We may post additional site-specific regulations.
To ensure your safety and protect wildlife and habitat, please be aware of these regulations.
Refuges are first and foremost national treasures for the conservation of wildlife. Through careful planning, consistent refuge system-wide application of regulations and policies, diligent monitoring of the impacts of uses on wildlife resources and preventing or eliminating uses not appropriate to the refuge system, we can achieve the refuge system conservation mission while also providing the public with lasting opportunities to enjoy quality, compatible, wildlife-dependent recreation.
Through consistent application of this policy and these procedures, we will establish an administrative record and build public understanding and consensus on the types of public uses that are legitimate and appropriate within the refuge system. Visitors should be aware of permitted activities and inquire if their use is permitted.
Type the above address into your GPS. If you type in "Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge", Google, Bing, and Mapquest will bring you to the refuge's Louisville Swamp Unit in Shakopee, MN.
From Interstate 494, exit 34th Avenue and head south. Proceed east on American Blvd East for 1/4 mile to the entrance on the right.
Metro Transit: Hiawatha Light Rail - Depart at the American Blvd/34th Avenue Station. Proceed east on American Blvd East for 1/4 mile to the entrance on the right.
Type the center address in to your GPS. If you type in "Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge", Google, Bing, and Mapquest will bring you to the refuge's Louisville Swamp Unit in Shakopee, MN.
Driving Directions from Hwy 169:
From Hwy 169 in Jordan, proceed north 3.5 miles on County Road 9 across the Minnesota River (where it becomes County Road 11) to Carver Highlands Drive and turn right. Continue onto Rapids Lake Road. Follow to the visitor center.
Driving Directions from Hwy 212:
From Highway 212, exit on Jonathan Carver Parkway (County Road 11) and turn south. Proceed 2.5 miles, continuing on County Road 11 by turning left. Proceed 1.9 miles and turn left on Carver Highlands Drive. Continue onto Rapids Lake Road. Follow to the visitor center.