Most dates with my husband are spent on hiking trails at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, taking in sunsets, watching for birds and chubby squirrels, listening to woodpeckers chomp in the distance, and just basking in the natural beauty of the forest.
Sometimes we plan dates on lakes and rivers where we canoe in the spring, summer, and fall — pretty much until the snow flies. We pack a bag filled with snacks, bottles of water and a deck of National Parks trivia cards.
I also have a tendency to schedule dates with my girlfriends out on trails. My friend Megan and I spent a lot of time last summer biking the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail and Minneapolis’s Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, catching up on life’s adventures and challenges, and building up a sweat before devouring tasty burgers at Bread & Pickle on Lake Harriet.
So yes, I like to “date” outdoors.
Being outside with my husband, family and friends is one of my favorite ways to hang out together. Time spent on trails in the woods not only limits distractions from phones, video games, TVs and parenting troublesome cats, but it also rejuvenates and inspires us to be more mindful, creative and grateful for our natural resources.
Not to mention spending time outside is usually FREE. My kind of date!
If you didn’t get into an upcoming program and are looking for something fun, unique and inexpensive to do this Valentine's Day, here are my top 5 ideas to celebrate with your sweetheart or best bud:
1. Take a Moonlit Hike.
This is my favorite time to be outside, partly because there are a lot fewer people (sometimes none) on trail and it’s a great time to hear (and hopefully see!) owls and other mysterious nocturnal beings. Additional bonus: There are no mosquitoes to pester you!
Evening hikes are also a gorgeous time for stargazing and naming constellations, especially in parks outside the ambient light of the metro.
I recommend a trip to Crow-Hassan Park Reserve, where the horizon feels infinite and it seems like you can see the whole world standing atop the hills of the wintry prairie.
You’ll probably even be serenaded by trumpeter swans who never get tired of honking.
Don’t have your own snowshoes? No worries! Rentals are available. Advance reservations are required. See where to rent and make a date on the trails!
I’d also recommend making dinner plans for right after because 1) it’ll warm you right up and 2) everything tastes so much more delicious after burning hundreds of calories waddling for miles in snowshoes.
3. Go Ice Fishing.
There’s nothing like catching your own Valentine’s dinner! Or trying to.
Ice fishing is a great way to spend time with someone. What better way to get to know your partner or friend than sitting on upside-down five-gallon pails in the freezing cold together?
This was one of my favorite ways to hang out with my best friend — my brother Nick. We’d pack up his collapsible ice house, our fishing gear, and some snacks and head out to our favorite lake.
After getting burned out on hand-drilling four holes into 15 inches of ice, we’d sit on our pails and talk about plans for college, traveling dreams and how upset Mom’s gonna be that we went fishing instead of finishing the laundry.
Three Rivers offers an abundance of lakes for ice fishing. Make a date out of it by packing a delicious picnic and bring a deck of cards or a game to play while you wait for those fish to bite.
4. Try a New Winter Sport Together.
Learning anything new together can be a fun and memorable experience, especially when it comes to testing your coordination and balance.
A few years ago I tried downhill skiing for the very first time with my husband during his work ski trip. Thankfully we were able to take a lesson and I learned what it meant to “pizza” and “French fry” my way down the giant hill.
If you’re unfamiliar with those incredibly technical skiing terms, they refer to the way you position your skis. The “pizza” position consists of pointing your toes towards each other to create a wedge shape, like a delicious slice of pepperoni pizza! This helps you slow your speed and come to a stop. And as you’ve probably guessed, the “French fry” position is when your skis are parallel to each other, resembling two long French fries, which helps you glide down the hill smoothly and speedily.
Let’s just say I spent most of the day on the ski hill pizza-ing my way down because I was totally afraid of losing control and tumbling into the woods. Which happened anyway and is a memory we still laugh about today.
Looking to make your own memories this Valentine’s Day? Hyland Hills Ski Area and the Winter Recreation Area at Elm Creek are great places to try skiing or snowboarding. Both offer equipment rentals and concessions, and discounted lift tickets for “Nights Under the Lights” are available at Hyland Hills after 7 PM Monday-Friday and after 6 PM Saturday-Sunday.
5. Visit a Nature Center.
Okay, so I know this isn’t technically an “outdoor” date idea, but it’s still a great one to keep in mind!
Nature centers are wonderful places to learn about natural history, explore trails, and meet some wildlife.
Last summer, my husband and I attended a program all about bees at Eastman Nature Center. We were probably the oldest people in the class by about 25 years, but hey, we got to sample honey, meet the Queen Bee, learn about beekeeping and even made our own bee houses out of reeds and twine. It was so cool.
Three Rivers has a variety of facilities to explore that offer unique experiences and sights, as well as some incredible photo opportunities:
Eastman Nature Center in Maple Grove has floor-to-ceiling windows for indoor birdwatching, rotating interpretive displays, live reptiles and amphibians, and a quiet reading room.
At Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington, you can check out an interactive mural and meet resident raptors, reptiles and amphibians.
You can visit live animals, observe birds in the wildlife viewing area or relax near the fireplace at Lowry Nature Center in Victoria.
For more ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the parks, explore the Things to Do page.
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About the Author
Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper and volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders!) and enjoys canoeing with her husband, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty, darling cats.
#OptOutside is a movement started by REI that encourages people to opt for outdoor adventures in lieu of Black Friday shopping. Find more on the mindset of #OptOutside and how to incorporate it into your daily life.