FOREST BATHING – WHAT IS IT?
You may have been hearing a bit about a new wellness practice recently – it’s called forest bathing, or shinrin yoku. Forest Bathing is the English translation of the Japanese Shinrin Yoku. Shinrin means ‘forest’ in Japanese, Yoku means ‘bath.’ This translates as immersing yourself in the forest air or experiencing the forest with all of your senses.
What it’s not: donning your swimming suit and playing Marco Polo in the trees.
You may be one of those on the vanguard that have already tried this powerful nature connection experience. If you haven’t, there are many certified guides right here in Minnesota who can take you on a transformative, immersive, and meditative journey into the forest.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT PLACE FOR FOREST BATHING?
One of the most exciting elements of taking forest bathing walks here in Minneapolis-St. Paul is the plethora of locations that allow you to disconnect with technology and surround yourself with the woodland air.
A place with good forest cover is a great place to start. But you can also experience the positive benefits in the middle of a native prairie. Here in Minnesota we have remnants of the “Big Woods” ecosystem – which were Maple-Basswood Forests and Oak Woodlands. Maple-Basswood forests tended to succeed Oak Woodlands, so you may find areas with large old oaks paired with smaller maples that outnumber them. This is the fun part of discovery – curiosity and wondering about what this place looked like when our ancestors saw it for the first time.
However, all forests are not created equal. Just because a place has trees does not necessarily make it beneficial for forest bathing. There may be beautiful woods nearby, but they might be located right underneath the airport landing approach, or next to a busy highway. While forest bathing encourages us to embrace all pieces of the human and more-than-human worlds as part of a larger whole, there are times when human sounds become too much of a hindrance to the meditative experience of forest bathing. So, if you find yourself in a place with overwhelming “human” noises it’s okay to look elsewhere.
Safety is also important, especially if you choose to go alone for an unguided sit spot experience or wander in the woods. Clear views and open trails are helpful in this regard. Never go into a locale that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Diverse ecosystems, and/or the ability to connect with water, make great places to forest bathe. Biodiversity is important for life on earth. This means different kinds of birds, small animals, plants, and trees all interdependent for their survival (and ours). This means more elements to hold your interest – birdsong, insects, flowers, fragrances, textures…
WHERE CAN I GO?
The following locales are sprinkled throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. They are some of my favorites that I use often. Each location has unique elements, distinct to its sense of place. These elements may appeal to some people more than others; others may be drawn to an entirely different set of features. I encourage you to explore them all and find the location that speaks most deeply to you.
Supporting these stewards of wild places by our patronage is critical. We all need exposure to nature, kids especially. The more we bring our children and ourselves into the wilds, the better off we all are.The forest can bring us back to ourselves. Off we go…
6710 Lake Shore Drive, Richfield, MN 55423 | 612-861-9365
Wood Lake is a wonderful location close to Minneapolis. Tucked between I-35W and Lyndale Avenue, its 150 acres host 3 different ecosystems – forest, wetland marsh, and prairie. While there is some traffic noise, it tends to blend into the background – like a hearing a rushing river in the distance. The sounds of wildlife often blot out human sounds. It has 3 miles of trails and boardwalks to explore. The number of birds that are present is almost overwhelming – spring birdsong is spectacular! There are many other species that also call Wood Lake home – deer, coyote, muskrats, turtles, and more. Wood Lake also has extensive programming for adults and children, as well as rentable indoor space for various activities.
8300 W. Franklin Avenue, St. Louis Park, MN 55426 | 952-924-2544
Westwood Hills is a 160-acre hidden gem directly west of downtown Minneapolis. With stunning woodlands, a lengthy and amazing boardwalk through the marsh, a restored prairie, and a brand-new visitor center (coming Summer of 2020) this nature center is one of my favorites. It’s gorgeous in every season and if you’re lucky you might even see deer, turtles, fox, mink, and owls.
It’s quiet. It used to be a golf course, then a camp, before its present incarnation. You’d never guess that by wandering underneath the woodland boughs; a testament to the tenacity of nature. It’s also in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so don’t be confused when following directions, you’re going the right way.
8737 E. Bush Lake Road, Bloomington, MN 55438 | 763-694-7676
Richardson Nature Center is just off I-494 in Bloomington and is part of the Hyland Park Reserve, which boasts 1000 acres and 14 miles of trails. What’s unique about this location is the variety of ecosystems that you can wander through. There are multiple ponds, grasslands and prairies, forests, and places where the different ecosystems blend from one to another.
Quiet wooded walks allow for relaxed contemplation of the surrounding beauty, cool elevated platforms place you amidst the tree canopy, mown paths through the prairies bring you up close to prairie plants, pollinators, swaying grasses, and flowers. If you pay attention, you can even see a ski jump in the distance. There is also a top-notch Visitor Center with tons of programming and activities for children and adults. You would never guess you’re so close to the city.
1301 Theodore Wirth Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55422 | 612-230-6528
Theodore Wirth Park has some simply spectacular trails to discover within its massive 740 acres only 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. Paths are extensive and weave in and out of the forest (many are also mountain bike trails, so be careful if you choose to explore those particular paths), through the Quaking Bog, along lakeshores, and through the oldest public wildflower garden in the United States. The wildflower garden has a boardwalk through a wetland garden, upland Oak Savanna and Prairie plantings, woodland plantings, and great “woodsman’s shack” filled with programming and naturalists to answer your questions. I particularly enjoy the surprise of the natural amphitheater with a rim trail just south of the entry to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Spectacular! There are further paved and unpaved trails between I-394 and the wildflower garden, so take some time to explore the nuances of this locale.
2511 W Chestnut Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55405
This location seems the most “secret” of all those mentioned. It is adjacent to Bassett’s Creek Playground and just around the corner from Theodore Wirth Park, and surprise, this wooded hill is right next to the last above ground portion of Bassett’s Creek. From just beyond this point Bassett’s Creek moves into an underground culvert that runs all the way downtown, through a tunnel under the North Loop, with an outlet at the Mississippi River. So, this is your chance to see the creek as it originally existed! The creek runs behind the old Fruen Mill and Utepils Brewery in Bryn Mawr. It is a glorious little slice of hushed, wooded quietude where one can listen to the babbling brook below and the birds in the trees above. When you’re here, you certainly feel in a world apart.
There are benches sprinkled across the hill in various locales, each with a differing view beyond. There is even a clearing with a picnic table for a longer adventure. This location is a more recent addition to my repertoire and I look forward to exploring it even more, now that spring is upon us.
2500 County Road E, St. Anthony, MN 55421 | 763-694-7707
Silverwood Park in St. Anthony used to be the old Salvation Army Silver Lake Camp. It was, according to the park’s website, a “fresh air camp”. This type of camp was created by the Salvation Army in the late 19th Century to get urban children out into nature and fresh air, experiencing the benefits of the woodlands.
Silverwood’s trails wind through some pretty wonderful woods. A mile-long trail sprinkled with unique public art installations greets the wanderers. The park includes an island with many mature trees and room to sit in solitude, contemplating the canopy above and the water beyond. The park also has cultivated a unique Dyer’s Garden (plants that historically were used to dye cloth) to explore and learn from. The programs here are second to none. Pair a forest walk with one of their Date Nights for a special experience. Silverwood also hosts an amazing visitor center with a café/coffee shop, rental space for large events, a gift shop showcasing local art, and most important for those chilly days – a fireplace!
365 Marie Avenue West, West St. Paul, MN 55118 | 651-455-4531
Dodge Nature Center is 460+ acres of woodland, prairie, wetlands, and 8 miles of trails in West St. Paul. This fantastic resource was created in 1967 by Olivia Irvine Dodge, a philanthropist who also donated the current Minnesota Governor’s Residence to the State. She wanted to preserve native woodlands for the public to enjoy, and especially for teaching children about nature. They have raptor mews where rescued raptors live, a working farm, and even a bee apiary.
I love wandering amongst the woods, prairies, and wetlands, choosing a new trail and experience each visit. Dodge offers forest bathing experiences in partnership with Silvae Spiritus, these walks can be found on their calendar regularly. The depth and breadth of this nature center is one of the things that makes it an outstanding choice for intentionally slowing down and seeing the power of the forest firsthand.
860 Cliff Road, Eagan, MN 55123 | 651-554-6530
With nearly 2000 acres, this park is one of the largest in the south metro area! It has miles and miles of trails, each offering a different type of woodland experience. My first experience here was in mid-winter and after wandering the trails for about 6 hours I felt that I was just beginning to scratch the surface of this park’s nooks and crannies.
If you like water, Lebanon Hills has fourteen different lakes to discover. The park also has this incredible bridge (seen above) and A-frame shelter designed by friends and fellow landscape architects Aune Fernandez Landscape Architects. Forest bathing experiences here are limitless, as there are often times (especially in winter) where solitude is your only companion for long stretches of time.
That brings us to the end of this particular list. One thing I know, it is not exhaustive by any means. There are so many amazing places in Minnesota where you can immerse yourself in woods, bluffs, and prairies. I hope visiting these parks and nature centers whets your appetite for more. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you find somewhere you think I should know about. I look forward to guiding you on a forest walk sometime soon.
WIDENING CIRCLES - Rilke
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.