Brickyard Hike in St Paul Hidden at Lilydale Regional Park
Looking to uncover some history while hiking? The Brickyard Hike in St Paul is right up your alley. The short hike packs a punch with the vertical ascent up the Mississippi River Bed.
But what makes the hike so interesting is seeing remnants of the old brickyard ovens still dug into the side of the hillside. Little did I realize this hike was the place I was searching for last year, after reading a popular book inspired by MN River towns.
After reading This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger I was fascinated with MN River Culture and the area known as the West Side Flats. It was the slums of St Paul where cast-off were sent to live.
From my understanding, all evidence of their existence was wiped away after flooding. That was until I stumbled on an article on the National Parks Services about a place called the Brickyard.
Doing some more digging, I found old maps with information about fossil hunting and ice climbing waterfalls. After some land erosion problems, those are no longer allowed.
But with all the misinformation online, I wanted to see what was still available. After a hike to the nearby Crosby Farm Regional Park’s Hidden Slot Canyon, we decided to see what was still hikeable.
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Lilydale Regional Park
Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul is a 636-acre park in St Paul. There are two areas to the park, Harriet Island and the Brickyards. The most well-known is Harriet Island.
Many summer festivals are held here, like the MN Irish Festival. There are picnic shelters, a giant playground, walking paths, ball fields, and riverboat cruises leaving there.
Just west of the island is the brickyards section. Filled with trails, the urban forest is a popular location to explore by locals. There is a paddle share pickup and Mississippi River access. And the reason we’ve come to explore.
History of Lilydale Regional Park in St Paul
The Lilydale Regional Park area is a floodplain. Long before, it was a hot bet of home development in something that was called the West Side Flats. Some of the poorest residents of Saint Paul called the area home.
You can learn a little more about the history in my review of real-life location in the book This Tender Land. But in 1965, historic flooding let the entire area of the West Side Flats flatten.
The city brought up the land and transformed it into a park. Today it is managed by the city of St. Paul and the National Park Service.
Getting to the Brickyard Hiking Trial in St Paul
The trail park stretches along the Mississippi River area. The spot I wanted to explore was the Brickyard. After doing some digging, I was able to find a map of the area to explore. Google Maps only brings people to one parking lot close by. There are actually many more. For those looking for the trailhead, go to 601-899 S Joy Ave, St Paul MN 55118.
The trail is a switchback trail out and back from the bottom of the riverbed to the top of the hill, some 190 feet in elevation. I’m not sure why this was a surprise to me when I arrived. Usually, there is a reason the trails have a switchback. I was up for the challenge. The trail is 1.8 miles total.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about Minnesotan’s, we love to hike! There is plenty of great places to hike that no one knows about. Check them out: 21 Best Hikes Near Minneapolis and St Paul
The Brickyard Hike in St Paul
The first thing we ran into was the old Brickyard in Ramsey County. It was the site of the Twin Cities Brick Company, founded in 1894 and continued to make bricks until 1970.
Using bricks during that time was in high demand, as the primary construction material was wood. There were some catastrophic fires during the late 1800s, making brick the next best thing.
Brickmakers would quarry Decorah shale from the bluff and bring it down the hill to the brick kiln at the base of the bluff. These bricks were used in many buildings around the Twin Cities, including the St Paul Hotel.
The brick kiln is easy to find. From the parking lot, take the trail west. You’ll notice a small cave formed into the wall, just off the main trail. To the right of it is a brick kiln. It’s shocking to see it still standing as a tree grew around it.
Along the cliffs, there are a couple of waterfalls. They aren’t traditional waterfalls, but water seeps from the walls. In winter, the water freezes and makes frozen waterfalls.
Along the trail, you can find two waterfalls, both where the trail switches back. I have to admit I was less impressed with these after seeing the waterfall at Crosby Farm Regional Park. It could be because water levels were low this year.
Lilydale Regional Park Overlook
The top of the hill is the overlook. The entire time we were climbing to the top, we kept wondering if we should keep going. “It’s probably nothing!”. I’m so glad we didn’t give up.
Partly because it was a tremendous accomplishment to go all the way, but it was a nice overlook. We could see Pickerel Lake, the Mississippi River, and Minneapolis in the distance.
Brush hid most of the iconic downtown St Paul.
Below, we could also see the rest of the park and the railroad coming through it. The portion of the rail that goes over the Mississippi River is a swing bridge.
The track sits parallel with the river to allow boats through. When a train comes by, it swings back and connects. Kind of fun to watch.
Looking to explore on your own?
There are tons of different places to explore just outside the fence. We even hopped over one, following some tracks just to see where they went.
Before going back after about 20 steps. That’s because I remembered that the area is still unstable. They have a sizeable portion of the brickyard and fossil section listed as Restricted Access.
Please take this seriously, as there have been landslides in the area. Use the most current map to stay on the path and keep this area protected.
Do I need anything special for this hike?
Depending on the conditions, snowshoes and trekking poles could be helpful. We noticed what seemed like a layer of ice below the snow. Thankfully, we didn’t need the ice cleats, but they could come in handy.
More Great Hikes in the Area
The Lilydale Regional Park area and Mississippi River Valley have tons of great locations to explore. Just east of the park is home to the Wabasha Street Caves. To the east is Crosby Farm Regional Park where the slot canyon is hiding. And just west of there is Hidden Falls Park.
You are also just a short distance from Pike Island in Fort Snelling State Park. They are all great areas to explore and are less than a 10-minute drive to each location.
Would I do the brickyard hike in St Paul again?
I would love to see what the place looks like in the Summer. Maybe hike closer to the river next time. It’s a pretty area even though it’s industrial. Next time, I may bring the bikes and go along the Lilydale Regional Trail just to get a different perspective.