Lake Elmo Park Reserve is popular with families for swimming, fishing, camping, birding/animal watching and hiking. Of its over 2000 acres, 80 percent is set aside for preservation and protection, with a goal to return it to a pre-settler condition resembling in the mid-1800s. When away from the developed areas, visitors can spot a variety of wildlife. I recall rather bold raccoons circling our campsites at night. The park began upgrading the hiking paths during the fall of 2019, among updates will be boardwalks along Eagle Point Lake.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve Beach
The beach may be the most popular destination at Lake Elmo. It is a man-made, chlorinated swimming pond, so you get the feel of a real beach with the chemical cleanliness of a pool. The beach was updated last year but is re-opening for the 2021 season.
The Playground at Lake Elmo Park Reserve
Lake Elmo has a good sized play area near the beach. As far as play areas go, this is a pretty fun one, but probably still not worth the vehicle fee on its own. However, with its close proximity to the beach, families can spend a day at the park. It's a bit too far away to be able to watch kids on both the playground and the beach at the same time, but close enough to go back and forth several times during the afternoon. You can expect everyone to sleep well after a day at Lake Elmo.
There are other smaller play areas scattered throughout the park.
Fishing in Lake Elmo Park Reserve
Lake Elmo Park Reserve has a fishing pier near the campground and boat launch. It has a nearby play area for when the kids tire of sitting still. The Minnesota DNR says this is a hard lake to fish and it has fewer fish species than nearby St. Croix Lake. More recently, the DNR has added a do-not-eat advisory for fish in Lake Elmo. If you do choose to fish, catch and release is the best current policy.
Archery at Lake Elmo Park Reserve
Lake Elmo Orienteering Courses
Orienteering is kind of a cross between geocaching and cross country. It is a sport that combines racing with navigation. To practice orienteering at Lake Elmo, you will need a map of the park and a compass. There are three levels of courses, all originating at the Eagle Point trailhead parking lot. If you don't have a map, you can purchase one at the park office.
Winter Activities at Lake Elmo
Lake Elmo's cross country ski trails are lit up for evening skiing. Ski passes are required for anyone age 18 and older using the ski trails. In fall of 2020, Washington County Parks announced that they would be moving away from the DNR's MN Ski Pass to use their own Nordic Ski Pass. The prices are about the same $6/daily and $30/season, but you will no longer be able to purchase one pass to cover both State Parks and Washington County Parks.
Ski Rentals Available:
The park rents Nordic Rocks cross country skis with adjustable poles (introductory level skis) in both youth and adult sizes. These skis can be worn over your own winter boots.
Birthday Parties at Lake Elmo
The picnic shelters are available to rent for Birthday Parties and other private gatherings. Again, because of the great beach, this is a popular place to host birthdays. Pavilion rates are $150 - $300/day. For more birthday party ideas, we have compiled FFTC's Ultimate Guide to Birthday Parties in the Twin Cities.
Camping at Lake Elmo Park Reserve
Lake Elmo used to be my go-to spot for hike-in camping. It's been over a decade since we've camped there; and since they no longer allow dogs in campgrounds, we are unlikely to go back. However for a family, Lake Elmo may be a good choice for camping. It also has modern campgrounds if hauling kids and equipment up a trail is not your thing. It has that great beach. And, it is really close to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Over the winter of 2019/2020, Lake Elmo is working to improve electrical and water hook-ups to many of the modern sites. In addition, a new playground is being installed in the campground.
Family campsites run $19-$37/night depending on amenities and reservations open in early January. For other nearby camping ideas, Anne has compiled FFTC Family Camping Guide: Minnesota State Park Campgrounds.
Prairie Restorations at Lake Elmo Park Reserve
Washington County planted 16 acres of prairie (and prairie seed production plots) in Lake Elmo during the fall of 2018. You can find this prairie land west of the Rustic Campground. It help provide local seed sources for plantings. Up to 40 more acres will be planted in the coming year. Prairie areas are kept mowed to a height of 10" throughout the growing season to help the native grasses establish.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve Park & Trail Maps
These Lake Elmo Maps and more can be found on Washington County's Parks and Trails Map page.