You won’t find a baseball diamond or a pavilion here. No swings or slides. It’s tiny compared to the grandeur of Loring Park. Still, Deming Heights Park, a five-minute walk from my house in northeast Minneapolis, has amenities galore. There’s a perfect sunshine-to-shade ratio, beautiful contours, and sublime views you can only access and appreciate on foot. It was the first place that came to mind when I thought about hidden gems in my own backyard. (For more nonpareil spots to visit around Minnesota, read here, here, and here.)
Even with no playground, it’s still a place to explore and imagine. There’s a tree with a miniature “elf door” at its roots where children discover notes and treasures. The park’s incline is steep enough for semi-precarious winter sledding, and a few well-placed rocks are ideal heights for a leaping 4-year-old. People build their dog walks around its wide upper path, and use the park’s steep, sloping arteries for running.
Dedicated to past Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners president Portius C. Deming, Deming Heights Park is never crowded, but almost never empty, either. I’ve never known about a concert there, but I’ve witnessed guitars, violins, and wind instruments emerge for practice and performances for audiences of one. A flat spot called Norwegian Hill can host enough chairs for a small wedding ceremony, and there are shady, intimate corners where you could respectfully scatter someone’s ashes. It is never too far from a paved path or city street, but always at a remove from the Minneapolis skyline off in the distance.
An evolving tree canopy keeps the views changing throughout the seasons. Winter brings breathtaking sunsets over miles of Minneapolis neighborhoods. The park’s highest point towers 963 feet above sea level, tops in a Minneapolis Parks System regularly named our nation’s best. As greenery fills in throughout spring, the mature trees’ beauty takes over. By summer, soft grass invites picnics and hammocks, and then falling leaves spark a dramatic climax each fall.
To get to my favorite feature, wait for a break in traffic and cross St. Anthony Parkway to a sidewalk leading into a wooded area. There, a concrete stairway, with metal railings and an extravagant number of steps, descends through a passage of trees and overgrowth. Its gentle curl creates a magical momentary escape—you’ll never see entirely where you’re heading or where you’ve been.
The great author Edward Abbey wrote, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” My neighborhood park is not fully wilderness, but the rest of the sentiment holds. By now, I hope you are envisioning a piece of the outdoors somewhere in our great state that you cherish. May we use this year ahead to return to these places, and take detours to find new ones.