Currently, my newest, most reliable vehicle is an 18-year old Toyota 4Runner. Being my daily driver, it spends 95% of its time on pavement, stuck in traffic, or running boring errands. But it’s that other 5% that is responsible for me sinking thousands upon thousands of dollars into maintenance and modifications. While my 4Runner is plenty comfortable to gobble up mile after mile of highway, it’s really happy as soon as the pavement ends. Like a pig in mud, my 4Runner is happiest in… err… mud. And rocks. And climbing up and down hills. And going over logs and ruts. The less of a “road” it’s on, the better. Which is exactly why I spent a day putting my 4Runner through its paces on the Spider Lake Trails in the Foot Hills State Forest up near Pine River, MN a couple weeks back with some other Toyota enthusiasts. Plus, it was a good excuse to take a #MorriesRoadtrip!
Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get bogged down with daily life and although these trails are only about two and a half hours away, it can be hard to find time to get out and explore even just for a day or two. Luckily, I had three other friends who were able to convince me to get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday and make the trip with them. The drive up to Foot Hills State Forest was pretty uneventful, although replacing my wobbling driveshaft and leaking steering rack just a few days prior made it smoother and quieter than usual – a welcome change. After a few pit stops for breakfast and gas, we arrived at the entrance to the trails: a barely marked dirt road that led into the forest. We actually overshot the entrance at first and pulled into what turned out to be an ATV park, which was heavily rutted and full of thick, sloppy mud.
Once in the park, however, I let Ryan – a sales associate at Morrie’s Inver Grove Mazda – take the lead for a bit while he mapped out the trails for the Trails Offroad website. Our first “obstacle” was a set of tight switchbacks snaking their way up a big hill. Although I didn’t have any issues steering my 4Runner around the narrow corners, a few others had to make two or three point turns along the way. Of course, once you get to the top of a hill, the next step is usually to go back down. This time, we had a steep, mudding decline to traverse. As expected, the 4Runner made quick and easy work of this, gently gliding down the hill, soaking up bumps and maintaining grip in the slippery mud with the help of the transmission’s 4-LO setting. We encountered a number other obstacles including a handful of steep, rocky hills and deep mud pits, but all of our vehicles got through without any issues.
Being the last weekend of winter and already unseasonably warm, most of the snow in the area had already melted and we encountered plenty of mud and a few large puddles throughout the day. It made leaving the park all the more fun as we all had to power our way through a “road” that was almost entirely made up of 6+ inches of thick mud. We were slipping and sliding our way down the trail for miles! It’s taken longer to wipe the smile from my face than it did to get all the mud cleaned off my 4Runner! If you’re looking for an adventure that is relatively close to home and you drive a truck, SUV, or crossover with some ground clearance and AWD, I’d definitely recommend taking it on any number of scenic DNR forest roads around the state. Most of them will take you somewhere scenic and show you some beautiful sights along the way, all while offering a little more challenge to your average road trip. Get out there and get some mud on the tires!