A series exploring the best outdoor experiences in the Twin Cities:
Riding With The River
This stalwart mountain biking standby traces a sinuous and distractingly scenic line along the bluffs of the Minnesota River. Get river valley views, wildlife-packed ravines, and creek-hopping fun on this 6-mile out-and-back romp.
The Minnesota River flats and lumpy bluffs along Bloomington’s southern borders serve up some of the best ridings for fat tire fans in all the metro. The stretch from the Lyndale Avenue trailhead mixes fast cruising with climbs and creek crossings.
From the trailhead, follow the path into the woods, curving away from the river after a short spin and across a river channel inlet to the base of the bluff. Take the right fork to start the undulating eastbound singletrack.
The trail generally follows the lower contours of the bluff on the early sections, rolling through a forest of gnarled oak and other hardwood giants. A short section of raised platform provides solid surface above a bike-stalling sand pit, and about one mile into the ride, a spur trail ramps steeply up the bluff for an optional side trip. At the top is the Gideon Pond house, a historical homestead of one of the most influential settlers on the mid-1800s Minnesota frontier. Today the site is maintained by the City of Bloomington as a museum. Check it out.
On the trail past this junction, a gentle descent leads to a bridge crossing a skinny creek, running clear and lazily toward the river. Cruise through a cluster of towering, fragrant cedars to one of the trail’s few respectable climbs. Watch for loose dirt, rocks, and other detritus. Around the corner at the top is Parkers Picnic Grounds, with great views of Long Meadow Lake below. A fun descent ensues after the picnic grounds, with a couple of switchbacks on the way down to another creek crossing. Follow the path’s curve toward the lake and after a few more fun turns, the trail ramps up again to just below the top of the bluff and the site of a long-abandoned city park. The path heads downhill again from here, with yet another creek at the bottom. The main route ascends from the creek to Mound Springs Park (an optional eastern trailhead) and another path follows closer to the river into federal wildlife refuge land. This final creek is the turnaround point. Retreat here, and enjoy the trail in reverse back to the Lyndale trailhead.
And now the bad news: Plans to build a paved trail through this wilderness-in-the-city and richly diverse river flats environment and wildlife habitat are happening. Get out there before we see another natural jewel meddled with and forever altered to meet the chaotic demands of progress.
Exit I35W at 106th Street and go east .1 mile to Lyndale Avenue (T intersection), then south down the hill to a large parking area at the river.
By Steve Johnson