A Series Exploring the Best Outdoor Experiences in the Twin Cities

The River Ramble

This pleasant 13 mile ride hugs the Mississippi River shoreline from downtown St. Paul’s harbor all the way upstream to Crosby Farm Park. With a front row view of towboats and barges and beautiful river valley from start to finish, this smooth ride is as easy on the eyes as it is the legs.

Get There

The trailhead is at Lower Landing Park at 514 Shepard Road. From downtown St. Paul, follow Chestnut or Jackson Streets to the river at Shepard Road. Turn left (Shepard becomes Warner Road) to the first large parking area at river’s edge.

Do It

The river serves up a distraction right away during this ride. From the trailhead along Warner Road you’ll get up close to the harbor hubbub. On busy days, a posse of square framed towboats with crow’s nest wheelhouses move about the waterfront under the steely eyes of seasoned captains, shepherding an imposing herd of grizzled barges along the riverbanks. It is a captivating scene.

Start riding upstream, following the paved path into the shadow of downtown’s skyscrapers. Pass under Robert and Wabasha Streets and look across to Raspberry Island, home to the Minnesota Boat Club since 1870, and host to present-day bandshell concerts and other events. Just past the bridge are great views in all directions, most notably the downtown skyline, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and Harriet Island on the south river bank. At the east end of Upper Landing Park, split off to the left and be sure to look to the river again to see houseboats of all shapes and sizes, some of them year-round homes to hardy residents. Continue along the river, riding on what was once the old Shepard Road, passing beneath the soaring Smith Avenue High Bridge 160 feet above. At the junction with Shepard Road proper, the route turns left and heads farther west on some gently rolling sections of the Samuel Morgan Regional Trail Corridor and past the site of the old Fountain Cave (see sidebar). The trail soon reaches I-35E and the eastern entrance to Crosby Farm Regional Park. Roll downhill for a long and curvy tour of this heavily wooded, wildlife-packed park. At the picnic shelters, follow the access road up the route’s only steep climb, emerging at the top of the high river gorge. Pedal on to the overlook at Highway 5 for great views of Ft. Snelling and Ol’ Miss. About-face to return to the trailhead.

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[Sidebar]

The sandstone river bluffs in and around St. Paul contain a captivating labyrinth of caves and man-made mines. The granddaddy of them all was Fountain Cave, a passageway over 1,100 feet long formed by the slowly eroding path of Fountain Creek, opening into the Mississippi about halfway between present-day I-35E and the old Schmidt’s Brewery. Side tunnels led to many hidden antechambers, one of them a huge, circular cavern, and many still remain unexplored.  Fountain Cave’s entrance was buried by road construction in 1960, but a historical sign marks its location.

By Steve Johnson