Minnesota River bottoms, a fun year-round trail network

by John Brown, 

In the summer of 1849, the first Bloomington Ferry began operations next to the Minnesota River bottoms. It carried people from the Bloomington shores to Shakopee. Exactly 40 years later, the first Bloomington Ferry Bridge was opened. Carrying people, carriages, and motorists across the river for over 100 years.  No longer open to auto traffic, the current pedestrian bridge is a beautiful arch, spanning the Minnesota River and connecting Bloomington to the Highway 101 trail to Shakopee. The Bridge is also the starting point for The Minnesota River Bottoms trail. The River Bottoms are some of the metro areas’ last natural trails, famous for mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and bird watching.

Minnesota River Bottoms

Bikes on the Bloomington Ferry Bridge, near the trailhead of the Minnesota River Bottoms

What are the Minnesota river bottoms?

The Minnesota River bottoms are worn by the riders, hikers, and runners who frequent them.

To locals, the “River Bottoms” is a trail network stretching from the southwest corner of Bloomington to the trails of Fort Snelling State Park. These trails are enjoyed by mountain bike riders and runners who frequent them. While under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, they are not maintained by any government entity and often take on a “path of least resistance” or direction. It is not uncommon for new tracks to spring up after heavy rains and high river flooding. While riding, expect dirt trails exclusively with some log crossings, sand sections, and occasional overgrowth. Warning, in the summer, pay particular attention to the Urtica Dioica plants, or stinging nettles, growing on infrequently used trails.

Wildlife of the Minnesota River Bottoms

Bikers, birdwatchers and hikers can enjoy the wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

Bikers, birdwatchers, and hikers can enjoy wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

The River Bottoms are great for all types of recreation. It’s not uncommon to see hikers, bird watchers, and people fishing along the banks of the Minnesota River. I have enjoyed sharing with my son the sights of Bald eagles and Beavers who make the watershed here their home. Additionally, being a natural area, the River Bottoms are home to countless animals, including white-tailed deer and mink.

What to expect

On the map, there are a few popular entrances to the River Bottom trail, including Lyndale Ave, Crest Ave, and Old Cedar Ave. These entrances offer ample parking and a clear trailhead. Once you start down the course, you will see that nothing is paved but worn-in enough to be firm under your tires. Except at the Lyndale trailhead, you will find a short section of paved, heading east, and perfect for walking and wheelchair use. While a mountain bike is best for unpaved trails, fat tire bikes navigate well in winter. If you need to cross a stream, there are bridges, and at 9-mile creek in the summer months, there is a rope ferry to get you across. Because the River Bottoms are so smooth, they are an ideal place to take kids mountain biking.

The Minnesota River bottoms are worn in by the riders, hikers, and runners who frequent them

You will find runners who frequent the natural settings of the Minnesota River bottoms.

When to ride

Spring, summer, winter, or fall, the Minnesota River bottoms are a natural haven for cyclists.

The best part of the River Bottoms is that it is one of the first places to dry out each spring. It is also one of the first places to freeze when winter rolls through. Like most off-road trails, please avoid this trail in early spring as they thaw or after heavy rain. Other than that, these trails are sandy enough to drain quickly. One of the best things about the river bottoms is riding fat bikes. Fat bikes can trace their development directly to the river bottom in the winter. When the snow falls, the river bottoms are the perfect mixture of flat trails, bermed turns, and accessibility to create a near-perfect winter track.

Living in the Twin Cities, we are lucky to have a place like the river bottoms to ride. The fact that it is left free to change and natural is unique in a metro area. You will find some of the metro’s last natural trails from the Bloomington Ferry Bridge to Fort Snelling.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever was still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he can about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.

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