Tag Archives: birding

Minnesota River bottoms, Bloomington’s natural trail network

John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

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. Following that, versions of that bridge carried people, carriages, and motorists across the river for over 100 years. The current pedestrian bridge is a beautiful arch, spanning the Minnesota River and connecting Bloomigton 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, popular for mountain biking, hiking, fishing and bird watching.

Minnesota River Bottoms

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

What are the Minnesota river bottoms

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

The “River Bottoms” to locals, is a trail network stretching from the south west corner of Bloomington, all the way to the trails of Fort Snelling State Park. These trails are worn in by the riders and runners who frequent them. While under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, they are not maintained by any government entity. Due to the fact that the “River Bottoms” aren’t maintained by any organization, the trails often take on a “path of least resistance” or direction. It is not uncommon for new trails to spring up after heavy rains and high river flooding. While riding, expect exclusively dirt trails with some log crossings, sand sections, and occasional overgrowth. Warning, pay particular attention for the Urtica Dioica plants, or stinging nettles, growing on infrequently used trails from June through August.

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 the 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 their home. Additionally, being a natural area, the River Bottoms are home to countless animals.

What to expect

There are a few popular entrances to the River Bottom trail, Lyndale Ave, Crest Ave, and Old Cedar Ave. These entrances offer ample parking and a clear trailhead. Once you start down the trail you will see that nothing is paved but worn-in enough to be firm under your tires. While a mountain bike is best for these trails, wider tires on Hybrids and adventure bikes navigate well. If you need to cross a stream, there are bridges or a ferry (at 9-mile creek) to get you around. 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 is 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. Avoid this trail in early spring as the trails thaw and after a strong rain. Other than that, these trails are sandy enough to drain quickly. One of the best things about the river bottoms is riding fatbikes. There in the winter, in fact, fat bikes can trace their development directly to the river bottom. When the snow falls, the river bottoms are a the perfect mixture of flat trail, bermed turns, and accessibility to create a near-perfect winter track.

Winters can get exciting in the Minnesota River bottoms with Penn Cycles Get Fat with Phat fat bike races in January.

We in the twin cities 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. To that point, there are user groups that are working against the eventual possibility of developing the river bottom area. Whatever your opinion is on development, get into the wilds of the River Bottoms and enjoy this local treasure.

Pedal, then Paddle Gateway's Rice Creek Chain of Lakes with canoe and kayak rentals at the Wargo Nature Center.

Pedal then Paddle Gateways Rice Creek Chain of Lakes

For a wildlife-rich experience not soon to be forgotten, pedal, then paddle, the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes up in the Twin Cities Gateway Area. With an abundance of bike trails and roads to get there, you will find several options at Wargo Nature Center once arriving. Head out with a paddle, hike, or bike the trails that meander around the chain of lakes shoreline in this mammoth park reserve in the Twin City Area.

Paddling the Twin Cities Gateway's Rice Creek Chain of Lakes is a wildlife-rich experience to remember.

Paddling the Twin Cities Gateway’s Rice Creek Chain of Lakes is a wildlife-rich experience to remember.

Rice Creek Chain of Lakes is located near the community of Lino Lakes, on the southside of Interstate 35W. Once there, Nature Center can fix you up with canoe and kayak rentals to paddle Rice Creek Chain of Lakes.  It is a bit of heaven in the north metro area. Being able to paddle out from the Nature Center on George Watch Lake is a tranquil experience.

What You Will See Paddling the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes

Through the summer and into the fall, you can paddle out from the dock at the Nature Center and connect to one lake after the next. Along the way you are sure to see occasional Leopard frogs hopping off a Lilly pad. Then, perhaps you’ll ever see a Blue Heron and Snowy White Egrets lift off as you pass by.

Hawks are common spectators to the activities as you paddle along the water trail or pedal along the bike trail in the Rice Creek Reserve.

Hawks are common spectator watching as you paddle along the water trail or along the bike trail in the Reserve.

The creek and lakes on this water trail offer excellent bird watching opportunities. And this is the perfect place for the novice paddler. Adventurers will see plenty of raptors such as egrets and herons that perch in nearby trees or forage along the shoreline. Along the way, you may see a sandpiper scampered across a sandbar.

Egrets and blue heron are also a common to see as you paddle along.

Egrets and Blue Heron are common to see as you paddle.

Maybe you’ll see a  soft-shell turtle sliding off the bank. Or maybe an eagle, osprey, or Turkey Vulture swooping down to grab its meal as a fish jumps. It’s scenic and wild at its best, right here in the Twin Cities Gateway!

 

About the Rice Creek Chain

The nearly 5,300-acre Rice Creek Chain is one of two regional parks in the Twin Cities Area that offer multiple-lake paddling. According to many who paddle this north metro chain, the mix of lake and forest vegetation makes it feel like a mini-Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The other reserve in the south metro is Lebanon Hills Park. Lebanon Hills Park is a 2,000-acre multi-lake area with only portage paths between them.

Generally on the Rice Creek Chain portaging is not necessary. The only exception is the occasional downed tree to circumvent, which normally happens in the spring. This rustic North Metro reserve has a water trail wandering through several lakes before it reaches Rice Creek. Rice Creek is a more challenging, less-traveled stretch that flows south to Long Lake. From there, it heads to the Mississippi River.

Paddlers who want a longer trip can follow Rice Creek out the northwest corner of Long Lake, in New Brighton. Here, the creek flows to the Mississippi River at Manomin Park in Fridley. The complete paddle from the Lake Peltier boat ramp in the Rice Creek Reserve to the Mississippi River is about 22 miles.

Rice Creek Reserve Rents

For canoe, kayak, and life jacket rentals, Wargo Nature Center is the place. Located on George Watch Lake, rentals can be used on: Peltier, Marshan, Rice, and Reshanau Lakes. Paddle craft rentals are available May through September, during normal hours. Here is their website for rental prices and times: https://www.anokacounty.us/874/Recreational-Rental-Equipment.  Call 651-429-8007 to check watercraft availability, lake temperatures, and water levels.

For those who want to use their own canoes or kayaks in the reserve, paddling access points include Rice Creek crossings near: Hodgson Road, Lexington Avenue, County Road I, and County Road J.

In the winter the Wargo Nature Center rents snowshoes for those who want to explore the park in a colder season.