by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking
Biking along the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) is just one of the many fun opportunities cyclists can enjoy when visiting Hastings, MN. As this historic river town expands its bicycle infrastructure, I had to make it back to Hastings last fall to check out the completed 10-mile trail loop.
Dubbed the “Scenic Circuit,” cyclists of all ages and abilities find this scenic trail loop that follows along both the Vermilion and Mississippi rivers breathtaking. Cyclists will discover many unique points of interest in both the city parks and trails along this dual river trail system. For those who would like to add a few extra miles to this Scenic Circuit Loop, it’s easy following the MRT to Schaar’s Bluff and beyond. See the Hastings HaveFunBiking map for more options.
Starting in Historic Hastings
Starting our ride in the historic Hastings Downtown Area, we found plenty of parking options when arriving. The city parking lot and streets around the historic city hall, on 4th Street, work well. Plus, it’s a short walk after your ride to 2nd Street (the city’s downtown main street) for a snack or meal. We choose to ride the Scenic Circuit counter-clockwise for this review, leaving from Levee Park on the MRT.
Following the Mississippi River Trail out of Hastings
In the first few miles of riding through Jaycee Park, we enjoyed an aerial show from several Bald Eagles. The river art along the trail was also interesting. Several markers explain the river’s history, and one art sculpture made a statement about a river clean-up project several years prior. The giant dragonfly (above) was made from different metals dredged from the river under the Clean Water Act. Further along the Scenic Circuit, the trail passes by U.S. Lock and Dam 2. Here it’s always fun to stop and watch boats of all sizes move through the locks from the viewing platform.
Before leaving the river bottom, another highlight was pedaling along the picturesque causeway before climbing out from the river’s bank. At the top, for those who would like to add a few more miles, Schaar’s Bluff and the new trail out to Dakota County’s Spring Lake Park is an option (See below, for more miles to Schaar’s Bluff and Spring Lake Park). To continue along on the 10-mile Scenic Circuit, riders should take a left, crossing Nininger Road, and then follow the city trail south, down Pleasant Drive.
From the Mississippi to the Vermilion River
Now on the western side of Hastings, the Scenic Circuit jogs a little further west along 4th Street, from Pleasant Drive – then heads south on the wide paved shoulder of General Sieben Drive. After crossing Highway 55, those who need a sweet treat will find Culvers on the corner. Continuing south, the route turns east onto River Shore Drive. Then, in about an eighth-mile, watch for the trail to cross the road and head north up to Northridge Drive. There you should take a right and continue east on the Circuit Loop.
At Pleasant Drive, take a right; the trail follows the road south to the Vermilion River. On the east side, after crossing the bridge, pick up the trail that flows with the river back into Hastings. You will soon discover why this section of the trail is such a popular part of the MRT.
Along the Vermilion River
As the Vermilion River flows swiftly to the east, the trail along this scenic stretch of river offers nature lovers a peaceful ride through serenity. From here, cyclists and walkers alike will enjoy the two underpasses, one on County Road 46/47 and the second one at U.S. 61, to stay away from traffic. After passing under Highway 61, the Scenic Circuit is now entering Vermilion Falls Park.
Riding into the park, at the first trail intersection, you will have an opportunity to park your bike and walk about 100-feet to view Vermilion Falls. Continuing east and taking a left at the trail’s “T,” you are now on the bridge where it’s easy to view the falls overhead as it cascades towards the Mississippi River. You will also notice all the padlocks on the bridge’s railing?
No one knows exactly when, why, or who started this European trend in Hastings. But this romantic ritual has become very popular, with hundreds of locks being attached to the fence on the old railroad bridge that is now a part of the Scenic Circuit trail. The practice invites lovers to hang a padlock on the bridge and toss the key into the water below. For now, the city parks department finds the trend touching and so far plans to leave the public love notes (locks) alone as a wall of art.
Another historic option to check out is Old Mill Park, about an eighth mile ahead. Here is another opportunity to park your bike and walk down to the old mill ruins and maybe hike one of the many trails along the Vermilion River.
From Mill Park, the trail crosses the railroad tracks and then continues north again towards Downtown Hastings. At the next split in the trail, riders should take a right and then follow the MRT signs back to the downtown area for some fun.
Enjoy Historic Downtown after your ride.
Over the last few years, downtown Hastings has been going through what many call a “Riverfront Renaissance.” With events scheduled throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the historic main street atmosphere is the perfect place to end your ride. Stop to shop, dine or stroll along the Mississippi River Trail next to the Scenic Circuit Loo. After our ride, we found several options for cool refreshments and dinner in the downtown area. You can find more options in our At-A-Glance article.
If you didn’t bring your bike along, Hastings has a bike-share program. The Zagster bike station is located under the bridge on 2nd Street, and you will need a credit card to activate the locking system to the cycle you wish to ride,
More miles to Schaar’s Bluff and Spring Lake Park.
The trail loop also connects to several neighborhood parks and the Mississippi River Regional Trail. Known by many as the “hidden jewel” of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, view some spectacular scenery along the way as you pedal along. Riding out to Schaar’s Bluff adds around 12-miles.
If you choose to ride out to Dakota County’s Lower Spring Lake Park Reserve and cross the two new bridges on this trail, it will add an extra 8-miles and is well worth the extra effort!