by Andrew Ellis
Soon, Minnesota’s beautiful fall colors will be gracing the Mississippi River Bluffs in and around Winona. Pedaling along the bluffs at this time of the year may make you feel like you’re Indiana Jones scouring foreign lands for lost treasure. But hold on there just one minute, Major Tom, you’re still in Southeast Minnesota. Ready to enjoy the thrills and features of one of the most bike-friendly communities in the state. The city of Winona and its surrounding area is a must-visit destination for those yearning for a free-wheeling outdoor bicycle experience. And perfect for a one-tank. day or overnight staycation.
The area allows you to roam nearly wherever you choose – and there’s plenty for you to explore. You can forget about your weekday worries as you pedal down the scenic country roads. And if you’re looking to take a break and spend some time on the water, then there’s lakes, rivers, and streams to wet your line or paddle around on.
Biking opportunities in Winona
The town of Winona, bordered by bluffs in the Mississippi River Valley, offers several opportunities to explore the area. You can enjoy the trails around Lake Winona, explore the many low-traffic county roads and the local section of the Mississippi River Trail, or get in some mountain biking around the bluffs. Whatever you and your bike crave, there’s something for you, like a ride out to the historic Pickwick Mill south of town.
Levee Park and the Winona Lake bike path
I love to swing by Levee Park when I am in the area and look at the river. Especially in the morning and catch the sun rising, slowly leaking over the river and onto the rooftops of the city.
At Winona Lake Park, the paved trail offers riders a 3.7 and 5.3-mile loop option. It runs along the south side of the city and circles both segments of Lake Winona. The terrain is flat and easy for all skill levels. It’s also a multi-use trail if you prefer to walk it.
Mississippi River Trail (MRT) and the wildlife you will see
The Mississippi River Trail is a bike route that follows the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to New Orleans. Signage is complete through Winona to make it easy to follow. One of my favorite routes, if you like to view wildlife, pedal your bike along the Mississippi River Trail upstream. Turn right out of Prairie Island Park and follow the left fork of the road (the right leads to McNally’s Landing) down a long straightaway. Watch for waterfowl — you’re surrounded by the National Wildlife Refuge.
Road biking Winona’s roads
Winona’s roads offer long and refreshing rides along scenic county roads where you can get a glimpse at all nature has to offer. And there are many loops you can follow so you won’t have to fear getting lost. There’s the Gilmore Valley Loop which takes you past St. Mary’s University, the Burns Valley Loop, the Pleasant Ridge Loop takes you by the Bunnell Historic House, the Prairie Island Loop, the Richmond Ridge Loop, and the Rollingstone route goes through Winona State University and ends at the Luxembourg Historical Museum. See more on page 46-47 of the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide.
Mountain and fat bike fun in Winona Area
With several off-roads cycling opportunities in the area, the whole family will enjoy the trail systems here. Here are a couple options:
Holzinger Lodge Trail
The mountain bike trail offers 12 miles of short and steep climbs and downhills, as well as winding curves as it forks and wanders through mature hardwood forest and bluff top. Most of the surface here is rocky clay, and in the spring, wildflowers bloom to add to the picturesque scenery.
Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest
This state forest offers mountain bikers and hikers alike several options with the Bronk Unit Plowline Trail. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, the trail system here offers a mixed terrain ride of fun loops to ride. The North loop has two spur trails that lead to scenic overlooks of Stockton Valley and the Mississippi River Valley. There’s also the Trout Valley Forest Management Forest Unit which has two multi-use loops that take you from the valley to the top of the bluffs and more. You can also go on another unforgettable adventure in the Kruger Forest Management Unit that takes you along the Zumbro River and the area’s bluffs.
More About Bike-Friendly Winona
Sitting on the edge of the Mississippi River, Winona is also home to three unique colleges: St. Mary’s University, Minnesota State College Southeast, and Winona State University. These colleges add a lot to the city’s bike-friendly atmosphere making it easy to take in all the attractions here.
The city’s bike-friendly nature allows for more than just hitting the trails and its scenic roads. There’s plenty to discover about its history, and many of the buildings here are on the National Register of Historic Places. You will also find many locally-owned shops and restaurants, so there is something for everyone.
An At-A-Glance Look at Winona
Be sure to check out our At-A-Glance Winona Article for more details on where to stay, play, and explore for your hand-held devices. As this story and the At-A-Glance Article are mobile-friendly for your convenience. So have fun, visit Winona and enjoy the fall colors.