Tag Archives: Visit Winona

Picture yourself riding the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) through the wilds of Minnesota, pedaling America's famous 3,000 mile bike system

The Mississippi River MRT in Minnesota, a bike adventure of a lifetime

by Russ Lowthian
Picture yourself riding the MRT (Mississippi River Trail) through the wilds of Minnesota.
Pedal along with family and friends at your own pace on this Star of the North adventure.
This is the first leg of America’s famous 3,000 mile bicycle trail system, using bike-friendly roads and multi-use pathways. Leading several MRT bike tours over the years and referencing
my book Road Biking Minnesota, you may find some of my observations, of interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full Minnesota journey, from the Mississippi’s headwaters, near Park Rapids, to the Iowa border is roughly 620 miles. To keep the daily mileage comfortable for plenty of time visiting the river towns along the way, the following route descriptions are spread over nine days. Depending on how much time you can spend on any given bike vacation, this overview makes it easy to break it apart for multiple bike getaways.

As you read the following, please visit the embedded links offering short video clips and maps of the Mississippi trail system. To get a better feel for what you will see and experience leaving Itasca State Park on the MRT, see the first video clip here. The information in this video and subsequent videos are made possible by: the MN DNR; the MN Historical Society; Explore Minnesota Tourism; and the National Park Service.

 

MRT – Day 1 from the Mississippi Headwaters to Bemidji

 

 

After enjoying a hearty breakfast at the historic Douglas Lodge, in Itasca State Park, it’s time to roll out. First you will need to pedal a few miles through the towering pines to where the Mississippi River begins. At the Headwaters parking lot, walk your bike down the trail. There, dip your rear wheel in the stream to celebrate the beginning of your journey. You may hear one of Minnesota’s loons cheering you on. Departing out of the parks north entrance, follow the  internationally recognized Mississippi River Trail. Pedaling a scenic county road in a northeasterly direction this 30-plus mile stretch offers a beautiful rolling terrain. Smell the air as you pass by patches of pine forests and an occasional old farm setting. Soon you are pedaling into the first city on the Mississippi River.

Rolling into Bemidji

Arriving in Bemidji, the MRT enters on a city trail that connects to the Paul Bunyan Trail. As the current of the river flows into Lake Bemidji, this is a good place to consider for your first  evening. While here discover all this community has to offer.

A League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Bike Friendly Community it’s easy to get around and explore the city by bike.

In the downtown area you will find metal sculptures, murals and historic architecture on just about every corner. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor’s center to have your picture taken with
Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox. For lodging and more things to do when not riding, see our Bike Bemidji article. You will find camping options in Lake Bemidji State Park.

MRT – Day 2 from Bemidji to Grand Rapids

Back in the saddle the MRT takes the Paul Bunyan Trail north to where the Mississippi River pours out of Lake Bemidji. As the current flows east enjoy the sites along the Great River Road as it rolls into Chippewa National Forest. This next stretch of the MRT to Grand Rapids is roughly 80 miles. To get a better feel for what’s ahead after leaving Bemidji watch the 2nd video clip here.

With an abundance of wildflowers along the road, pedal through the enchanted treasures this forested area offers. Along the way notice a huge population of bald eagles and hawks as the
river meanders from one huge lake body to the next. Soon the river flows into Lake Winnibigoshish (Lake Winnie) and the MRT takes a course around the lake’s south shoreline.

To the first Federal Dam on the Mississippi

 

 

 

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Passing several resorts, you may want to stop for a selfie by the big fish monument. Riding up the east shoreline through towering pines, the MRT is soon up to the Federal Dam where Lake
Winnie spills back into the Mighty Mississippi. This dam was created in the late 1800’s making
it the largest reservoir on the Mississippi River system. Approximately 45 miles from Bemidji
there is a campground. A couple miles further east, you will find a restaurant and some lodging options.

As the river meanders, now in a southerly direction, the MRT follows suit, passing through a Native American village called Ball Club. Here the river dips and then flows to the east again. Soon the MRT rolls into Schoolcraft State Park where it meets back up with the Mississippi. This secluded park is the perfect place to take a break. Quiet and peaceful, the park offers a relaxing
environment with a virgin white pine forest that is more than 300 years old. Take a panoramic virtual tour of the area here and then it’s on to some Wizard of Oz trivia.

Rolling into Grand Rapids

This is the town where Judy Garland, from the Wizard of Oz, spent her childhood. Today the community offers visitors many fun options to explore, along with the Judy Garland Museum. Once settled in, visit the Forest History Center and the local art scene. Not only is this area rich in forested beauty it also offers a number of art forms including many bronze sculptures and historic architectural sites. Grand Rapids is also the western gateway to the Mesabi Iron Trail and Range. Another LAB Bike Friendly Community it’s easy to get around this river town and explore the city by bike.  If you have a few extra days, the mining communities along this Mesabi trail are worth checking out.  For lodging and more things to do when not riding, see our Bike Grand Rapids article.

MRT – Day 3 from Grand Rapids to Aitkin

As the Mississippi River pushes against the western slope of the St. Lawrence Divide, it
flows south and the MRT hugs the west bank as it rolls out of Grand Rapids. This stretch of
the MRT is approximately 70 miles to Aitkin. To get a better feel for what’s ahead after leaving Grand Rapids watch the next video clip here.

Approximately 20 miles south you will come to a crossroad. Here, by taking a left and crossing the river, you’re in the town of Jacobson. If you turn onto this half-mile side-trip adventure, you will discover many pieces of unusual lawn art and a rest stop option.

Rolling into Palisade

 

 

 

Back on the route continue south and you will soon be in a town named for the high banks on each side of the river. This is another intriguing place to stop. The community has a restaurant
and a convenience store if you want to have a picnic or stay the night in the campground
alongside the river. Back in the saddle, out of Palisade, there are two options to reach Aitkin.

You can depart on the Great River Road, now a hard gravel surface for the next 15 miles,
enjoying a peaceful ride along the river. Or take the alternate route, adding eight-miles to your
trip for the day riding on a busy highway with a narrow shoulder.

 

Rolling into Aitkin

Regardless of the route selected above, you will be rolling into a community
with riverboat history. Once a popular meeting point for both Native American Indians
and explorers, today the town makes a good overnight choice offering both camping
and lodging options. After you settle in, check out the museum converted from the Burlington Rail Depot. Here you can learn about the town’s steamboat history and other interesting facts.  For more things to do and lodging options click here.

MRT – Day 4 from Aitkin to Little Falls

As the Mississippi flows in a westerly direction the MRT roll into Cuyuna Country. Here the river passes on the north side of an iron range of the past. While the bike route meanders around these abandoned open mine pits you can see some of Minnesota’s newest lakes. Now as the river bends to the southwest, the MRT is rolling towards the Brainerd Lakes Area

Rolling into Brainerd

Just imagine riding in an area sometimes referred to as Paul Bunyan’s playground. Legend has it that Paul and his blue ox, Babe (remember that mythical figure you can take a selfie with in
Bemidji?) were having fun, wrestling around after a long rain spell. Stomping and tromping the two made a lot of large depressions that eventually filled with water to create the 464 lakes in the area. With the MRT and Paul Bunyan Trail merging back together in Brainerd/Baxter, you will find many fun adventures and good things to eat here. For more see our  Brainerd/Baxter article.

Back in the saddle, the trail and river both head south again. As the Great River Road rolls
along the east bank, passing Crow Wing State Park, agriculture now replaces the forested
landscape. Further down the MRT, cross over to the west bank and visit Camp Ripley which
offers a very interesting military museum. Here see hundreds of exhibits showcasing vehicles and field equipment of Minnesota’s military past. It’s still ten miles of pedaling to reach the next river town “where the river pauses”.

Rolling into Little Falls

For centuries Little Falls has been a place where native inhabitants, early settlers and recent visitors have used as a gathering place. Located where the Mississippi River pauses; this
river community is the town of Charles Lindbergh’s childhood. After settling in, check out the historic attractions and museums, while experiencing the town’s original murals and frescoes. While here, if interested, you can discover who helped finance the original production of the “Wizard of Oz.” For lodging and more things to do when not riding, see our Bike Little Falls article.

MRT Day-5 from Little Falls to Monticello

At the edge of town cyclists will pass by Charles Lindbergh State Park where his childhood home still stands. Then the MRT passes by the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum before the river valley floor opens up to more agriculture. To get a better feel for what’s ahead after leaving Little Falls watch the 4th video clip here.

Rolling into St Cloud

Through this stretch, the river offers several sets of rapids as the MRT rolls into St. Cloud. Another LAB Bike Friendly Community, it’s easy to get around this river town and explore the city by bike. While in this river community check out some of the attractions including the Munsinger-Clemens Botanical Gardens. For lodging and more things to do when not riding, see our Bike St. Cloud article.

Back on the east side of the river, the MRT and river both swing back to the southeast. Using county roads that parallel several irrigated potato fields, the route takes you to Clearwater. Then, crossing the Mississippi again, cyclists will notice the river is a bit wider here as they pedal to Monticello.

Rolling into Monticello

Here you will find a river town, full of charm, tucked up against the Mississippi River and conveniently located between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. This vibrant community with many scenic parks is also home to thousands of geese and swans each winter. After settling in, check out the attractions in Monticello. For lodging option visit the local chamber, here.

MRT – Day 6 from Monticello to St Paul

Leaving Monticello, the MRT crosses the river and meanders through the farm fields of specialty crops to Elk River. To get a better feel for what you will see as you ride into the Twin Cities, watch the 5th video clip here.  Stopping in Elk River, cyclists passing through the down-town area will notice the fresco mural on Main Street. You will also find plenty of options for a rest stop here.

As you head out of Elk River, on the Great River Road, you will cross over the Mississippi River again. Soon you are passing through Dayton and entering the northern edge of the Mississippi National River and Recreational Area.

Now, in the next twenty-five miles, MRT enthusiasts will enjoy stopping at several of the Twin Cities Gateway community attractions.

From here enjoy paved bicycle paths through Minneapolis, before reaching the St. Paul suburb of Inver Grove Heights.

MRT Day-7 from St Paul to Frontenac

Currently, as the Mississippi River Trail leaves the St Paul area, the route tentatively detours to the south on its way to Hastings. To get a better feel for what’s ahead after leaving St. Paul, watch the 6th video clip here. Hopefully by mid-summer, of 2018, the paved trail out of South St. Paul will connect to the Mississippi River Regional Trail allowing cyclists a direct route to our next river town.

This new trail near Schaar’s Bluff is already completed on the far end and will take cyclists into the downtown Hastings’s historic district. You can find more about Hastings in our At-A-Glance article, along with a place to stop for cool refreshments or a meal.

Leaving Hastings, the MRT follows the Mississippi, winding along the rivers backwaters and past the Prairie Island Indian Community. About ten miles further and the route enters Red Wing, the next river community on the Minnesota section of the Mississippi River Trail.

Rolling into Red Wing

As the MRT runs alongside the river bank on the Great River Road, you will find the atmosphere in Red Wing both unique and charming. From the beautiful bluffs, historic sites and world famous boots and pottery, this river town also offers several dining opportunities for a stop here. If you decide to spend the night, see Visit Red Wing for more options.

Back on the Mississippi River Trail, it’s approximately another 10 miles to Frontenac State Park for the night. The city here is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains a number of homes dating back to the Civil War era. Here you will find the Whistle Stop Café and a convenience store if you choose to camp in the state park for the evening.

MRT Day-8 from Frontenac to Winona

Back on the MRT, the route continues to use the wide paved shoulder of the Great River Road to Minnesota City. With a wide shoulder and rumble strip, dividing you from the traffic, the the Mississippi River is in sight, to your left most of the time. When you start to notice the river widening, the Mississippi is now flowing into Lake Pepin and you are close to the ‘Birthplace of Water Skiing’.

Rolling into the Lake City

Here discover the quaint shops and restaurants next to the harbor in the downtown area of Lake City. This river town is also popular place for touring cyclists. In addition to the Annual Tour de Pepin bike tour, the area offers several other mapped rides. See the Lake Pepin Area Bike Map and checkout Visit Lake City for more options.

As the river flows out of Lake Pepin, the next river community on the MRT is a town known for eagles and grumpy old men.

Rolling into Wabasha

The oldest city on the entire upper Mississippi River, this community has been thriving since 1826. As touring cyclists roll into town they will find 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If time permits enjoy their historic walking tour and discover the stories that have made this town so unique. With Bald Egles in abundance along the river, this is also home to the National Eagle Center, located downtown. Also, with the popular movie “Grumpy Old Men” an its sequal shot here, dine at Slippery’s Bar & Grill, for a nostalgic look at this river town. You can find more options at Visit Wabasha.

Rolling into Winona

Taking the MRT out on the back road through the village of Kellogg, it’s about 30 miles of pedaling to Winona, along the bluffs. Arriving in this pristine river town enjoy several views of the city nestled into a valley bordered by bluffs along the Mighty Mississippi. Here in Winona, there is plenty to discover with so many attractions and museums. Be sure to visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. You will also notice many of the downtown area are buildings are on the National Register of Historical Places and self-guided history tours are an option. Being a LAB Bike Friendly Community it’s easy to get around this river town and explore the city by bike. See our At-A-Glance Winona article for more tour, dinner and overnight options.

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MRT Day-9 from Winona to the Iowa Boarder

Leaving Winona, the Mississippi River Trail creatively takes you up into the bluffs past the historic Pickwick Mill and then onto the Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway. Here at the top of the byway cyclist in the area enjoy a remarkable view of the Mississippi River Valley. Then it’s a cruise down the Byway, into La Crescent.

From La Crescent, the last leg of the Minnesota’ section of the Mississippi River Trail is approximately 24 miles to Albin, IA.

Enjoy!

Road touring along the Mississippi River Trail, out of Winona, is colorful this time of the year.

Pedaling around Winona can give you a feel of Indiana Jones

by Andrew Ellis

Now, with beautiful fall colors starting to peak in and around Winona, pedaling along the bluffs 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.

Mountain biking in the Mississippi River Valley id colorful this time of the year.

Mountain biking in the Mississippi River Valley area is colorful this time of the year.

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 offer several opportunities to explore the area. You can enjoy the trails around Lake Winona, explore the many low traffic county roads, the local section of the Mississippi River Trail, or get in some mountain biking around the bluffs. Whatever you and your two wheels 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.

Riding or walking the trail around Lake Winona, enjoy the colors surrounding Sugar Loaf (Chimney Rock) in the background.

Riding trail around Lake Winona, enjoy the colors surrounding like Sugar Loaf (Chimney Rock) in the background.

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 Historic Pickwick Mill is just on of the sights you will see south of Winona.

The Historic Pickwick Mill is just on of the sights you will see riding south out of Winona.

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 take the MRT along the river, 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.

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 of fall the trail sytem 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 Historical 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.

 

Bike Pic Nov 19, Sugar Loaf overlooks bike trail

Here, Mary Farrell welcomes you to bike friendly Winona as she rides the trail around the lake, with Sugar Loaf in the background.  A Minnesota destination, along the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), the city here is a great place to visit and stay while exploring the many scenic routes and attractions in the southeast corner of the State.

On the left side of the photo above is Sugar Loaf, a storied symbol of Winona and known by all as its most distinguishing landmark. Reaching nearly 85 feet into the sky this pinnacle rock formation, on top of the bluff, is a welcoming sight when returning from any bike ride in the area.

Thanks for viewing the Bike Pic of the Day here at HaveFunBiking (HFB). 

Now, rolling into our 10th year as a bicycle media, our goal is to continue to encourage more people to bike, while showcasing unforgettable places to ride. As we search and present more fun photos worth a grin, scroll through the information and stories we have posted to help you find your next adventure. Then, while out there if you see us along a paved or mountain bike trail, next to the route you regularly commute on, or at an event you plan to attend with your bike, be prepared to smile. You never know where our camera’s will be and what we will post next!

Do you have a fun photo of yourself or someone you know that you would like to see us publish? If so, please send it our way and we may use it. Send your picture(s) to [email protected] with a brief caption (of each), including who is in the photo (if you know?) and where it was taken. Photo(s) should be at least 620 pixels wide for us to use them. If we use your photo, you will receive photo credit and an acknowledgment on Facebook and Instagram.

As HaveFunBiking continues to encourage more people to ride, please reference our blog and the annual print and quarterly digital Bike/Hike Guide to find your next adventure. We are proud of the updated – At-a-Glance information and maps we are known for in the HFB Destination section on our website and in the guide. Now, as the Bike/Hike Guide goes into its seventh year of production, we are adding a whole new dimension of bicycle tourism information available for mobile devices where you may see some additional bike pics – maybe of yourself so.

Bookmark HaveFunBiking.com and find your next adventure – we may capture you in one of the next photos we post.

Have a great day!

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