Bike the 51-Mile Grand Rounds Scenic Byway in Minneapolis
By Brian Fanelli
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For visitors seeking the ultimate Minneapolis bike ride, point your tires to the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. This 51-mile urban bike loop gives riders a best-of tour of the city, including the Chain of Lakes, Mississippi River, Minnehaha Falls and downtown riverfront.
One of the best things about Minneapolis is how seamlessly its extensive, award-winning park system blends into the cityscape. Quiet parks along the Mississippi riverfront sit next to trendy bars and restaurants in the North Loop, while lakes and creeks fit harmoniously into residential neighborhoods.
It's one of the most ambitious park systems in the country, and connecting it all is the Grand Rounds: a continuous, 51-mile loop of off-street bike trails throughout the entire city.
For visitors and residents alike, riding the Grand Rounds is as close to a comprehensive Minneapolis bike tour as you'll find. Whether you want beautiful scenery and skyline views, historic sites and museums, or to explore the city's trendiest neighborhoods, you'll find it on the Grand Rounds.
The Grand Rounds consists of seven distinct segments:
Downtown Riverfront (1.2 miles)
Chain of Lakes (13.3 miles)
Minnehaha (12.6 miles)
Mississippi River (9.2 miles)
Northeast (6 miles)
Victory Memorial (3.8 miles)
Theodore Wirth (4 miles)
Ride them all for a scenic bike tour across the whole city, or pick a section or two for a shorter ride.
The downtown Minneapolis riverfront is defined by contrasts. It's simultaneously home to the city's oldest structures—some still standing, others artfully preserved at the Mill Ruins Park—and some of its most striking, modern buildings like the Guthrie Theatre. To ride the full Grand Rounds route, start your trip at the intersection of West River Road and Plymouth Avenue and head south along the trail. Within minutes, you'll be riding by some of Minneapolis's most popular attractions, including the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls, the Mill City Museum and Gold Medal Park.
You'll know you've left the downtown segment of the Grand Rounds when you pass beneath the white I-35 bridge and start going downhill. From its relative peak in downtown Minneapolis, the elevation falls, rises and falls again as you head south. As you ride along the Mississippi River's western bank, look out across the river to see the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum gleaming above the water.
As you arrive at Minnehaha Falls, the Grand Rounds leaves behind the grandeur of the Mississippi River for the intimate charms of Minnehaha Creek. This section of trail bobs and weaves through dense woods and takes you west to the Chain of Lakes. If you're not in a rush, stop for photos at Minnehaha Falls and Lake Nokomis along the way. And if you're really not in a rush, lock up at the falls, jump in the line at Sea Salt Eatery and enjoy a meal on their patio.
Chain of Lakes
The southwest segment of the Grand Rounds winds around Minneapolis’s Chain of Lakes: Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet. For the most direct route, make your way around Lake Harriet, head north to Bde Maka Ska and continue north along the western shores of Cedar Lake. Optional extensions include full loops of those three lakes, plus a spur around Lake of the Isles. Although less direct, taking a loop around Lake of the Isles presents riders with some of the most beautiful sights in all of Minneapolis.
Heading north from the Chain of Lakes, the Theodore Wirth section of the byway takes riders into a lush, hilly urban forest. Although you're still only a few miles from downtown, this section of the trail feels worlds away from the city. Adjacent to the paved trail, mountain bikers get rad on the extensive singletrack system at Theodore Wirth Park, the largest park in Minneapolis, which also boasts ample hiking trails, golf and disc golf courses, a bird sanctuary and many other activities.
As you continue onward, the natural forest of Theo Wirth gives way to the composed uniformity of Victory Memorial Parkway. Unique among all the Grand Rounds segments, Victory Memorial is both a tree-lined bike trail and the largest war memorial in the entire Twin Cities. Along the arrow-straight trail, 568 perfectly spaced bronze markers commemorate the Hennepin County residents killed in the line of duty during World War I.
Heading east on Victory Memorial, take the 42nd Street Bridge across the Mississippi River and into trendy Northeast Minneapolis. Although Northeast is best known for its arts district and red-hot bar and restaurant scene, the parkway foregoes the trendiest parts of Northeast in favor of a scenic off-street route along the city's northern border. To explore those aspects of the neighborhood, head south on either Marshall or Central. Otherwise, follow St. Anthony Parkway until it connects with the Diagonal Trail and go south until you reach Hennepin Avenue, where a connector route of surface streets brings you back to the downtown riverfront or wherever else you'd like to explore.
Brian Fanelli is a writer and editor for Explore Minnesota. When he isn't writing about life in The North, you'll find him browsing the sci-fi shelves in a local bookstore, biking one of Minnesota's spectacular trails or walking his Chihuahua around Minneapolis.
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