Woman bike touring the Mississippi River Trail

Bike Touring for Beginners: 4 Days on the Mississippi River Trail

Scroll to Read
Image Caption
Bike tour America's most legendary waterway on the Mississippi River Trail / Min Enterprises
Biking // Mississippi River // Itinerary

Bike Touring for Beginners: 4 Days on the Mississippi River Trail

By Madilynn Garcia

For a beginner-friendly bike tour in Minnesota, follow this four-day itinerary along the Mississippi River Trail between Minneapolis and the Iowa border. With a mix of roads and multi-use paths, this adventure includes steep limestone bluffs, hardwood forests and more than a dozen river towns.

I’ve been bike touring for a little over two years now. I love taking the opportunity to explore Minnesota on my bike, soaking in all that the state has to offer. For my latest trip, I rode the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) from my home in the Twin Cities nearly 200 miles to the state’s southern border.

A team bike ride on the Mississippi River Trail in Hastings, with the new Hastings Bridge in the background

A team bike ride on the Mississippi River Trail in Hastings, just south of St. Paul / Min Enterprises

Day One: Minneapolis to Hastings

I am lucky enough to enjoy the Twin Cities section of the MRT all the time, but its winding route through both downtowns never fails to impress. Once I made it through downtown St. Paul, I slowed down to enjoy the sight of the Mississippi River as it begins to widen.

The ride to Hastings—my destination for day one—took about four hours. I prefer a shorter first day; it means I’m not under a huge time crunch to leave town.

Vermillion Falls in Hastings

Vermillion Falls in Hastings / David Youngren

While exploring Hastings, I stumbled across Vermillion Falls, a stunning waterfall is right in the middle of town. I’d tell you to keep an eye out, but it’s almost impossible to miss!

After a picnic lunch at Levee Park along the Mississippi, I hopped back on my bike and headed to St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park to set up my campsite and relax with a book.

Day Two: St. Croix Bluffs to Red Wing

The world's largest boot

Visit Red Wing Shoes in southern Minnesota to see the world's largest boot, size 638.5 / Lisa Meyers McClintick

I spent the first couple hours of day two riding the 25 miles from Hastings to Red Wing.

After browsing the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum and marveling at the world's largest boot, I wandered around downtown until the heavenly smell of Hanisch Bakery enticed me inside for lunch and probably the best donut I’ve ever had.

After my meal, I biked the 14 miles to Frontenac State Park and set up camp.

Day Three: Frontenac to Winona

Street scene of downtown Winona

Take a stroll through historic downtown Winona / Visit Winona

After two relatively easy days of riding, I geared up for the longest portion of the trip: Frontenac State Park to Winona.

Even though this was my longest day of riding—55 miles—I immediately felt refreshed when I arrived.

Rolling into Winona late in the afternoon, I can confidently say this is the most charming town I’ve ever biked to: adorable cafes, self-guided tours of the historic downtown and, of course, the Mississippi River is absolutely stunning at this point.

There are multiple campsites nearby, but I couldn’t resist staying in a cute B&B with a view of the river.  

Day Four: Winona to Iowa Border

Scenic overlook of the Mississippi River from Great River Bluffs State Park

Morning fog over the Mississippi River at Great River Bluffs State Park

After a restful night, I took my time getting breakfast downtown before starting on the last (and hilliest) leg of my journey: the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway. Spinning my way to the top of each hill, I was rewarded with incredible fall views of the Mississippi River Valley—a solid trade in my book.

This was my longest solo bike trip ever, and an accomplishment I didn’t know I was capable of just a few years ago. It was amazing to see how North America’s most famous river transforms throughout the state.

Maybe next year I’ll ride the entire Minnesota portion of the MRT—starting at the Mississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park!

Madilynn Garcia

Madilynn Garcia is a Native Texan who found herself in the Twin Cities. She loves biking, camping and enjoying all of the wonders that Minnesota has to offer. In summertime, her bike bag features: a hammock, a book and a tasty beverage.