Bike Touring for Beginners: 4 Days on the Mississippi River Trail
By Madilynn Garcia
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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 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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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