Biking over a bridge on the Root River Trail

4 Unforgettable Bike Rides in Southern Minnesota

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Pedal through Minnesota's Bluff Country on the scenic Root River State Trail

4 Unforgettable Bike Rides in Southern Minnesota

By Brian Fanelli

Southern Minnesota's diverse landscape and unique bike trails provide unparalleled opportunities for adventure.

From punchy gravel hills, to Great Plains farmland that stretches endlessly toward the horizon, to the driftless region’s rolling bluffs and valleys, bicycling in southern Minnesota is an experience unlike any other. Across the region, these four unforgettable bicycling experiences are waiting for you.

  1. Take a Ride in Rochester
    Skyline at sunrise over Silver Lake Rochester

    Rochester at sunrise / AB-Photography.US, courtesy Experience Rochester

    Take a Ride in Rochester

    Rochester is well known for the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, but bicycling in this scenic southern Minnesota city is anything but clinical. The city’s robust, 85-mile network of bike trails meanders along the winding banks of the Zumbro River, through downtown, and past an assortment of unique, locally owned businesses. Along the way, you’ll discover a city full of world-class urban amenities without the complications, long lines and high costs of a bigger city.

    Begin your adventure at Peace Plaza or the People’s Food Coop, then just pick a direction and start riding! While biking in Rochester, you might come across one of the city’s many trailside vistas of the downtown skyline, a quaint neighborhood coffee shop, or – if you ride long enough – perhaps you’ll stumble across the wild grasses, wetlands and oak savannas found at the most remote edges of the city. From the cushy seat of your bike anything and everything is possible, so start planning your Rochester bicycling vacation today!

  2. Go Bike Camping Along the Mississippi River
    Mississippi River road in the fall

    Follow the Mississippi River's 600-plus-mile journey across Minnesota on the Great River Road

    Go Bike Camping Along the Mississippi River

    For a bike camping trip in southern Minnesota, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful ride than the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) between Red Wing and Great River Bluffs State Park. You’ll follow the mighty Mississippi 85 miles downstream, conquer the soaring river bluffs and ride through a number of welcoming cities and towns, including Lake City and Winona. After a long, hilly day in the saddle, you’ll be happy to know Great River Bluffs State Park keeps five campsites permanently on reserve for bicyclists at Highway 61 mile marker 12 (off Fern Glen Road, outside of the main park area). Take some time to explore the King’s Bluff Trail, which offers a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River Valley, and don’t forget your binoculars: The river valley is a major flyway for waterfowl, eagles and hawks.

  3. Find Fossils in the Driftless Region on a Nature Scavenger Hunt
    Bicyclist rides on a bridge above the Root River

    Ride the scenic, 42-mile Root River State Trail through the heart of Minnesota's Bluff Country

    Find Fossils in the Driftless Region on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

    Nestled among the many rivers and bluffs of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest in southeast Minnesota, the 60-mile Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley trails are the perfect place to blend your love of cycling with your passion for nature-watching. Unlike the rolling hills and plunging valleys of the surrounding landscape, the trail itself is relatively flat – barring two steeper sections at either end, near Harmony and Houston. If you prefer to ride hills, exit the trail to explore the scenic and low-traffic roads of the surrounding state forest.

    Part of the “driftless region,” the trails showcase the unique topography and history of southeast Minnesota: part prairie, part forest, and all driftless. One of the few parts of Minnesota passed-over by glaciers during the ice age, the ancient bluffs that line the trail are home to a rich variety of plants, animals and fossils, from turkey vultures to tree frogs, oak trees to bluestems. Keep your eyes and ears open while riding the Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley trails for an up-close look at the region’s delicate natural ecosystem, and be sure to explore the Root River Trail towns’ many historic attractions along the way.

  4. Explore the Great Plains and Pipestone National monument
    Winniwissa Falls at Pipestone National Monument

    The soft, red rock at Pipestone National Monument has been sacred to Native Americans for centuries / Myra Smisek

    Explore the Great Plains and Pipestone National monument

    Ride through tallgrass prairie and wooded ravines on the Casey Jones Trail in southwest Minnesota, one of Minnesota’s first state trails. Heading west from the trailhead outside of Woodstock, you’ll ride 13 miles on a mix of gravel and paved trails before arriving in the town of Pipestone, home of the Pipestone National Monument. A sacred site for many tribes of Indigenous Americans, the quarries at Pipestone have been used for traditional pipe-making for countless generations.

    Going back for centuries, Indigenous Americans have traveled great distances to chisel and craft the soft, red pipestone into ceremonial prayer pipes. Established as Pipestone National Monument in 1937, the site is protected by the National Park Service and provides Indigenous Americans access to the sacred pipestone quarries. Non-Indigenous guests can attend cultural demonstrations, explore the visitor center and museum, and attend interpretive programs such as talks, guided walks and multimedia presentations.

Brian Fanelli

Brian Fanelli is a Minneapolis-based writer. You can reliably find him browsing the sci-fi shelves in a local bookstore or biking one of Minnesota's spectacular trails.