If you’re looking for a fun, pretty bike ride in Minnesota that’s easily accessible from the St. Paul – Minneapolis or Rochester area (less than an hour’s drive away), then the 22 mile (one way) paved Cannon Valley Trail needs to be on your radar. (Recently an additional two miles has opened from Cannon Falls to Lake Byllesby Park.) It follows the former Chicago Great Western Railroad Line so the grade is minimal, descending just 115 feet from Cannon Falls to Redwing.
What I loved about this trail was the variety of scenery and the truly incredible bird life between Welch and Mile 15. I started in Cannon Falls so the first thing I saw were the falls themselves. After a quick peddle through a neighbourhood I was into the countryside. This trail of all the trails I rode in Minnesota (seven of them in total) was the quietest for rarely are you near a road. The trail follows the scenic Cannon River as it flows through hardwood dotted hillsides, past cliffs, farms, a ski hill, the Cannon River Turtle Preserve, and the Red Wing Archaeological Preserve. I did see a wetland observation deck. If you are a birder, do bring your binoculars.
I went on a cloudy Saturday – and clouds are enough to keep the numbers of cyclists down. Over about four hours I probably saw about 50 people. I’m sure on a sunny weekend, the trail would be very busy, especially with families as its safe and easy to bike.
Along the trail there are numerous stations where you can fix your bike or have a picnic. In total, there are three access points with parking – Cannon Falls (park near the Cannon River Winery near 4th and Mill Streets), Welch and Redwing at Bay Point Park on Old West Main Street. In Welch, located at Mile 10, you can get drinking water and if you go just 1/3 of a mile down the highway (towards the river) you’ll find the Trout Scream Cafe. This is the place for an ice cream stop. It’s also the starting point for canoeing and rafting adventures in the summer.
Is there a cost to using the Cannon Valley Trail?
If you’re over 18, you’ll need to buy a wheel pass for $4 if you’re biking between April 1 and November 1st. You can do that in a couple of ways; purchase online and be prepared to show your receipt, bring cash or a check and self-register at trail-side pay stations or buy directly (weekends only) at the start of the trail from one of the manned stations at either end of the trail. The money is used for development of the trail.
The Cannon Valley Trail is actually open year round. Until the snow arrives you can also use it for in-line skating and skateboarding. Come winter it’s groomed for skate and cross-country skiing. Pets are not allowed on the trail at all.
The trail is incredibly well signed and maintained. You’ll find mile markers every mile and the concrete posts you see are left over from the days when it was used as a railroad. They identify the number of miles from Mantako.
The Cannon Valley Trail is a real winner. Book-ended by two cute towns and offering such diversity of scenery, I would be a frequent visitor if I lived close by.
What is your favourite bike trail in Minnesota?
Other posts related to biking in Minnesota you might enjoy:
- Cycling the Gateway State Trail: St. Paul to Stillwater, Minnesota
- Discover Minnesota by Bike: The Gitchi-Gami Trail
- Cycling in Minnesota: The Mesabi Trail
- Cycling the Heartland State Trail in Northern Minnesota
- Why Duluth is Awesome: Beer, Biking & Attitude
- A Bike Ride to the Headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park
A big thank you to Explore Minnesota for making this trip possible.