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Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

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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.

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

The Cannon Valley Trail is very well marked

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.

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

The falls are the first thing you see leaving the parking lot in the town of Cannon Falls

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.

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

Ice cream stop in Welch – 1/3 of a mile off the trail

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.

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

A wheel pass – first aid – bike tools station that is manned on weekends

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.

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

Lots of variety in the landscape along the abandoned railway line

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

Fences in place to prevent you heading down an embankment

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

A blast of red sumac along the trail

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

The Cannon Valley Trail is well used by all ages – though slower than usual on a cloudy weekend

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

Almost arrow straight and dead flat

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

There are a number of benches scattered along the Cannon Valley Trail – some with views

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

A blast of fall colour by the Cannon River

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

In summer you can rent rafts and canoes and float or paddle down the Cannon River

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

The Welch rest area has bathrooms, water, bike tools and parking

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

You pass a small ski hill along the trail

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

The Anderson Memorial Rest Area

Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail

Forget the biking – go birding east of Welch – unbelievable variety!!

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:

Explore Minnesota: Biking the Cannon Valley Trail

A big thank you to Explore Minnesota for making this trip possible.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
HikeBikeTravel
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Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Dustin says:

    The Central Lakes trail is also worth exploring. The view over Wobegon Lake is simply wonderful. There are some industrial sites along the way from Alexandria to Garfield but I think it’s okay. Oh, don’t forget the ice cream in Osakis. It’s even tastier after long hours of cycling.

  • cindy says:

    Looks like you had a good day! I haven’t biked that trail in years, which is just ridiculous because it’s a great part of the state.

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