In southern Minnesota, where the landscape changes from rolling prairie to glacial moraine and rocky bluffs, it is the perfect place to hop on your bicycle and hit the trails. While riding, it is hard to keep your eyes on the road because the forest canopy, towering bluffs, and meandering river are so beautiful it is distracting. On the Cannon Valley Trail, Twin Citizens travel an hour south to escape from the crowded urban trails of Minneapolis to the quieter multipurpose trails of Cannon Falls, Welch, and Red Wing.
This route has become quite popular among bicyclists. This is because this trail was originally constructed with wide turns and gradual inclines for the former Chicago Great Western railroad line. Now this abandoned track is a paved route that is perfect for bicyclists who want to crank up their gears and work on their cadence. In addition, this trail offers cyclists a refreshing alternative to the maze-like bike lanes found in urban cities. Let’s not forget that there are barely any road intersections to worry about. So, it’s only you, your bike, and the scenic Cannon River beside you.
What Makes It Great
From here, the trail meanders through diverse landscapes inhabited with a wide variety of wildlife. Starting with floodplain forest complexes that border all along the river, look for beavers, otters, turtles, foxes, and deer. From time to time the trail veers off into rolling grasslands and farmland. In the grasslands, look to the skies to see kestrels, bald eagles, and other birds of prey circling above you.
From Cannon Falls to Red Wing, the trail descends 115 feet in elevation, eventually reaching the Mississippi River Valley. The first 5 miles are flat and are perfect for cranking up your gears and getting your heart pumping. The trail is shared with pedestrians, so give warning calls when passing.
After the first 5 miles, you enter southern Minnesota’s blufflands. Sandstone bluffs tower beside you and create a beautiful juxtaposition between the river and tree canopies. Especially during the fall season, the silver maples and basswood brighten up the whole river valley. For the next 15 miles, the trail passes through natural areas and state forestland,which hosts a myriad of wildflowers, even the rare dwarf trout lily. In any season, cycling the Cannon River Trail will give you a workout and boasts some of the best scenery Minnesota has to offer.
As you reach Red Wing, it is necessary to add a few more miles on your ride just to get the great views of the Mississippi river valley. Barn Bluff and Levee Park are great stops for a water or lunch break. On the way back to Cannon Falls, prepare for a consistent climb in elevation that will test your uphill endurance.
Who is Going to Love It
Generally quieter than other trails near Minneapolis, CannonValley Trail is still well used during the weekends. A popular destination forfamilies as well, this trail is perfect for riders of all skill levels.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trail begins in the quaint town of Cannon Falls. Take a moment to explore the main street and wander into one of the many antique shops and cozy cafes. If you need to fuel up for your ride, there are a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. When you are satiated, follow 2nd Street going north and then take a right at Water Street. Once you reach Bridge Street, veer left and you will find yourself at The Cannon Valley Trail trailhead.