A long favorite among good ole Minnesotan and Wisconsin bicyclists is the Gandy Dancer Trail. One of the many rails-to-trails conversions found in the upper Midwest, this former railroad corridor hosts thousands of riders each year.
What Makes It Great
An especially fun part is near the beginning, when the trail passes through the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in St. Croix Falls. This trail follows the edge of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin, which just happens to intersect with the Gandy Dancer Trail. Popular amongst hikers, be considerate while passing other users on the trail.
Shortly after the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Gandy Dancer transitions into a 2-mile uphill climb. So, lower your gears and prepare for a grueling 300-foot rise in elevation. Instead of ruing your day, remember that this is a perfect opportunity to work on your uphill endurance and cadence.
Once you reach the top of the St. Croix River Valley, the trail flattens and, as you pedal along, the scenery transforms from one landscape to another. The crushed limestone trail meanders through prairie, farmland and crosses bridges over wetlands and streams. For most of the time, the trail is very quiet and offers ample opportunity to crank up your gears. With minimal road intersections, Gandy Dancer Trail is perfect for need-for-speed riders who want to whiz down the path—respectfully, of course.
At Danbury, continue until you find the 520-foot trestle bridge that crosses the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. This bridge, which also serves as the turnaround point, is an ideal spot to take a break and enjoy one of the most breathtaking vistas of the trail. The trail continues further north through Minnesota for another 50-miles, but its maintenance leaves something to be desired. More adventurous riders may appreciate the wilder personality of this section, however, it may not be appropriate for everyone.
In the Midwest, there is a tight-knit community of gravel road racers that spend a majority of their year planning and training for some of the Midwest’s longest gravel races. The Trans Iowa is a 300-mile race specifically meant for gravel bicycle racing. The Alamanzo is a 100-mile local edition found in southern Minnesota. This race also features almost all gravel trails and the occasional dirt road. Becoming more popular in recent years, while on Gandy Dancer, you will most likely see bicyclists training for their next big race.
Who is Going to Love It
If you want to get your feet wet in the Midwestern gravel road racing world, Gandy Dancer is one of the best trails to start on. Offering a town or campground almost every 5 miles, it is easy to practice overnight bicycling while not even breaking a sweat.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The entire length of the trail is 98 miles, but most riders prefer to ride the southern 47-mile section from St. Croix Falls to Danbury. On the southern section, the trail passes through the seven charming communities of Centuria, Milltown, Luck, Frederic, Siren, Webster, and Danbury. Each one offers water and parking locations just off the trail. The trail itself is made of crushed limestone, making it accessible for primarily road and mountain bikes.
Most Minneapolitans start in St. Croix Falls and park near the Gandy Dancer trailhead.