While in the historic Fort Snelling State Park, it is hard to believe that the hectic pace of civilization pulses so close by. Once inside, empty your mind while biking on the quiet trails along the scenic Minnesota River.
Hidden underneath a highway overpass and only a few miles east of MSP International Airport, Fort Snelling State Park offers an escape from the hectic life of airline travel and rush hour traffic. Only 10 minutes drive from downtown and located within the Mississippi River Sandplains Landscape Region, this park offers 2,931 acres of pristine wetlands, meadows, and forested river bottoms. With 15 miles of quiet hiking trails, 5 miles of paved cycling, and 10 miles of mountain biking trails, it is easy to get lost in thought while exploring Fort Snelling State Park.
What Makes It Great
From the trailhead, there are views of the Minnesota River to your left and prairies and forest groves to your right. As you pedal along, you can see willow trees lean lazily over the riverbank and mature cottonwood, green ash, and elm groves follow the trail edge. Most of the trail is double-tracked, but at times it becomes quite narrow, so be considerate of other trail users and make an audible signal when you are passing.
Except for the occasional downed tree or trail washout, Mendota Trail is an easy mountain biking trail that offers great scenery. There is also a lot of beaver activity; you will most likely catch glimpses of dams, fallen trees, or even beavers themselves.
After biking for about 5 miles, a good rest spot is Minnesota’s first historic site, the Sibley House. Henry Hastings Sibley was a fur trader, general, and he was the first governor of Minnesota. At the house you can learn more about Minnesota’s fur trade and his role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. You also get a great view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. There is no loop to the Mendota Trail, so when you feel rehydrated and rejuvenated, head back from where you came and enjoy the ride back to Cedar Avenue.
Who is Going to Love It
For cyclists who just want an easy trail that takes them through the scenic Minnesota River Valley, Fort Snelling State Park is a great option.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you are driving, there are two entrances to the park. The main entrance is near the historical Fort Snelling, which is a great place to learn about Minnesota’s involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. For more information, ask the friendly staff or grab a pamphlet before you leave.
The other entrance is five miles south, just off the Cedar Avenue Bridge. Cyclists and mountain bikers mostly use this entrance because it is the trailhead of the Mendota Trail. If you want to park in the southern lot, you must have a State Parks parking permit or pay the daily entrance fee of $5 from the park office at the main entrance. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
If you want to cycle to Fort Snelling State park, then there is an extensive network of paved and gravel bicycle trails that get you there. One way is by bicycling from the Twin Cities. Find your way to the Minnehaha Trail and then pedal south until you reach Fort Snelling State Park. From there, you can decide to cycle on the paved trails on the west side of the river or, as a mountain biker, it is recommended to cross the Mendota Bridge bike path to the other side of the river. Once you cross the bridge, you will be on the Mendota Trail, which is a 5.7-mile easy to intermediate mountain biking trail.