In the Bloomington Ferry Unit of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, there are 400 acres of floodplain forest and wetlands. Following alongside the banks of the Minnesota River, the 11-mile Minnesota River Bottoms trail network is a popular destination for beginner to intermediate mountain bikers.
In springtime, the trail tends to be sandy because of the recent winter thaw. Once summer rolls around, be prepared for tall grasses infested with stinging nettle and swarming mosquitoes. But, don’t worry, if you wear a long-sleeved shirt and don’t dilly-dally for too long, you will not have a problem. The summer is a great time to bike, so don’t let the bugs scare you away! The fall offers the best biking conditions because the sand is packed down due to the heavy use throughout the summer, the bugs are gone, and best of all the leaves change into a beautiful array of red, orange, and gold.
What Makes It Great
From the parking lot, the River Valley Trail plunges into mature woods found in the floodplain forest. Within minutes of biking, the Minnesota River is in view and the trail meanders back and forth between woods ands wetland. Relatively flat, this is a popular trail for beginners. For the first 6 miles, the trail is a single-track, so be courteous to other bikers sharing the trail.
At the 6-mile mark you will have to stop and consider your options at the 9 Mile Creek. You can either pull yourself across via a raft, Indiana Jones style, or there is a 2-foot wide bridge that can perfectly fit a person and a bike. After you have conquered the creek crossing, the Minnesota River Trail turns into an easy, flat double-track. Roughly 150 yards in, there is a trail exit marked by green and red spray paint. This not so well known single-track hugs the Minnesota River and offers more experienced bikers opportunities to improve their technique. The trail contains natural obstacles, steep falls, and sharp-windy turns.
Both trails continue east, offering a couple trail exits with differing difficulties. Once you pass the 35W overpass, the River Valley Trail forks into the easy East Segment and the intermediate Cedar Segment. Both lead to the same place. Along the way, if you are winded, there are benches and picnic tables to catch your breath and rehydrate.
The East Segment starts relatively flat, but eventually climbs in short to medium bursts up the Minnesota Valley River bluffs. If you are a beginner, take a deep breath and take it slow. Don’t let the steep falls and climbs scare you away from reaching the amazing views at the top.
Who is Going to Love It
Mountain bikers looking for a track that caters to both beginner and experienced skill levels will enjoy the trails that meander along the Minnesota River Bottoms.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
One of the best things about this trail is that you able to enjoy it in all seasons as it open all year round. However, flooding is a common occurrence, so make sure to check online if the trails are rideable.
There are several ways to access the Minnesota River Bottoms trail system however the most popular starting point is at Bloomington Ferry Road on the western end of the reserve. The United States Wildlife Service does not manage the trails on this end, but the local mountain biking community does their best to mark the trails with ribbons or spray paint.