Starting from the historic Stone Arch Bridge, as you look around it is evident that you are in the oldest part of Minneapolis. Once the flour milling capital of the world, this district still contains the remains of Minneapolis’ four largest remaining mills: Pillsbury, Gold Medal, North Star, and Washburn A Mill. From the Stone Arch Bridge, you can see all four mills and thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society, the classic neon signs are still used to decorate the Minneapolis nighttime skyline. The downtown riverfront district is full of history and if you are curious to learn more about Minneapolis’ history while on your run, there are informational posts strewn about that document the once thriving mill industry.
What Makes It Great
While crossing the Stone Arch Bridge, take a moment to appreciate the roaring St. Anthony Falls. During the early evening, the sun hits the falls just right and offers fantastic photo opportunities. When you cross the bridge, you enter Father Hennepin Bluffs Park. During the summer, this park features live music and a movie-in-the-park each Tuesday evening. Even on other days of the week, there is often some kind of event or an outdoor yoga class in session. Turn left and follow the path passing by the public bandstand. Just behind the bandstand, there is a covered vista that provides great views of the Stone Arch bridge and Minneapolis.
Up the trail, you will see signs saying St. Anthony Heritage Trail and guided tour. Little did you know, you have already been running along the heritage trail. Feel free to follow the signs to the Lower Trail, which takes you through a short forest path and to the historic Hennepin Island. The interpretive posts explain how the city became what it is today due to the waterpower of St. Anthony Falls. Overall, the St. Anthony heritage tour is 1.8 miles long and guides you through some of Minneapolis’ most interesting places.
Once you are finished learning about Minneapolis’ history, take a right and run one block until you hit SE Main St. Within a 3-block radius, there are a dozen great bars and restaurants, which offer cheap happy hour deals and patio seating. There is also The Soap Factory, which is a contemporary visual and performing arts gallery that showcases lesser-known artists in an old warehouse.
To finish the 1.8-mile loop, cross the Merriam St. Bridge and explore the historic Nicollet Island. Before the settlers arrived, the Sioux and Ojibwe people considered the island a sacred site and would use the space for ceremonies, such as vision quests and a neutral meeting ground. Now, the island has a high school, a vibrant neighborhood, and the popular Nicollet Island Pavilion. Most importantly, there is a pleasant rail-to-trails conversion trail that follows a quiet river outlet of the Mississippi River.
Return back to Merriam St. and run up the ramp to Hennepin Bridge. Take the staircase down on the west side of the river and follow the West River Road pedestrian path back to the Stone Arch Bridge. This path offers a handful of benches where you can rest your feet. It’s also a good time to clear your mind after your history-filled lesson along the Minneapolis riverfront.
Who is Going to Love It
If you want beautiful views of Minneapolis, while also learning about its history, the Downtown Minneapolis Riverfront is a great place to spend the day exploring.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There is metered parking along the East and West River Parkways. For a cheaper option, a few blocks east from East River Parkway is neighborhood parking, which has non-metered street parking. The museums, stores, and restaurants all close at reasonable times, but the trails stay open all the time. Though this is a safer part of town, always plan accordingly before walking or running alone at night.