The Mississippi River Gorge Trail is just one portion of an extensive network of paved trails found in Minneapolis. Also a part of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, this section is the most scenic and offers the most off-trail options out of all the urban trails. Depending on where you start and end, this trail could weave you under St. Anthony Falls or above the Ford Dam near Minnehaha Falls.
What Makes It Great
Though you are still in the heart of downtown, being down in the River Gorge mutes the hum of the city —except for the quiet trill of the Minneapolis light rail. Behind you, you can see the Washington Avenue Bridge,which acts as an artery for the university car and pedestrian traffic. From here, the trail gradually ascends and descends for a couple miles or so. Along the way, as you pass under Franklin Avenue Bridge, consider taking a quick detour to get one of the best views of the Mississippi River Gorge in town.This is especially beautiful during the fall season, when the red sugar maple trees highlight the yellow and oranges of the elms, oaks, and ashes.
Just past the Franklin Avenue Bridge on the west side, the Winchell Trail runs parallel to the main trail and offers a shaded, dirt path that meanders through bluff forest. Eventually the trail either reconnects to the main trail or descends to a secret beach.
Until you reach the Ford Dam, there are several exit points to shorten or lengthen your jot about town. You bypass the Midtown Greenway, which could lead you all the way to Uptown. If you are hungry, 25th Avenue has great food options and Lake Street has a couple of cafes to choose from as well. About 2 miles down the trail, there area few lookout points that accentuate the towering river bluffs. Providing benches and drinking fountains, these are good places for a breather.
After about 5 miles, when the trail makes a tight right, you know you are almost to Minnehaha Falls. If you are feeling parched or hungry, Sea Salt Eatery has a large seafood menu and patio seating. Sometimes the line goes out the door, but the food is well worth the wait.
When you are ready, backtrack to Ford Parkway and cross the bridge to continue along the Mississippi River Gorge, on the other side. The Saint Paul side of the river is often times quieter and has some of the most picturesque views of the canyon. In the morning light, the sun hits the bluffs and trees just right to give a National Geographic quality photo-op. For one mile of the trail, there is an above trail or a riverbank trail. The below trail takes you over a boardwalk and under historic bridges, leading to hidden beaches that all eventually converge at the University of Minnesota campus. When you reenter the university, take the Washington Avenue Bridge across the river and thread your way southwest through campus back to your starting point at Midwest Mountaineering.
Who is Going to Love It
Runners wanting a change of pace will enjoy the myriad of running options the River Gorge Trail offers to its urban residents.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Starting from the backdoor of Midwest Mountaineering, go around the parking ramp and take 4th Street all the way down into the canyon. When you reach West River Road Parkway, then you know you are at the right place. You reach a fork in the road; taking a left will take you to the Stone Arch Bridge and St. Anthony Falls, but taking a right will offer you a 10 mile scenic route of the River Gorge. It’s a no brainer; take a right.