Great bike rides of the Twin Cities that begin and end at my house #2: The Grand Rounds

(Note: To see my first “great bike rides” post from about a year ago, go here)

I used to think “The Grand Rounds” was a rather pretentious name added in modern times to the more than 125-year old string of parkways that wind through the city of Minneapolis. But I recently learned that the term dates back to 1891, when William Watts Folwell used it to describe landscape architect Horace Cleveland’s masterful proposal made to the newly-formed Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners 8 years earlier. Now that I know the name is that old, I like it.

Horace Cleveland as a young man. He was nearly 70 when he submitted his design for the Grand Rounds !

Minneapolis has one of the best urban park systems in the world. We would have none of it today but for the vision, forethought, and actions of an amazing string of parks commissioners (along with Cleveland’s detailed plans) in the late 19th and early 20th century, including Charles Loring, William Berry and Theodore Wirth.

I’ve biked most of this route many times, but never as a whole. So a couple of days ago, I decided it was time to grab my camera and saddle up. I’d seen different numbers for the total mileage — usually 50-53 miles, but I also knew that included some dead-end spurs. I decided to just do the main, basic route and see how it works as a loop.

Cleveland’s idea was to tie together some of the most beautiful parts of the city in such a way that you could make the whole trip without ever leaving a park-like setting. For the most part, it does that very well. The Minneapolis chain of lakes, along with the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek, are well-known treasures, but the ride also includes some impressive boulevards in the city’s northern areas. Most of the route is, indeed, “grand”, but there’s a short “missing link” of about 3 miles in the northeastern part of the ride that isn’t terribly scenic. Many plans have been proposed over the years to finish it, but so far it’s still missing. A variety of street options traverse the gap and get you downtown to join up with the river.

The dark blue line shows the Grand Rounds. Note the dotted lines through an industrial and residential part of northeast Minneapolis. The outline of the city limits can be seen where the shade of green changes.

Since I live a couple of block from Minnehaha Creek, I bike and run the southern part of the Grand Rounds a lot, but the beauty of the creek and the lakes never gets old. A quick loop around the lakes or a run around Lake Harriet never fails to lift my spirits.

My grand tour the other day ended up totaling about 37 miles. As I said, there are other ways to do it that add more mileage. The route also intersects with a lot of other bike paths on which you could wander all day. It’s a great city for biking.

Here are a bunch of photos from my trip. Along the way, I somehow lost my little notebook that I was writing the mileage in at photo stops (imagine me losing something), so the mile numbers are from “Map My Ride” and are approximate — also, of course, pretty meaningless unless you start at my house. But if you ever do want to start at my house, give me a call and I’ll go with you. It’s a great urban ride.

0.7 - We drop down into the Minnehaha Creek valley to get started.


1.5 - First look at good old Lake Harriet.


5.5 - Cedar Lake's south beach


6.7 - North side of Cedar Lake. The railroad and the Cedar Lake Trail (not ours) head toward downtown Minneapolis.


6.8 - on the other side of the railroad bridge is tiny Brownie Lake, an often overlooked little gem.


8.3 - Theodore Wirth Golf course. What a view!


8.8 - Statues depicting Theodore Wirth (Minneapolis Parks Commissioner in the early 1900s) with some kids for whom he helped provide a beautiful place to play, are near clubhouse of the golf course that bears his name.


10.7 - Victory Memorial Drive honors those who died in WWI


15.2 - Downtown skyline over the rail yards of "Nordeast".


16.2 - Another peak at downtown from the 10th hole at Columbia Park, another very nice municipal golf course.


17.3 - Quiet, residential neighborhood on St. Anthony Parkway with happy, safe, above-average kids.


20.8 - After a trip through the "missing link", we're downtown.


21.3 - Almost everything you need to know about Minneapolis is represented in this photo -- flour mills, St. Anthony Falls, Mississippi River, hydroelectric plant, barge going through lock & dam, James J. Hill's stone arch railroad bridge. This area is ground zero for Minneapolis .


21.5 - New I-35W bridges show no trace of the terrible tragedy that happened here 4 years ago.


23.2 - Back to green and blue landscape. The Mississippi River from West River Road across from the University of Minnesota.


28.0 - Minnehaha Falls


29.3 - The path hugs Minnehaha Creek


30.2 - Lake Hiawatha


32.0 - Lake Nokomis -
About five more miles and we're home - around the lake and up the Parkway.

Off my butt, on my bike, and out in the country

One of my long-time goals has been to get around the state of Minnesota more and see smaller towns and rural areas. I haven’t done very well with that that until recently.

Two things have helped to get me in my car and on my bike to travel around more.
1. My daughter Emily moved to Rochester a year ago after being away for quite a few years.
2. MinnPost included me in a grant from the Bremer Foundation to do reporting about young people in rural Minnesota.

Last week I was able to use both of those justifications to go to the southern part of the state. Mrs. D and I met Emily at her house and then we drove about 30 miles farther to Fountain, which is one of the trailheads for the Root River bike trail.

The trail begins in open fields

The trail starts on the edge of town and goes through some rolling farmland before descending into the Root River Valley.

Even though the sun was shining, the trail was very wet after a hard rain during the night. We immediately had brown water spots all over our backs.

Mrs. D and Emily

The scenery is beautiful — green and lush. Because it was a weekday, there wasn’t a lot of other bike traffic.


After winding 11 miles through the forested valley, we emerged in Lanesboro, a small town that looks like a small town should.

Everybody seems to love Lanesboro and it appears from time to time on “best towns” lists. Recently it was featured on Yahoo Travel’s “Prettiest Towns”.

Lanesboro


The trail was closed for bridge repair a couple of miles later, so we turned around a little earlier than planned and headed back.

After stopping to do a little window-shopping on the way back through Lanesboro, we had still managed a nice 26 miles by the time we returned to Fountain.

The total length of the trail is 42 miles from Fountain to Houston. Go here for more info and a great map. Plus there’s an 18-mile spur trail called the Harmony-Preston trail that heads southward from about half-way between Fountain and Lanesboro. I think next time I’ll start in Lanesboro and do a 62-mile round-trip to Houston and back.

It’s a great ride, no matter what part of the trail you’re on.

After we returned to Rochester and had lunch, I took off for Owatonna to shoot some video for MinnPost. It was a great day and I might never have done it without my two new reasons for getting off my butt and on the road.

Blustery Day at the Lakes

I went for a bike ride yesterday around Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun in south Minneapolis. The weather was sunny and calm when I left home, but before long the wind whipped up and the clouds rolled in. I had my camera along.

Minnehaha Creek


Lake Harriet - a pleasant way to spend a June afternoon


Lake Harriet


Lake Harriet


Lake Harriet -- view of Bandstand and downtown Minneapolis


Lake Harriet hipster wears the colors of the lake


I think this puts to rest the myth that fishing is nerdy - once and for all.


Heading for Lake Calhoun


The ladies of Lake Calhoun


Lake Calhoun


Windsurfers on Lake Calhoun


Family fun

After I left the north shore of Lake Calhoun, the wind was in my face the whole way home. I put the camera away, gritted my teeth and cranked my way back to my house.

The end.