Every year my husband, Ethan, and I celebrate Independence Day and our wedding anniversary by staying the weekend in a small Minnesota town that's close to good bike trails.
This year, we chose Lanesboro, a small town of approximately 700 off the Root River Trail in Southern Minnesota. While I enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the Root River Trail, I was taken by how easy it was to bicycle around the small towns we visited along the way.
After driving with our bikes from Minneapolis to Lanesboro, we didn't get into our car once during the rest of our 3-day, 2-night stay. Our home base was a lovely bed and breakfast in Lanesboro called Habberstad House, which is approximately 10 blocks off the main drag. Each day we biked into town to access the Root River Trail and each night we biked into town to have dinner. Our route included a couple of blocks on quiet residential streets, and the remaining blocks on equally quiet state highways. For all of our trips into town, just a handful of vehicles passed us at very slow speeds. I found the roads to be quite wide, which in this context made me feel more comfortable sharing the road with cars. I also felt unusually safe bicycling at night (again, hardly a car in sight!).
On the first full day of our vacation, we took the Root River Trail west and veered south to the Harmony-Preston Trail. We traversed rolling hills and beautiful farmland and made two stops in the towns of Harmony and Preston. Harmony, the larger of the two towns, has a population of about 1,000.
Highlights include a cute visitors' center with some interesting displays about the town's history, an inviting main street, a small display about hobos in the Great Depression at the trail head, and a restaurant we ate at called Quarter Quarter (delicious "comfort food" made with fresh, locally grown ingredients). While we didn't travel by bike on Harmony's main drag, I got the sense that it would be very easy to get around via bicycle. Same situation as Lanesboro--a few slow-moving cars here and there and ample space to share the road. Our next stop was Preston (population around 1,000), which was even sleepier than Harmony. We didn't linger long because not one place was open on the main drag (although we did buy a delicious waffle cone at a lodge near the edge of town). I don't know if it was the holiday weekend, but as you might imagine the traffic here was virtually nonexistent.
On the next day of our trip, we headed east on the Root River Trail from Lanesboro to
the towns of Whalan and Peterson. With a population of just 63, Whalan was the smallest town we visited. We stopped at a mini-golf course off the trail and, unfortunately, Ethan best me. Aside from this, the only business I noticed as we biked through was a small pie shop that seemed to be very popular with tourists. Biking here was great because it seemed that the Root River Trail went right through the heart of Whalan. And with its tiny population, it's hard to imagine that biking on any of Whalan's city streets would be challenging. Our last stop was Peterson (population around 200), which is 13 miles from Whalan. Here, we biked the main street and ended up at an ice cream shop that seemed was very popular with bicyclists and folks who like to tube down the Root River. As with the four other towns we visited, there didn't appear to be any traffic around. Biking was a cinch!
While Minneapolis is a good city for biking, this vacation gave me pause to think about
how so much of what makes biking great is dependent on context (think Complete Streets). While these small towns lack the great bike facilities that Minneapolis has, their population and size make getting around by bike a mostly safe and enjoyable experience. If you're looking for a close, fun, and affordable bike vacation (and as one person described it, "a mind vacation"), I'd definitely recommend the Root River Trail and its nearby towns.