There’s been much ado as of late about bicycling in Minneapolis, and for good reason. Commuters especially welcomed the official dedication on May 18 of the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and the May 16 opening of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center (just west down the Midtown Greenway, near Chicago Avenue), both celebrated during Bike/Walk Week in mid-May. Coming soon are the first of many new bike paths and lanes funded through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project — one connecting Bridge #9 to the new Gophers’ stadium and another connecting the existing Hiawatha LRT trail with Downtown.
While Minneapolis ranks second in the nation in the number of people who bike to work, the arrival of summer reminds us of the best reason to ride — for the pure joy of it. And here in the heart of the city, the riverfront offers a natural setting and plenty of attractions worth pausing for.
West River Parkway and Downtown
Starting on the south end of Bridgeland, the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway runs along most of the East and West Banks, with a bike path winding alongside. On West River Parkway, riders glide (or bump; the trail is in need of repair south of Franklin Avenue) atop the Cooper- and Seward-area bluffs. The Midtown Greenway heads west from 27th Avenue South toward Midtown, Uptown, Downtown or Hopkins, if you like.
Near Franklin Avenue, the path heads down a long hill to the river flats, past picnic spots, water-side walks and the open green of Bohemian Flats. Just beyond, the ride offers a less idyllic scene; the twisted remains of the fallen I-35W bridge, just out of reach behind a secure chain-link fence. The path beyond is detoured, of course, because of the bridge construction.
Up the hill along 20th Avenue South, the path deposits riders near the clean-cut grassy mound of Gold Medal Park, just the first of many pleasant resting spots in Downtown East. Just a block south are Washington Avenue restaurants and businesses, while the path continues past the Guthrie Theatre (and on Saturdays, the Mill City Farmers’ Market), the Mill City Museum and Mill Ruins Park, beneath the Stone Arch Bridge.
Although the west-side path continues on past Downtown, a turn across the Stone Arch Bridge brings riders to a whole other string of attractions — starting with the bridge itself. Historical markers line the bridge, telling the tale of the city’s growth. The historical tour continues on the East Bank, where the path winds through Father Hennepin Bluffs Park and along Southeast Main Street with its pleasant patio seating.
The East Bank
The East Bank of the river, below the University of Minnesota, offers an even more natural setting for a ride, beginning at East River Flats, behind Coffman Union. (Note: the parking lot there is closed through September, and the bike path is detoured slightly, nearer to the river.) In a few quick minutes, one can descend, on East River Road, from the bustle of the urban university into the verdant, shaded path that winds alongside the river — and sometimes directly over it. (Riders and walkers should be careful in this isolated area, especially at night.)
The paved path runs through a thin forest, with pockets of sandy beaches beside the water, before reaching the long pedestrian and bike bridge that extends out over the Mississippi. Even further south, the path is so close to the bank that it has flooded in times if high water. Just before the Franklin Avenue bridge, Bridal Veil Creek trickles out from its underground meanderings and into the river. The trail ends at the muscle-busting switchback (don’t be ashamed to walk it, really) that heads up to East River Road, where a newer, paved path heads back towards the university or off into St. Paul. Head downriver to Marshall Avenue and across the Lake Street bridge, and you’ve made a full loop.
These two riverside rides are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to biking in Bridgeland, Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities. With miles of on-road paths and paved trails, the city is an urban adventure waiting to happen. Maps are available at most bike stores, as well as online through the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council.
You can also see the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area’s trail user guide at the MNRRA website.