Fall drives are an annual Minnesota tradition, and the ones we’ve selected include everything you need to make the most of the season.
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Biking among the soaring bluffs of the Root River Trail
The corn waves at me as I pedal through the random swatch of farmland tucked into the bluffs and valleys of southeastern Minnesota. I think about waving back—acknowledging my sole companions on the Root River Trail this crisp, bright morning—but practicality overrules whimsy, and instead I pedal on toward Preston, leaning into the curves, powering up the hills, and coasting across the bridges.
The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley trails sit deep in the heart of the Driftless Area: the steep valleys and limestone bluffs bordering the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa that escaped the wrath of the glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. The paved 60-mile system snakes its way through this rolling, craggy landscape and links the towns of Houston, Fountain, and Harmony. For hard-core bikers, it’s an obstacle-free path on which to crank out the miles. For everyone else, it’s the ticket to a peaceful afternoon filled with beauty.
The trail’s most popular entry point is picturesque Lanesboro, where the main street ends at the river and a good chunk of the population shares a narrative of having come for vacation and stayed for good. Besides Lanesboro’s abundance of bed-and-breakfasts (it’s been dubbed the B&B Capital of Minnesota), the main tourist draw here is biking, hence the little town’s two rental-shop options: Little River General Store and Root River Outfitters.
Rides ranging from 4.6 to 40 miles branch out from Lanesboro. I’ve chosen the trail ending in Preston: a 10.2-mile trek that’s doable yet respectable for me, an admittedly inexperienced biker with a competitive streak. It takes me a while to get into a rhythm, but eventually I settle into eavesdropping on the conversation between the wind and my pedals, their whooshing and shushing mingling with the gurgles of the river.
As the miles tick by, my thoughts become less and less structured until they are no more than a collage of observations. Here, in the toe of Minnesota, the Driftless Area’s rocks create towering bluffs, its trees thick forests, and bright blossoms a blooming prairie. These represent a geology lesson, to be sure, but also, perhaps, the embodiment of each wandering soul that has ever passed through, drifting along toward whatever the future may hold.
Where to Stay
The Scandinavian Inn is a favorite among Lanesboro’s many B&Bs for its focus on eco-friendliness, lovely rooftop gazebo, and generous from-scratch breakfasts (701 Kenilworth Ave. S., 507-467-4500, scandinavianinn.com).
Where to Eat
Pedal Pushers Café pairs retro décor with locally sourced, house-made eats (121 Parkway Ave. N., pedalpusherscafe.com). Get cozy in a booth or on one of the stools at the Spud Boy Lunch diner (105 3/4 Parkway Ave. N., spud.nydiners.com). Sip a cocktail to the sounds of the river at Riverside on the Root (109 Parkway Ave. S., riversideontheroot.com).
What to Do
Rent a bike at either Little River General Store (105 Coffee St. E., lrgeneralstore.net) or Root River Outfitters (109 Parkway Ave. S., rootriveroutfitters.com), and take in the beauty that is the Driftless Area.