It’s well known that Minnesota has more paved trails than any other state. But what’s the best route for ice-cream breaks? A breakfast sausage? A tall cold one? Read on, then ride on.
1) The Grand Rounds
A tour de Minneapolis, this ride is like a string of pearls linking the city’s scenic highlights. Gather your peloton at Boom Island, just off the Plymouth Avenue bridge, where a lighthouse marks a boat launch near quaint picnic shelters. Cross the bridge and follow the Mississippi River Gorge one mile to the Stone Arch Bridge, where you’ll cross back for breakfast at Kramarczuk’s Deli (kramarczuk.com)—open at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday for those who want to begin the day with a cabbage roll stretching their spandex. Then head to Minnehaha Falls, a postcard-worthy cascade best viewed from Sea Salt Eatery
(seasalteatery.com) with a mouthful of poboy.
2) Lake Minnetonka LRT Trail
This is one of the few rides that may add more calories than it burns. In a little red house just off the trail in Excelsior, Adele’s Frozen Custard (adelescustard.com) beckons riders with BBQ sandwiches, a turkey and Swiss, and—the main attraction—daily custard specials like Lemon Chiffon and Death by Chocolate. Cool down with seasonal brews from Excelsior Brewing on the patio at 318 Café (three-eighteen.com) or by jumping into Lake Minnetonka at the Excelsior public beach.
3) Luce Line Trail
A rare passage through remnants of the big woods (attention, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans), though the reasons to linger are wholly unnatural. Namely: the Ox Yoke Inn (oxyokeinnmn.com), a friendly, wood-paneled roadhouse in Maple Plain—horse country, where deeply tanned women talk about playing polo the way city folk talk about playing Wii. A giant ox yoke hangs near the taps, and the Luce Line Lucy burger oozes creamy blue cheese. The endpoint, reached after nine miles of biking through mowed grass, is Cosmos, population 473, where the streets are named for stars and planets and the annual Space Festival crowns a Little Miss Universe and a Man in the Moon.
4) Gateway Trail
An east side culinary tour: breakfast at St. Paul’s iconic Mickey’s Diner (mickeysdiningcar.com), lunch in Stillwater—which used to require heading off trail and puffing back up the enormous hill. This fall, the former Minnesota Zephyr train route out of Stillwater will be paved and linked to the trail. Now you just have to decide: Smalley’s Caribbean Barbecue (smalleyspiratebbq.com) or Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop (leosgrill.com). Remember: you still have to get back up the hill.
5) Dakota Rail Regional Trail
A weekend’s worth of fun in 26 miles: quesadillas at St. Boni Bistro (stbonibistro.com), with its ubiquitous click-clack of bike shoes on the patio (St. Bonifacius also has the world’s cutest library). Fresh produce to pack in your panniers at Gale Woods Farm (galewoodsfarm.com), home to a lazy Great Pyrenees who watches sheep, goats, cows, and kids tempted by the electric fence. The wicked first hole at Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden (bigstoneminigolf.com), where the sculptures comprise the course, as though golfing with Alice in Wonderland. The free classic-car museum that is the seasonal Minnetonka Drive-In (4658 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park) on Thursday nights, a former A&W that hasn’t changed—even the working car-side intercoms—since the days of fins and flattops.
Tim Gihring is a contributing editor to Minnesota Monthly. He lives in Minneapolis.