Apart of the 60 mile paved Blufflands Trail, Root River Trail is the 42-mile segment that takes you along the scenic Root River. Once an old rail grade, now the flat terrain and slight, gradual turns are exceptional for cyclists wanting to crank into high gear and glide.
What Makes It Great
Although not well known, even by locals, this region of Minnesota is called the “driftless” region. The term “driftless” comes from the fact that during the last few ice ages, while drifting glacial ice was ravaging Minnesota, the southeast portion of the state escaped unscathed. Not one glacier passed through this area, which means the “driftless” region is a natural anomaly. It is the only part in the Midwest where you can see what the earth looked like without any destructive glacial migration.
One of “driftless” region’s highlights is the impressive 300-foot limestone bluffs that tower over the Root River. While pedaling along, when you reach the end of one of the many wide curves, the bluffs appear out of nowhere, framed by the many maples, cottonwoods, and ashes that border the trail. When the trail passes very near the river, you bike beside small meadows and floodplain forest. The trail also passes through prairie, which during the month of July is bursting with fully bloomed wildflowers. By August, the prairies turn into a golden yellow with matching yellow sunflowers dispersed throughout.
Also, there are many species that are endemic to the region, such as Minnesota’s Timber rattlesnake. They live in bluff crannies and are generally harmless unless stepped upon or hassled with. When you take water breaks, make sure to look off trail for large flat rocks. You may be lucky enough to find a rattlesnake basking in the sun. As for other wildlife, since you are well away from the bustling city, nature takes over and you will most likely see wild turkeys, deer, and other animals crossing the trail.
During your 42-mile bike ride, you will pass through many adorable towns. With their own personalities, each town is worth a short visit. Also, most of the towns have restaurants, bed and breakfasts, museums, outfitters, and many more services. Which means, your full day ride could easily turn into a relaxing weekend-long trip.
For most of the trail, the terrain is relatively flat and for miles you may not see one person. This is good news for cyclists because this means Root River Trail is the perfect trail to work on your cadence. Either crank your gears up high and focus on improving your endurance and core stability, or reduce your resistance and develop your pedaling speed and stroke. There is even a .5-mile portion just west of Houston that has some steep hills, which would be perfect for practicing your sustainable hill climbing ability as well.
Who is Going to Love It
It is obvious to see what sets Root River Trail apart from other paved bike trails. Though an hour away, the 42-mile stretch of well-paved trails, low foot traffic, quaint small towns, natural history, and beautiful scenery is what attracts Twin Cities’ citizens to the Root River Valley.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Root River Trail starts from the town of Fountain and also passes through the quaint towns of Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford, and Houston. Lanesboro hosts the Roots River Trail Center and is a common starting off point for cyclists, but each town has their own trailhead and parking facilities.