Rich with Heritage: Minnesota’s Root River Trail System

Posted 04/16/14 by Katie Harris in America's Trails

Photos © Root River Trail Towns

Minnesota is full of hidden treasures. Tucked away between the bluffs of the southeast corner of the state, a 60-mile, paved trail meanders along the winding, trout-filled Root River. This region is rich with the wildlife, scenery and Scandinavian heritage that’s so celebrated in Minnesota, and it can all be seen along the Root River Trail System!

Referred to by some as the “Cadillac of Bike Trails,” this system is made up of the 42-mile Root River State Trail and the 18-mile Harmony-Preston Valley Trail. Together, they form a destination—a reason for visitors to come down to the southeast corner—as the trail showcases the best of what each community along the way has to offer.

root-river-trail-town.pngGail Boyum, president of Root River Trail Towns and Peterson City councilwoman, conveyed the natural splendor that can be seen along the trail as she explained how visitors “pedal through towering bluffs that are home to more than 300 species of birds throughout the area. Foxes roam, deer peer through the wooded bluffs, wild turkeys abound and the sounds of wildlife surround you as you breathe in the scenery.” 

Although train traffic along the old Milwaukee Corridor is a thing of the past—the last Milwaukee train car unloaded in the late 1970s—railroad heritage is still very much present and alive. This is particularly true in Peterson, where the old train station has been transformed into a visitor center and museum in which people can learn about railroad history and research their Norwegian ancestry. Many of the depot’s original furnishings remain. 

The “Driftless Region” of Minnesota has an incredible amount to offer, and the trail towns present their food, crafts and history to all visitors. During three weekends in September, nine towns participate in the Taste of the Trail, providing visitors a chance to indulge in sumptuously prepared and locally sourced cuisine showcasing the region’s best. 

The towns along the Root River Trail and adjoining Harmony Preston Trail have the capacity to host overnight trail visitors. In fact, Lanesboro is touted as the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota. All of the towns along the way have camping and B&B options for overnight riders.

The Root River Trail System includes more than forty wooden bridges that cross crags, creeks and rivers. There are countless opportunities to purchase local arts and crafts, not to mention the myriad culinary options that tempt cyclists in each village along the way. It’s pretty clear to see how the Root River State Trail System has earned recognition as one of the “Best in the Midwest!”

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