Exploring the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area by Mountain Bike

With over 29 miles of multi-use natural surface trail, the Minnesota Valley Trail runs from Chaska to Belle Plaine along the Minnesota River through the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.  I had never biked here before and it was on my list of places to ride this Summer so I headed down there one extremely hot Sunday afternoon.

My starting point was the trail access parking area off of Chestnut Blvd. just south of Chaska.  I would follow the river southwest to see where the day would take me.  The temperature would be hovering around 100° so I made sure to bring along plenty of water.  I figured at least a good portion of the ride wouldn't be too hot as the trail leads its way through shade of the wooded Minnesota River Bottoms.

My ride started out at the paved trail on the north end of the parking lot and I followed it west towards the Co. Rd. 41 bridge that leads across the river into Chaska.  I had to take a dirt trail down under the bridge to cross to the other side of the road and follow it to the start of the Minnesota Valley Trail.  Later I would come to find that the start of the trail was just across the street from gravel road that led into the parking lot.

Parking area trail access

Because of the heat I planned on riding just past the Thompson Ferry Landing and turning around.  This route would take me through the Gifford Lake Area, Carver Rapids, Louisville Swamp and Thompson Ferry.  The terrain would changed as I pass through each section to include wetlands, prairie, floodplain forests and wooded bluffs.

The trail starts out in the floodplain forest as it follows the river  through the Gifford Lake Area to a grassy section just southeast of Carver.

The prairie and wetlands section of trail in the Gifford Lake Area weaved its way in and out of the woods with slight elevation changes.  The Minnesota DNR has kept these sections mowed to make travel a little easier.

A little further along I entered the Louisville Swamp which soon brought me to a fork in the trail.  This intersection leads to a trailhead parking area on 145th St. off of Hwy. 169 or Carver Rapids.  To continue on my chosen route I followed the sign leading to Carver Rapids which brought me down a steep hill.

At the bottom of the hill was a bridge crossing for Sand Creek.  The creek was extremely low from the flood stage it had seen earlier this year.  I stopped for a short while to take in the view before moving on.

Riding through the Carver Rapids section was my favorite part of the trail.  It was heavily wooded with old growth river bottoms forest and the Johnson Slough made it seem like you were in bayou country.  The mosquitoes were so thick I kept moving at a brisk pace to avoid being eaten alive.  

As I reentered Louisville Swamp there were many more beautiful and tranquil sights to see as the trail as led me through fields, woods and past creeks with fallen timber.

Loose sand and silt from years of flooding from Louisville Swamp to the Thompson Ferry Landing slowed my roll a bit.  I maintained my pace exerting a little more energy than the previous more packed sections.  Soon I was at the Thompson Ferry Landing where I stopped for a rest and decided to travel a little further down the trail to see what it had in store.

I crossed the road to another parking area where the trail picked up again.  There was a picnic area here and a nice view of a big bend in the river.

From here the trail would lead through very sandy river bottoms that were almost impossible to ride through.  Some areas were packed enough to ride but most of it I had to hike-a-bike through.

Soon I came to a steep sandy ascent. I figured I would scale it to the top and check out the view high above the river before turning around for the ride back.  It was way too sandy and far too hot to even consider riding beyond this point.  I'm glad I made it this far because the view from up here was amazing.  The thick sand was perfect habitat for turtle nesting grounds.  There were depressions all over that had once contained eggs, but now the sand was littered with the broken shells and all those little guys had long since slid down the hill into the river.

On my way back I noticed several vantage points of the river that I had missed the first time around.  I stopped to get some photos and quickly got back to riding.  By now the temperature was 100°, my water was getting low and I just wanted to get back to my car and crank the air conditioning.  Round trip the ride was just short of 23 miles.

It was definitely a fun ride, while there were no real technical features there were some challenging sections. Because of its muti-use designation, the Minnesota Valley Trail isn't all just your traditional single or double track, the sandy river bottoms and grassy fields will slow you down a bit and give your legs a workout.  The scenery was the best part of visiting the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.  The floodplain forests, swamps, sloughs and creeks provided an ever changing landscape and some spectacular scenery for the entire length of the ride.  I look forward to coming back for a Fall change of colors ride.

I have created the Flickr photo set "Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area" that contains all of the day's ride photography and also a photo map showing the geo-location of every picture. 

The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area is open 8:00 am to 10:00 pm 365 days a year.  For more information visit the MN DNR Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area home page.  For a printable map with facilities and features information, click here.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your write up. I ride this trail often and you described it as I experience it. The mowing schedule is a little slow at times and it can be a bit of a challenge when the grass gets tall. A few more riders and this would not be an issue.


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