The Minnesota River Bottoms Eastern-Most Segment

Long Meadow Lake Trail

It had been a while since I last rode my mountain bike on the eastern-most portion of the Minnesota River Bottoms. The trails here follow along the Minnesota River from the Cedar Avenue bridge to Hwy. 494 on the north side and all the way to Mendota near the northern part of Fort Snelling State Park on the south side.  I had never been on the Long Meadow Lake Trail on the north side of the river in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge's Long Meadow Lake Unit but knew the Fort Snelling State Park Trail on the south side pretty well. 

To make planning my route easy and to give me a reference map to help keep me on track using my phone's GPS showing my location, I mapped out the route I wanted to take using an Android smartphone app called Run. Bike. Route.  It gave me the mileage and elevation changes for the ride so I could plan accordingly.

I picked a route that would start near the Cedar Avenue bridge, cross the bridge onto the Long Meadow Lake Trail and take it all the way to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center near Hwy. 494 where the trail ends.  The wide doubletrack trail follows the river and around a dry river overflow channel called the Oxbow until it ventures west towards the Visitor Center.

When you get closer to the Visitor Center there is a fork in the trail.  The right fork is for hikers and pedestrians containing a steep climb and lots of stairs.  The left fork will take you to American Boulevard E. where you will make a right turn and follow it past the Visitors Center where the road dead-ends and a bike path leading to the 494 bridge begins.

Make sure to make a stop at the Visitors Center and check out the great views behind the building.  There is a lookout platform here or you can head over to the pedestrian path just to the east of the building.  Both areas will give you great views of Long Meadow Lake and the Minnesota River Valley so bring your camera.

Once you have entered the bike trail at the dead-end of American Boulevard E. it will bring you onto the 494 Bridge to cross the river to the Big Rivers Regional Trail.  It is about 1.8 miles across the bridge and you will see all sorts of migratory birds below here in the fall.  There were Trumpeter Swans swimming about when I rode across.

Take a right on the trail before Hwy. 13 and this will put you on the Big Rivers Regional Trail.  Follow it north for a little over two miles to D Street in downtown Mendota.  Take a left here, cross Hwy. 13 and follow D Street to the Sibley House Historic Site.  At the end of the road is the access to the Fort Snelling State Park Trail that will take you under the railroad tracks and on to the trail.

From here you will follow wide singletrack that eventually turns into doubletrack trail past the Mendota Bridge.  The Minnesota River will be on your right side and Gun Club Lake on your left as you make your way through the floodplain forest of the river bottoms.

Eventually you will come to the 494 bridge that was crossed earlier to get to this side of the river.  From here the trail continues through the strip of woods between the river and Gun Club Lake.  Once past this segment the trail narrows as it gets closer to the riverbank giving you great views upstream.

There are a few little creeks flowing from the wetlands to the south into the river that you will have to cross.  There are bridges for most of them but one of the first you encounter beavers have dammed up and logs will act as a crossing.

From this point back to the Cedar Avenue bridge is only about 1 2/3 miles.  This section is probably the sandiest part of the trail, but with a little speed it is easily maneuvered through.

Parking is available at the Jens A. Casperson Landing located under the Cedar Avenue bridge, but requires a Minnesota State Park Permit on your vehicle.  There is a small area off the road a couple of blocks past the landing entrance on E. Black Dog Road to park that doesn't require a permit.

Overall, this is a fairly easy trip with minimal mountain bike technical features.  Those that are new to or would like to try mountain biking will enjoy the ride.  These trails are also a good place to introduce a kid to mountain biking.  Others will find it enjoyable for its mostly flat route to test their speed/time, the scenery and wildlife, and the small number of people that use the trail.  I plan on riding here this winter on a fatbike so I have some floatation over the snow with those big tires.  I am sure many other fatbike riders will have the same idea. 

MapMyRide users can login to their account from their computer and bookmark this route to load it on a smartphone for GPS aid in following the route while biking.

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