Coon Rapids, MN to South St. Paul, MN

IMGP0408Coon Rapids, MN to South St. Paul, MN

Miles: 51   *   Avg Speed: 10   *   Crashes: 0   *   Wildlife: 0   *   Hotel with Pool/Spa:  Not exactly.

Today stands out as the worst ride so far!

Note to self:  When riding through a large metropolitan area, reduce the miles because you simply can’t make any normal progress.  There is too much traffic, too many lights, curbs and twists and turns.

We wanted to make it all the way through the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in one day.  It should have been about 40 miles, but since we stopped where we did the day before -it was going to be 50+.  Our plan was to ride to a point just a few miles past our hotel for the night in S. St. Paul, but wild horses couldn’t have stopped us from calling it a day once we saw the hotel (after what felt like about 100 hours of riding)!  We were DONE for the day. We were already at 50 miles anyway – due to the rigors of the route.  Unfortunately, my GPS was possessed today and determined to really mess up any chance we had of using it for routing assistance.  Jane and I sat at my computer for a few hours the night before diligently tracing out the route for today  -only to have the GPS completely go crazy and not really follow the route we mapped.  It was a huge frustration all day because the MRT signs were also a bit confusing and we were often left guessing which way to go.

But back to the beginning.  In the morning, we had to shuttle back to where we’d stopped riding the day before – about 10 miles from the Coon Rapids Dam.  I almost wish we’d gotten those miles out of the way the day before as they were a bit annoying… it was a mix of trails, neighborhoods, and a busy sort of road for awhile.  We hadn’t gone far when we saw this sign:


They didn’t have any information about how to get around the closed section, but we could see a nice new bridge with an ongoing bike trail not that far off in the distance.  The question was – Could we get from Point A to Point B?  It looked iffy. Even Jane wasn’t saying “We’ll see about that!”  I said we could get through, but we’d have to walk it…and that’s what we did.



A morning peek at the river from a bridge on the trail.


IMGP0391We continued on a trail for awhile along the river and then popped back out onto a somewhat busy street.  As we joined the bike path we were both commenting about how new it was and how it must have just been completed when we saw this ahead of us!

IMGP0392We quickly got ourselves onto the nearby street!!  (And I took the picture when I got closer)  We were cracking up.  Yep…that bike path sure was new!

As we finally got closer to the dam, where we were looking forward to our first break of the day.  We saw this:


Fortunately the detour was well marked and it was a relief to finally arrive at the dam. I felt like that was really where our day was supposed to be starting.  If you’d asked me about the dam -I wouldn’t have specifically remembered it, but once I saw it -instant memory- we’d had to portage that dam with our tandem kayak and I remember being less than thrilled with the long walk and aggravation of dragging a 20 ft kayak about 3/4 of a mile down a bike trail.

IMGP0399Jane and I rode partway out on the dam for a look and a photo and then after a short rest took off following the MRT signs.



It wasn’t long before we started having hits and misses with locating the signs.  If we got off track, I’d use my phone, the maps we had and the bike GPS map (without the pre-mapped route turned on).  We found Osborne Street while we were looking for the MRT at one point.


We found this not long after Osborne St:

IMGP0405 – but the good news was the trail went in two directions there and the closed part was for the other direction.

We started to get into the city a bit and the bike trail bordered a road for awhile that just went through a neighborhood and then into a sort of industrial area that put us riding on a busy street without a lot of elbow room.

I did see two restaurants in that area that I got a kick out of:


Betty Danger’s !


Just after that area, we crossed the Mississippi for the first of three times today, arriving at St. Anthony Falls.


First glimpse of Minneapolis from the bridge we crossed.

Just before the falls, we saw the “famous” Grain Belt Beer sign.  Evidently Grain Belt was brewed in Minneapolis starting in the late 1800’s.  When the brewery went defunct, the sign wasn’t taken down.  I guess the Schell Brewery has recently purchased the rights to the name and are going to repair the sign.  It’s one of those things that’s been around forever -and becomes an icon.


There is a lock at St. Anthony with a 49 foot drop.  I’ve enjoyed going through it in my kayak but always wanted to see it from land.  (It’s more impressive being inside the lock!)  We could always see a glimpse of the falls when we entered the lock and I assumed I was really missing something because I couldn’t see the whole thing.  I was looking forward to seeing them from land to see “the rest of them” – Boy was I disappointed!  It’s very cool to think that there’s an actual waterfall on the Mississippi River, but they’ve been tamed for sure.  If the lock drops 49 feet -the falls must have been impressive in their original form.


The larger part of the falls collapsed in the 1800s and was replaced by an “apron” which is what the water is flowing over in the foreground. You can see smaller falls in the background.

I did see this informational sign with a picture from back in the day that gives an idea of how big they were.

IMGP0412Also, an interesting fact is that water erosion actually caused the falls to move miles upstream from their original location.  Adjacent to and actually crossing over the end of the lock is the Old Stone Bridge.  It is now a bike/pedestrian bridge.  We rode out a ways on it to get the photo of the falls.


There are miles and miles of bike trails through Minneapolis and St. Paul.  It is truly quite impressive and it was amazing to see how many people were out using the trails as we passed through.  The trails run on both sides of the river with connector trails to further flung trails.

IMGP0414We were trying to follow the route that was used by the guy who wrote the only existing guidebook to the MRT because we hoped it would be the most efficient way through the cities.  Unfortunately, the MRT signs were few and far between.  We at least knew that there were long sections on both sides of the river that were part of the route so that helped us get through some of the confusion.

As we biked away from the falls, we knew we were supposed to stay on the trail for about 8 or 9 miles and were relieved to know we didn’t have to peck out our route for awhile.  Except… within a mile we saw this:  SIGH….


The detour sent us up a short, very steep hill and smack dab into the University of Minnesota campus.  Unhelpful – No information about how to get around the trail closure.  Another stop to consult the maps, the GPS and the phone…and we managed to meander back to the trail beyond the construction without adding too much mileage to the route.  We were then thankfully free and clear for awhile.  Jane was nice enough to stop for a survey about using the trails -she got a free water bottle.  They asked how long we’d been riding today and we said… FOREVER!

Jane trail


We followed this trail for several miles. Right next to the river and in a quiet neighborhood.


Peek-a-boo river through the trees along the trail.

We knew that we had to cross the river to the St. Paul side at Ford Bridge.  I had noticed that the trail had well placed “rest areas” with maps, benches and water fountains and had just finished telling myself that I was going to stop at the next one I saw to check where we were -when one appeared as if by magic.  As I pulled over, I noticed a maintenance man with his truck parked by the signboard. I think he was getting ready to fix some graffiti that was on part of the sign.  I rolled up and looked at the map and then said, “Hey, do you know where the Ford bridge is?”  He turned and pointed at the river through the trees where we could see a bridge and said…”right there!”  Then he turned and pointed to a trail across the parking area that disappeared up a hill.  “That’s the shortcut up to the bridge.”  I said earlier in this blog that we’ve had those serendipitous moments where someone was in the right place at the right time to help us.  I was so happy he was there to keep us on track. We could have used more of that serendipity today!

Once over the bridge, we knew we had miles to go on the trail on that side.  There were some good views from that side.


We saw lock & dam #1 from afar.



A bit further along we stopped at a scenic overlook across the river from Fort Snelling.


You have to look close to see the fort across the way.

Fort Snelling is a historic site -an old fort built in the early 1800’s that once watched over the river(s) at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Minnesota Rivers.  One interesting historical tidbit (for me) related to Fort Snelling is that a physician, Dr. Emerson, who owned the famous slave, Dred Scott (and his wife), was assigned to Fort Snelling for about 4 years from about 1836-1840.  Fort Snelling was at the time located in what was a free territory. When Dr. Emerson was later transferred to Missouri, he took the Scotts and their children with him.  It was after Dr. Emerson died that Dred Scott sued for his freedom essentially saying he’d been illegally held in a free territory.  What ensued was 11 years of litigation culminating in the well-known supreme court decision -Dred Scott vs. Sandford.  Scott lost on the basis that the court didn’t consider slaves as American citizens.  This landmark case is considered an indirect catalyst of the Civil War.  Wikipedia has an interesting explanation of this story.

Our river group has been given rare permission to camp at the fort on a couple of occasions.  I knew when we saw the fort that we were finally getting beyond the clutches of the cities.


You know it’s bad when our rest stop goes horizontal!

But our ordeal wasn’t over yet.  Our last crossing of the river was supposed to be on Wabasha Bridge in downtown St. Paul.  As we rode along the river – we could see several bridges up ahead.  One of them was really sky high – and we said to each other “I hope that’s not our bridge!”  (We didn’t want to have to climb whatever hill would get us up there).


As we got to St. Paul’s waterfront, we realized that from our vantage point, the bridges weren’t labeled with signs telling us which was which.  There were 3 bridges that could have been the right one.  (Later I found out that St. Paul officially counts 9 bridges that cross the river.) I struggled with the maps, GPS and phone to try to pinpoint where we were in relation to where we needed to be and just didn’t see anything that seemed right.  So we rode on.


Across the way at a park in St. Paul


The first barges (tied up along shore) at St. Paul. A bit blurry but I took it while riding my bike!

As we kept riding, I kept thinking we’d gone too far -but we’d gone ahead thinking that there must be one more bridge ahead.  After about a mile I stopped again.  Jane asked me why I was stopping AGAIN.  I said, “I just feel like we’ve gone to far and I’m not going to go one foot further until I’m positive it’s right.”  Another check of the maps and still nothing pinned down to my satisfaction, I said, “We have to go back.”  As we rode back toward the downtown, I pointed at a bridge and said – “We’re crossing THAT bridge and we’ll figure it out on the other side.”


Photo snagged from the internet -as I was DONE caring about taking pictures at this point.

We knew we had several miles to go and were just feeling mentally drained from all the hurdles of the day and this was nearly the final straw.  We said if we couldn’t sort it out after the bridge, we’d call for a ride and try again the next day.

We managed to navigate uphill through the city streets for a few blocks until we were on the road that connected to the bridge.  It was not Wabasha bridge, but as we began to cross I noticed that there were signs for a detour route for Wabasha Bridge.  As it turns out, the Wabasha Bridge was closed and the bridge I’d picked was the one we needed that day.  Lucky guess! Once across the bridge and back on track our only goal was to get to the hotel and finally call it a day.  By that time I was done taking pictures…and there wasn’t much to take pictures of anyway.

Laura says she wishes she’d taken a picture of us when we knocked on the hotel door – I believe she used the word bedraggled.  We had been out on the road for about 8 hours and only 5 of them were actual riding time.  A lot of stops and starts and aggravations for sure.  To put the icing on the cake – the hot tub was out of order.  …on the one day we needed it the most.

Categories: Coon Rapids to S. St. Paul, Mississippi River Trail 2015

3 replies

  1. I got tired just reading about your day of frustration! Hoping things have smoothed out now for you & that the bluebird weather we’ve had extends in your direction….Keep the rubber side down!

  2. What a day! Life would be dull if all trails were as easy to follow as the Danube 🙂

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