Russ and I meandered with our Scamp trailer to Lanesboro, Minnesota, a small town not far from the Iowa border. I almost lived in Lanesboro, once, back when I was working for Mayo Clinic, which is a bit north of it. (But then Duluth and the call of Lake Superior won out and my family stayed in Duluth.)
Lanesboro is set in a limestone valley cut by the Root River. It hosts live theater, art galleries, and museums — as if all the creative people from the surrounding flat farmland tumbled into the valley and decided to stay. Had I lived there, I’m sure I would have felt at home. As it is, at least I get to visit it occasionally.
What attracted us weren’t the numerous bed and breakfast inns (Lanesboro is known as Minnesota’s Bed and Breakfast Capitol) or the rhubarb (also known as Minnesota’s Rhubarb Capitol), but Lanesboro’s bike trail.
The Root River Bike Trail runs right through the community. The forty-two-mile-long trail saved this little town from becoming a ghost of itself over thirty years ago when the trail was built by the state on an abandoned railroad bed.
We Scamped just outside of town at the Eagle Cliff Campground. As we drove to the campground in the evening, fireflies were out in full force, lighting up the roadside ditches and the forest edges. When we arrived, the campground hosts moved us to an upgraded site (pull-through with full hook-ups to water/electric/sewer) at no extra cost because a family reunion was going on in the site next to the one we originally signed up for. With that, we could already tell it was a well-run facility and the rest of our trip confirmed that good first impression.
That first night, we ate a quick and simple meal of scrambled eggs and Spam. In case you’re not aware, the home of Spam (a ground pork canned meat product) is not far away from Lanesboro, in Austin, Minnesota. We like to use it when camping because it’s tasty and easy. Since we were so close to its birthplace, we had to make sure we brought it along on this particular trip. Someday, I’d love to go to the Spam Museum, but we didn’t have time on this trip.
We stayed at the campground for four nights. Our first day, we bicycled from the town of Whalen to Peterson. Access to the Root River trail in Whalen was available via a short bike ride through the campground and down the quiet local highway. It was twenty miles from the campground to Peterson and back.
One thing I love about the Root River Trail is that it’s well shaded. Trees line most of it, providing welcome relief, especially when temps were in the 80s like they were for us. The trail is also in good shape. Hardly any potholes or tree root bumps were to be found. The trail follows the river and is relatively flat. Quaint farms and cornfields line the parts that aren’t forested. Yet another thing I like is that the trail is free to use, unlike some of the trails Russ and I bike up north.
A variety of birds flitted across in front of us or called from the trees. We saw orioles and cardinals, heard catbirds, cowbirds and house wrens. At our campground, a pair of eagles were nesting nearby, and we watched black vultures circle around the bluffs that surround the valley. We also heard a rooster or two as we biked past farmsteads.
The area must have had a good amount of rain this season – everything was green and smelled verdant – like a newly mowed lawn.
A note of caution: wild parsnip plants line the trail – you don’t want to come in contact with those. I also found out the hard way that stinging nettles can be found along the trail. My legs got a brief dose while I was taking the photo of the barn found in this post. Dedicated photographer that I am, I stood in them just long enough to get the photo. My legs stung, but not for long. The movement of biking and the fact that I wasn’t in the nettles long helped, I think. I just gritted my teeth and ignored the pain!
When we reached Peterson, we rested at a picnic table set up for bikers in town. We took the requisite tourist photos next to the town’s large welcome sign gnome. As we rehydrated, we were treated to the sight of a man driving a motorcycle with his German shepherd in the sidecar. They drove past us twice before we decided it was time to bike back to our campground.
The temperatures climbed into the 90s the next two days, so we opted for cooler forms of entertainment. One day, we visited Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota, about fifteen miles south of Lanesboro. I’ll write more about that in a separate post. The next day we went tubing down the river. The campground offered a shuttle service and tubes at a reasonable cost. They drove us to a drop-off spot, and it took us about two hours to tube back to the campground. We just hopped out of the river at the campground landing and brought our tubes back to the office. It worked out pretty slick. The only thing that gave me pause is the lack of instruction by the shuttle driver. He just made some joke about hoping we all had our wills updated and then dropped us off. (!!)
There’s really not much to tubing other than avoiding strainers (trees that lean into the river – you can get stuck in them) and to wear sunscreen. I was so hot and sweaty when I applied my sunscreen, it must not have worked. I looked like a lobster the next day and am in the delightful peeling process now.
The river was murky but cool and refreshing. I enjoyed getting to know the river better. I saw three fish jump, lots of red-winged blackbirds and vultures, and we passed a Canada goose nesting area complete with goose families.
The final morning of our trip, the temps dropped into the 80s again, so we hit the bike trail. We drove into Lanesboro and began from the trailhead near the bass pond. We pedaled west toward the town of Fountain, turning back at the trail junction (where it joins the Harmony-Preston Trail). On our return, we stopped at the Old Barn Resort for lunch – an interesting historical site connected to the Allis Chalmers Machinery Company. Lots of cliff swallows nest under the barn’s eves.
Another great place to eat is Pedal Pushers Café in Lanesboro. We stopped there on one of the hot days after hitting the gift shops and walking around the town. The food at the café is locally sourced and very good!
If you’re ever looking for a quaint Minnesota getaway, put the Lanesboro area on your list. You’ll be glad you did. We came home refreshed and sunburnt, but happy.