Biking options of all kinds abound in the Valley.
No one looks forward to the spring bicycling season more than those of us who really know winter. Whether you’re a road racer, a mountain biker or a parent with bike trailers and co-pilots in tow, the St. Croix Valley has so many excellent options, it might just make your wheels spin. Read on for routes in Minnesota and Wisconsin, on paved surfaces (dedicated and road-sharing), as well as dirt and gravel, and for a few invaluable insider tips from some local experts.
Get yourself a map. Doug Shidell puts out an updated Twin Cities bike map every three years or so; he published the newest in 2015. Minneapolis–St. Paul bikeways are on one side of the large, fold-out map; the other side covers the entire metro area, including the St. Croix Valley from Hastings to Marine on St. Croix, Minn. The map is highly detailed and differentiates (by color and other graphics) local bike trails, major trails and “trail” trails, plus bicycle-friendly roads and bicycle-friendly roads with traffic. If you prefer a mobile version, get the PDF maps app for free and download Twin Cities bike map (purchased and free options available).
One of the most recent additions to Shidell’s bike maps is the Brown’s Creek Trail, a paved, dedicated bikeway that runs along the path of the old Zephyr dinner train from the St. Croix River in north Stillwater to the Gateway Trail in Grant. It replaces the previous Stillwater-to-Gateway Trail connection (tough hill, road biking with lots of traffic) with a paved, bikes-only path and a much more gradual grade change. Once you’ve connected to the Gateway, your options are nearly limitless. Go southwest to the Twin Cities and beyond on a remarkable variety of dedicated, family-friendly pathways, or follow the directions on the kiosk at the intersection of the Brown’s Creek and the Gateway trails for a family-friendly side trip to Pine Point Park.
For the family with somewhat older kids and teens, Shidell describes a hidden gem on Grey Cloud Island, just west of Hudson on the Mississippi River. “It’s quiet, scenic and not very hilly,” Shidell says. “It’s kind of cool to ride around the island.”
On-road Biking in Wisconsin and Minnesota
A great map, Bike Circle Tours of St. Croix County, is available through hudsonwi.org/play/cycling (scroll down to County Bike Circle Route.pdf). Here you’ll find five separate circle tours centering on the cities of Glenwood, Hudson, River Falls, New Richmond and Baldwin, Wis. Options include 15-mile to more than 60-mile loops.
On-road biking options also abound on the Minnesota side. Lev Kalemkiarian works at the Chilkoot Café and Cyclery on Fourth Street in Stillwater. He recommends an approximately 30-mile loop from Stillwater, taking Highway 95 north to Marine on St. Croix. “You’ll go up Nason Hill, loop around Square Lake Road, and head back on Norell Avenue back into town,” he explains. It’s generally not too hilly, he says, but adds that “Nason Hill has a reputation among bikers far and wide.” Biking along 95 is best for cyclists comfortable with a fair amount of traffic, he says, particularly on weekends and in the fall, although there’s about 8 feet of shoulder and “plenty of room to ride.” He and his wife have even seen wildlife along the way, including a black bear crossing the road.
Another good route heads south to the city of Afton, Kalemkiarian says. The Stagecoach Trail goes through the city of Bayport and is an especially nice ride. “Just beware there are a few hills over in Afton,” he warns. The loop from Stillwater is about 20 miles total. “Road biking is sometimes thought of as mainly for bikers interested in training,” Kalemkiarian says, “but really, anyone can do it.”
Share the road in Wisconsin. Art Doyle, the 32-year owner of Art Doyle’s Spokes and Pedals in Hudson (spokesandpedals.com), says, “Road biking is huge in Wisconsin.” He estimates that rural riding in St. Croix County is 97 percent paved-road riding. “If you want to experiment with road riding,” Doyle says, “just learn the rules. Cyclists and motorists all follow the same rules.” Doyle recommends consulting the bike maps at co.saint-croix.wi.us.
There’s no more mountain biking at Afton Alps. As a result of the 2013 sale of Afton Alps to Epic (part of Vail Resorts management company), one of St. Croix Valley’s favorite Minnesota-side mountain biking resources has been lost.
Many options remain for the off-road cyclist. Troy Sierakowski of Chilkoot Café and Cyclery (chilkootcc.com) mentions three: Carver Lake Park in Woodbury, Minn., which has 5¼ miles of mountain biking for beginner to intermediate skill levels; Woolly Trail near St. Croix Falls, Wis., which “is roughly 7½ miles of mixed intermediate and advanced trails, some technical but many OK for the beginner”; and White Tail Trail in River Falls, Wis., a choice seconded by Art Doyle—“7 miles of twisty single-track trails, hilly because of the area’s glacial deposits,” he says. Visit kinnioffroad.com and morcmtb.org for more information.
Gravel is where it’s at. Chilkoot Café’s Lev Kalemkiarian gives us the inside scoop on biking’s hottest surface—gravel. “Adventure racing is taking off right ow,” he says. Despite its name, “it’s kind of more relaxed and fun.”
A Gravel Primer
You have to search for gravel biking in the St. Croix Valley, Doyle says; there’s not much on the Wisconsin side. One type of Wisconsin gravel biking can be found on the 7.6-mile Wildwood Trail between Woodville and Spring Valley in St. Croix County, but it’s a mixed-use trail, also accommodating horseback riders, snowmobilers, walkers and hikers, and not quite what many “gravel-grinders” are looking for. On the Minnesota side, “you might find gravel mixed up into any number of routes,” Kalemkiarian says. There’s a stretch straight off Nason Hill, and a few that connect up in the Square Lake and the Marine on St. Croix areas. Your best bet, says Kalemkiarian, might be to consult chilkootvelo.com.
Even better, says Kalemkiarian, stop by the Chilkoot Café and Cyclery in downtown Stillwater. “We sponsor a number of group rides out of the shop, rides organized by type of trail or type of rider or skill level. We’re passionate about helping anybody get on a bike,” he says.
Kalemkiarian himself is a competitive racer, a Category 1 cyclist, which is the highest amateur ranking. He’s also an exercise physiologist. His vow: “I’ll get you on whatever bike or surface makes you comfortable”—nearly irresistible in the Saint Croix Valley in springtime.
North Star Bicycle Festival
June 10–19, 2016
Includes stage and amateur races, and a circuit in Stillwater.
St. Croix Mammoth Gravel Classic
April 15, 2017 Distances of 35, 70 and 100 miles, start at St. Croix Falls.
Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride
April 23, 2017
Along the St. Croix River. No running or swimming required, just biking.