Weekend Tourist: If I can do it, you too can bike to Stillwater!

National accolades for biking in this more-frozen-than-not state continue to pile up. Minneapolis is number one for bike-friendly, number two for bicycle commuting, and Minnesota was designated Best Trails State. I haven’t done an official count, but I’m pretty sure we have more bike shops per capita than anywhere. So if your bike isn’t up and running, get to your neighborhood shop so you can join the two-wheel fun!

My friend Charlie (aka The Percolator) and I were enjoying a cup at one of our favorite bike/coffee shops, One on One, when we told Andy, the barista, about our Memorial Weekend plans to bike to Stillwater. He said, “Oh yeah, that’s a nice ride. You can go there and back in a day.”

My favorite biking shoes are patent leather sandals, I made a colorful purse that hooks around an array of handlebar accessories, I wear a helmet. But I can’t really say I fit in with the messenger crowd or have a Tour de France physique. So I decided to fess up to Andy. “We’re staying overnight.” He turned around with our coffees; mine with cream. “Well, actually, we’re staying two nights.”

After all, it’s not a race. Why not just enjoy the scenery?

From downtown Minneapolis to Stillwater it’s about 30 miles. Nearly the entire route is off-road bike trails with a few share-the-road trails. A big planner, I made our own detailed map with potential stops for air, water, or where to wait out a storm. Starting at the Stone Arch Bridge we passed the fairgrounds, Como Park, and saw Saint Paul’s skyline from a bridge over 35E. But the best part of the route is the Gateway Trail — an 18-mile state trail that follows a mostly level converted rail line. The trail goes between houses and golf courses as it leaves the city, then passes through woods, meadows, marshlands, and farms. We saw turtles, a wild turkey, egrets, and quite a few horses who have their own path alongside our paved trail. We packed a lunch and sat for nearly an hour on a pleasant picnic table overlooking a park. North Saint Paul’s giant snowman welcomed us at the halfway point and we couldn’t resist a photo op. A few miles before the end of the Gateway Trail we turned right onto County Road 12’s nice off-road trail. This hilly stretch runs between fields and eventually turns into Myrtle Street — Stillwater’s road to the lift bridge.

We started at 10 a.m. and by 5 p.m. we arrived in Stillwater — remember, it wasn’t a race. There are numerous places to stay in Stillwater. We chose the William Sauntry Mansion, a six-room bed and breakfast in an 1881 lumber baron’s home. The place and proprietors were terrific. Lots of carved woodwork, stained glass, hand-painted ceilings, gas fireplaces, plenty of antiques, and savory breakfasts served on the Sauntry family’s original dining room table. If you stay there, request a room with a Swedish steam shower — carwash-like jets of water blast away any biking pain.

Restaurants and shops abound in Stillwater. We spent the evening and the whole next day browsing antique shops and bookstores. My parents met us in Stillwater and Dad biked back with us — this was an easy trip for him — he’s been on two “Century” rides. Even though we had to walk up a couple big hills and hung out for a concert at Lake Como’s historic pavilion, we got home two hours earlier (maybe it was a race). We biked to Stillwater — and back. It sounds vast and impressive. But you can do it too. Thank you to all who voted “yes” on the Legacy Amendment. You’ve literally helped pave the way for more Minnesota bike trails.  

For a copy of my route map, write to WeekendTourist@mnpubs.com.

Ice cream break
Get your custom Blizzard about halfway at Dairy Queen (Century Avenue, North Saint Paul).