The Weekend Tourist / /A bike vacation to Excelsior

Bicycle commuting and excursions around town are easy these days thanks to the sprouting of new bike paths throughout our metro area, but what if you want to take a two-wheel vacation right outside your door?  

For the past couple years my sidekick, the Percolator, and I biked to Stillwater. We leisurely rode the 30-mile trip over most of a day stopping to sightsee and picnic along the way. Then we spent a day in Stillwater before heading home. It was a great escape. But this year we decided to head west.

I know, I know, some of you who are reading this are thinking: “What? A vacation in Excelsior? I bike that far on my daily commute.” Yes, it’s true. Many people actually pedal in from places as far away as Lake Minnetonka. A series of linked trails makes commuting a breeze — and traffic-free. Plus, it’s only about 23 flat miles between Downtown and Excelsior. So congratulations to all you corporate racers with showers in your offices — you make your health plan proud. However, I am a leisure biker. If I had to bike 23 miles to get to work I’d be sleeping under my desk. But call it a vacation and I’m in.

After tightly folding up enough clothes for the weekend into my wire bike basket and making sure we had water and snacks and spare innertubes, Perk and I headed out the front door and onto River Road. Near the Federal Reserve we turned onto the recently-completed Cedar Trail that passes under the Twins stadium and near Walker’s Sculpture Garden. A shower just passed through so the smooth blacktop trail glistened. Tall grasses, open space, and meandering trails made us feel like we were already miles away although 394 hummed nearby.

Getting to Excelsior is really easy — it’s off-road bike trail the whole way except about four blocks in Hopkins. The hardest part is keeping track of the trail names since they keep merging. We joined the Kennilworth Trail, Midtown Greenway, Minnesota River Bluffs Trail, and Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail. It’s paved half the way, then crushed limestone. There are plenty of places to stop for coffee, bathroom breaks, lunch, or even shopping. We even took in a gallery exhibit at Hopkins Center for the Arts.

There’s also a little history along the way. Just east of highway 100 is a 1939 WPA roadside reststop called Lilac Park. Originally there were seven of these parks along highway 100. Only two remain today and this one has several restored stone picnic tables and a central beehive fireplace. Also look for Nordic Ware’s nearby chimney-like signage — it’s actually the very first round concrete grain elevator. Built by Peavey-Haglin in 1899, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

After cutting diagonally through Hopkins the tree-lined trail winds in and out of neighborhoods in Minnetonka, Deephaven, and Excelsior catching glimpses of shimmering Lake Minnetonka. One left turn off the trail onto Water Street in Excelsior and we were at our destination, the Bird House Inn & Gardens, a quaint seven-room bed and breakfast in a 1858 house. The vast front porch and brick patio became our sanctuary for two nights.

Excelsior has grown a lot over the years. Upscale clothing stores and fine dining are mixed in with ice cream shops and antiques, but we still saw kids moseying down the sidewalk fishing poles over their shoulders. With a full day to mill around Excelsior we finally had time to ride the historic 1906 streetcar boat Minnehaha for a cruise around the bay. Just 23 miles from home — by bike — and we had a lakeside vacation.

For a copy of my trail map write to [email protected]


ICE CREAM BREAK

There’s always a Dairy Queen halfway on my bike trips — this one’s at 12940 Minnetonka Boulevard.