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We’re back from a beginner Bikepacking trip on the Root River Trail in Southern MN! 🎉

I had the privilege of planning and leading this trip trough Thrive Women’s Outdoor Adventures in Hudson WI, and we had THE BEST TIME!

Instant friendships, good local food, an impromptu hoedown and tractor pull…and a careful ride around a stubborn timber rattler parked in the middle of the trail!

I’ve wanted to do a trip like this for a long time. Thanks for letting me dream this adventure up and to all of the amazing women that joined! I hope our trip report inspires you to get out there and try something fun and new!

Lets go!

TRIP DETAILS

LENGTH 42.3 miles of paved trails – we recorded 95 miles out and back with a side trip.
DIFFICULTY easy with a few hills
DATE VISITED July 28-31, 2022
MAIN FEATURES The Root River State Trail is a paved multi-use trail in rural southeastern Minnesota. It is primarily used for biking, walking, inline skating and cross country skiing. The trail winds along the Root River through farmlands, forests, fields of wildflowers and over several bridges, making for a scenic excursion however you traverse it. Since the trail was a former railway, most of the trail is flat and the hills are gradual and smooth. Historic buildings, wildlife, great local food, camping, indoor accomodations and plenty of scenic stops make this a great trail for all types of riders.

The trail intersects with six towns along the way making it easy to choose your distance:

History of the Trail

The Root River State Trail is a former Milwaukee Road railway that was abandoned in the 1970’s and converted into a paved multi-use trail that opened in the mid 1980’s. The trail has had a few expansions since it’s original design and connects to the Harmony-Preston State Trail to make a 60 mile combined length. The Harmony-Preston segment has steeper hills and sharper turns (we did not ride this segment).

No filter – rode straight up that 500+ foot hill on day two.

Driftless Area

This section is also known as the Driftless Area or Region- a large region in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa that was essentially skipped over during the ice age, lacking the glacial deposits that formed the characteristic topography and landscape in the rest of the region. What makes this area unique are the relatively steep peaks and valleys with elevations ranging between 600 to 1,700 feet. You will also find fewer or a complete absence of lakes in this region. The pointed hills or “mini mountains” give a beautiful contrast and backdrop to the wide open farm fields and river beds. You can learn more about the Driftless Region here.

Know Before You Go

  • The Root River Trail does not require a fee or trail pass in the summer, but you will need a ski pass in the winter.
  • Cell phone service is good near trail towns, but may not be available on more remote sections of the trail. I brought my Garmin InReach (because I have one and I was the trip leader) in case of emergency.   
  • Bathrooms and water stops are limited to trail towns, so make sure to plan ahead and bring plenty of water.
  • In the summer, the trees offer a good shade canopy, but there are also sections of full sun exposure, sun protection and hydration should be a consideration.
  • Rattlesnakes may be found on this trail, so use caution and avoid them the best you can.
  • Before you hit the trail on a bike, familiarize yourself with bike etiquette and share the trail with others.
  • A list of trail do’s and don’ts can be found here

Campsites and Accomodations

Each trail town has either camping or modest indoor accomodations available for those needing an overnight spot. Many of those resources can be found here.

Our group camped for the two nights that we were on the trail, so we made the town of Rushford our basecamp and stayed at the Northend Municipal Campground. The city campground is a small very well maintained campground that has 4-5 electric sites, a few open fields for tents and a nice picnic shelter. I also chose this location because it is centrally located and has two bathrooms and one shower. At the time of writing this, the campsites are $12 per tent per night (with tax) and reservations or drop ins are made through Pam’s Corner Store in Rushford.

Camp sweet camp

I called ahead to reserve 9 spots since we were a big group, but same day drop ins are also welcome. If you are bringing a hammock, the only spot to hang is on the picnic shelter posts. You can probably get 8 hammocks in there-the rest of the park is wide open with intermittent walnut trees.

Trip Notes

Day 1: Friday July 29 – 30.3 miles

Started at Fountain: met at trailhead at 10:30, to load up and get ready to roll. There is no official address for the trailhead, but it is located at approx 428 City Rd 8, Fountain MN and you will see a playground and a large parking lot where the trail begins.

Lanesboro: 11mi ride through cattle farms, fields of fragrant wildflowers and under a canopy of trees. Downhill for a long stretch, arrived around 12-12:30.

Lunch at the Pedal Pusher Cafe-outdoor seating + veg/gluten free options – I had a california burger with a big side of roasted brussels sprouts – yum!

Whalan: 4.5 mile ride to the Aroma Pie Shop. Big bike rack, plenty of shaded areas to rest and hydrate. The pie shop is a must see and is right on the trail. I highly recommend the rhubarb pie, but there were many delicious choices to choose from. Bathrooms are in the pie shop and at the trailhead on the east side of town.

Petersen: 9 mile ride- features include a rail station museum, Burdeys cafe (farm to table fare) and a photo with the GIANT GNOME!

As we were wrapping up our photo shoot, a rider stopped by to tell us there was a timber rattlesnake just past the bridge. We weren’t sure what to watch for… but right after the bridge we saw this huge pile of snake and heard its rattle before we saw it. It rattled loudly the whole time we were there and we all took our turns giving it a wide berth in order to move along. That snake wasn’t gonna move for anyone!

Photo: Jill Willeke (cropped and zoomed in from a safe distance away!)

Note: timber rattlesnakes are rare but can be found in Southern Minnesota near Bluff country. Some consider it a rare privilege to see one and I hope I never get that rare privilege again

Rushford: 4.8 miles to camp – dinner options: Creamery Pizza and Ice Cream, Shawnees Bar & Grill or Stumpy’s Bar & Grill

We got ourselves unpacked, set up and settled in and then rode back to the Creamery for dinner.

Highly recommend the taco pizza, but maybe share it with a friend. The 10 inch pizza was way more than I could eat even after riding all day. The food was great, our server was exceptional and the owner was very friendly to our big group. We loved it so much that we returned the next night for dinner

Saturday July 30

Day 2:  26 miles (hilly)

Rushford:  Woke up to a thick blanket of fog and a wet tarp. The river provides so much moisture and condensation in our recessed little campsite.

A few of us early birds headed down to the Norseland Lefse shop to grab a 7 am breakfast and check out the local fare. They had an enormous breakfast burrito called the “ultimate supreme uffda burrito” or something like that – so I HAD to order it. HIGHLY RECOMMEND! Go give the shop some love and eat one of these monsters, it will last you all day! Plus, Uffda is one of my favorite multi-purpose words, and the shop had some really fun Norwegian foods and trinkets.

For the rest of the trip, I called my bike the “uffdamobile”

Houston: 13 miles

On our way into town, we met a local guy who gave us the lay of the land. Turns out we were going to visit during the Houston Hoedown – a multi day town festival including a tractor pull, music and lots of other fun things to do! But first, Lunch:  Smoothies and sandwiches Barista Coffee!

After lunch, we stopped by the cornhole tournament, went to a craft fair and took a siesta outside of the International Owl Center. We opted out of the Owl Center tour since a program was already in progress, but did spend some time in the local nature center and natural playground to have a little fun.

The highlight of our Houston visit was watching the tractor pull! I’m not 100% sure what is supposed to happen at a tractor pull, as I have never been to one….but it was fun to watch these big machines lumber along, pulling stuff…but no one in the stands was clapping or cheering as they went by. We fixed that with 9 women ringing bike bells, clapping, hopping up and down, yelling and cheering for each tractor that pulled something from one end of the stand to the other. The tractor drivers seemed to appreciate it, and we all got a kick out of it.

Rushford: 13 miles back home to camp

Another delicious dinner at The Creamery. I had a taco salad this time so I could have some room for a double scoop waffle cone. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

After dinner “the Goat” and I took a side trip and decided to ride up the local mini-mountain to catch the sunset. Maglesson bluff park has about a 500+ foot incline in less than .5 miles, which felt like riding straight up for us flatlanders. We chugged up the hill with full bellies and reached our lowest gear right before the summit. I walked the last bit and thought to myself “gosh, this was a dumb idea…I hope we make it before sunset”

AND WE DID! AND IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT!

The view of the Rushford Valley was expansive and had about a 270 degree span. (Im not a mathmatician, but the range seemed very similar to the 270° overlook at the Northern Terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail)

It was such a great way to see the topography of the driftless region and enjoy out last night in town before heading back. We eventually made our way down and were glad to have our bike lights and a short little ride back to camp.

Sunday July 31

Day 3:  30.3 miles

Rushford: We got up and packed up camp early. Rode the short distance into town to kwiktrip for breakfast because that was the only thing that was open on a Sunday morning. Would’ve loved to have rolled into a local church but we were ready to get on the road. I led a short time of reflection for the group and then we started peddling back towards Fountain.

Whalan: We stopped for an ice cream, pie and a shade break under the trees. The bike rack was overflowing and the pie shop had people outside the front door. Very popular destination on a weekend and totally worth a stop. I had rhubarb pie on the way in and decided to eat my banana under a shady tree on the way out. Need to save room for lunch. Five more miles to Lanesboro.

Lanesboro: We ate lunch at the Pedal Pushers Cafe again. The food was great and it was nice to be able to order food and sit outside with our bikes. I had fish tacos and delicious coleslaw with a tall ice cold root beer. The gang is doing great the sun is hot but this section of the trail has a lot of shade so we were all doing pretty well.

We stopped for one more peek down at the bridge on the river before heading up to the big decorative sign to pose for a little photo shoot. We had so much fun celebrating and enjoying this trip. It was the perfect combination of challenge and comfort. All of us commented that we didn’t feel the need to push extra hard strenuous miles it was really fun to laugh and enjoy ourselves riding from ice cream shops to pie shops and camping in the city park, making it really felt like an adventure.

Fountain: Last section before Fountain! This section was a nice long downhill when we started the trail which means that we had a nice steady uphill ride on our way back! Fortunately, we all did a lot of riding with loaded gear before this trip. But, no matter how hard you train, you’re still going to ride a little slower and a little differently with gear on your bike. So it was great to have a really open timeline that allowed for this difference in riding and plenty of breaks.

We finished our ride at 3:00, celebrated our accomplishments and started the process of cleaning up, loading up and heading our way back home.

Training

A note about training: One of our Thrive Leaders is a personal trainer and put together a great plan for us 8 weeks before the trip. I gave her the trip details and we came up with a plan that had us in the saddle for at least three hours at a time once a week and doing back to back 20 mile rides. It was a great way to stay accountable and make sure that our bodies are prepared for the trip. Some may this this is over-preparing for a beginner trip like ours, but it was an essential component to our enjoyment and safety on the trip and I’m really proud of each rider for preparing and conditioning themselves. Fortunately, we had zero injuries, accidents or mechanical failures but, as the leader I was prepared to address all of those things just in case. Glad it went so well!

Gear Faves

Each participant on this trip received a recommended packing list that I created. It is based on my S24O gear list, and you can read more about what I learned on that trip and my packing list here.

One of my favorite pieces of gear on the trip was the custom bike bag I designed and sewed two weeks before the trip. I really liked how it worked and it’s so multi purpose! It is made from scratch out of repurposed leggings, buckles, a tote bag and some ripstop fabric I had laying around. It was the first big sewing project I have embarked on since sewing pandemic masks and making my own ultralight backpack a few years ago. It was a great creative outlet and satisfying to be able to make something so useful out of stuff I already had on hand.

Check out my complete gear & packing list from my shakedown trip here – including cooler weather items and food

*Note: I did not carry any food on this trip aside from a some electrolytes and a couple of no-so-tasty protein bars to have for emergencies. I added sun sleeves and a bathing suit and eliminated my rain jacket, fleece, puffy jacket, stove, cup, frame bag, baselayers, compression sleeves and sleeping bag liner due to warmer weather.

Final Thoughts

Pro Tip: Gas Station Firewood makes a great background

I would love to see this trail in the Fall. It might be even more enjoyable riding with beautiful scenery of the turning leaves. But we all agreed that we’d have to take more gear to stay warm and that would also be something to consider. Definitely worth a trip back.

Have you been bikepacking, or are you itching to try your first trip? Have you ridden the Root River Trail? I’d love to hear about it! Drop me a note in the comments or say a little hello on the Wandering Pine FB & IG.

Happy Trails!

~WP

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