The best bike path in Minnesota has to be the Root River Trail. The path is visited by thousands of visitors each season because of it’s flat terrain that winds around the root river valley. It passes through a bunch of small resort towns you don’t want to miss. During the summer my family will make special camping trips just to go biking and float down the river. This is the first time that we took a trip down there to check out all the little towns along the way.
First stop was in the town of Harmony, MN to Niagara Cave. We had just gone camping a couple days before in 90 degree weather and figured the 48 degree constant temperatures of the cave would be a good break. I’m glad that we brought our coats, because you definitely needed them.
There are a few caves in MN. Mystery cave is the other cave in this region, just a few minutes away. It requires a reservation and is handicap accessible. According to the some reviews it’s a lot less commercial, probably because it’s state run. But the nice thing about Niagara Cave is they have a giant waterfall running through it, which my daughter loved. They also don’t have any bats, which made me happy at the time. I found out later at Crystal Cave that the bats are nothing to worry about.
Having not been in a cave in since I was a kid, I was probably more excited then my daughter. They have a bunch of fossils along the cave walls. The place has plenty of railing on all stairs. Even though there was water dripping down or ‘Cave Kisses’ as they call it, I never felt unsafe. There were great formations that they have lit up for you. They didn’t have as many of the classic stalactites/stalagmite that I anticipated but still was pretty cool.
Expect to pay $14 for adults and $8 for 4+ to enter. Tours leave every 15 mins. Or on very hot days during the summer they may leave every 10 mins but you could be waiting up to an hour to get in. Remember that every step you go down, you have to go back up. So if you are caring say, a 20lb toddler with you, you will probably be out of breath by the time you get to the surface again.
They have miniature golf out front as well as a place that kids can pan for gems and fossils. It costs anywhere from $5 – $10 for a bag of sediment that they can pan though.
Harmony is also known for its Amish tours. I’m sure that you could probably do your own by driving some back roads, but it wouldn’t be as informative. They had a roadside shop where my husband and I fell in love some of their furniture. We will probably be going back to get our new Kitchen table in a few years!
Next up, Lanesboro. It about a 10-minute drive from highway 52 and it’s totally worth the drive. They have a traditional downtown to hang out in. The town doubles or triples in size during the peak bike times during the weekends due to the Root River Trail running right down the center of town. Make sure to keep an eye out for them as you are driving because it can get a little crazy. I stop at the Barn Sale a the end of the street. It’s was leaning more towards ‘Flea Market’ but had some fun things to look at.
I recommend staying at one of the bed and breakfast in town. They are booming with them. There are also have many water adventure outfitters to choose from. A lot of people will rent inner tubes and canoes to float down the river. Most of the outfitters will pick you up at the end of the trip from the river as well. We could have spent the whole day there if we wanted. For more info… check out www.lanesboro.com
Chatfield is another small town along the way but with the exception of a great play place. We would drive by this one all the time and I would look through the passenger window in wonder. It was so fun to actually be able to stop with my kids. The Tot Town was by far my favorite. Great way to let your kids get out some road trip energy without having to go off the batten path.
- Cave pictures are not as easy as I thought to take.
- Mystery Cave has bats.
- The bridge connecting the Root River Trail to Lanesboro is currently under major construction and maybe being rebuilt. Check before biking the trail to see if it’s open.
- Fountain is known as the Sink Hole Capital of the World. At the start of the bike trail, there is an overlook that shows a sinkhole that’s 1/2 mile wide.
- Whalan does Parades a little differently. They call it a Stand Still Parade. The running joke is that the town is so small, the onlookers just walk so the parade doesn’t have to leave the town.
- All the towns have so much character and hidden gems, you can’t do it all in just one trip. If you really want to see it, you may want to spend the night.