Pedaling the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway


An editorial by Glendon Hodges

Glendon Hodges is a graduate student in the technical communication program. His professional background and undergraduate degree are in journalism and his cycling background includes several years of commuting short distances in nice weather and planning elaborate bike tours.

There’s a particular feeling I get when I hop over the curb and onto a dedicated bike path. The stress of looking over my shoulder to keep an eye on traffic immediately lifts and leaves me feeling lighter. Minneapolis now has more than 92 miles of off-street bike paths, a fact that helps keep the city at the top of best-of lists for biking.

Nearly 35 miles of those bike paths connect to form a loop around the city called the Grand Rounds. This loop hits the highlights of Minneapolis parks. It runs through Theodore Wirth Park, along the Chain of Lakes, beside Minnehaha creek all the way to the falls, on either side of the Mississippi River, up to Saint Anthony Boulevard, and back to Victory Memorial Parkway. All the way around there are numerous other trails that lead to parks and lakes and greenways.

GrandRounds_signIn addition to the big attractions, the loop leads through some quiet stretches that are only accessible by bike. On a trip around the loop you can expect to see grassland and forests; rivers, lakes and creeks; and a surprising amount of wildlife. While the journey is the destination on this scenic ride, there are attractions along the way that are worth stopping for.

Here are a few of my favorite places to pause on the Grand Rounds:

Theodore Wirth Park Single track

While it may seem like overkill to take a break from a bicycle tour to get in a little off-road riding, it would be a shame to overlook this exciting side trip. The single track trails (accessible near the intersection of Highway 55 and Theodore Wirth Parkway) form two loops that provide more than four miles of technical challenges. And if these unpaved paths prove too much for your ride, I found out the hard way there is bicycle shop within walking distance of Theodore Wirth Park

Venture North Bike Walk & Coffee

The first time I took the Theodore Wirth single track detour on the Grand Rounds, I discovered with sudden clarity the benefits of bringing an extra tube with you. Nearing the end of a quick, challenging run, I could see the Grand Rounds path between the trees. I started getting excited and picking up speed. I hit the last couple jumps a little hard and felt the familiar drifting sensation as the back tire lost its air. No worries; I popped the wheel off, performed a little roadside surgery on the tube, and had it all back together in no time. As I started pumping the tube back up, I got a tad over-zealous and twisted the tip of the valve clean off. All of my initial pride rushed out with a sudden hiss of air. I pulled out my phone and found the closest bike shop. Lucky for me in the center of the Harrison neighborhood of north Minneapolis sits Venture North Bike Walk & Coffee. The hike from the Grand Rounds is less than two miles and the coffee is a surprisingly refreshing kick midway through a long ride. The business is a non-profit that supports youth leadership programs, so it’s possible to convince yourself that you’re actually being charitable when you forget to pack the proper supplies.

North Mississippi Park

NMP2_grand_roundsAt the risk of giving up one of my favorite pockets of the Minneapolis park system, I’ll mention the North Mississippi Park. In a thin strip of the west bank where the Grand Rounds crosses the Mississippi River on the north is one of the most secluded parks on the trip. With I-94 to the west and the river to the east, this park is nearly impossible to get to by chance; a dense network of paths wind through forest and prairie land with great views of the river. You’ll know you’re near an urban center from the traffic sound coming over the wall of I-94, but most of the time you’ll have the path all to yourself.

The truth is every time I take a trip on the Grand Rounds I find new stops and interesting side routes to explore. It is a feat of urban park planning that makes this area unique.