Trail: Big Rivers Regional Trail (aka the Mendota Trail)

Description: This trail follows the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and gives you a nice, scenic view of the rivers.  It's built on an old railroad grade, but that doesn't make it flat.

Getting there: To get to the Lilydale entrance, take Highway 35E to Highway 13 (just south of the river).  Go north on 13 for about a block or two, then turn right on Lilydale Road.  This curves under Highway 13 and goes down to the bottom of the hill.  If you start at this entrance, you'll be skating uphill. There is a newly built parking lot (as of 2005) right next to Lilydale Road. DO NOT PARK IN THE LILYDALE YACHT CLUB PARKING LOT -- they will get upset and call the police. Park along Lilydale Road if possible; if not, there is a parking lot 3/4 mile north of the yacht club.
To get to the other (higher elevation) trailhead in Mendota Heights: Take Highway 55 south over the Mendota Bridge. Stay on 55 and turn right onto Highway 13, then turn right at Mendota Heights Road. The trailhead is at the junction of Highway 13 and Sibley Memorial Highway (old Highway 13).  If you start here, you'll start skating downhill, but you need to skate back uphill to get back to your car.

Length: About 3 1/2 miles one way between Lilydale and Mendota Heights.  You can also go east (on a combination of a paved road and trails) through Lilydale to Harriet Island in St. Paul.  (There are some areas with rough surfaces in that direction, though.)

Difficulty: Intermediate.  It's a long uphill climb from one end of the trail to another, but it's not extremely tough.  After all, trains used to travel up this hill.

Popularity/number of other users: This has a moderate number of bikers and hikers, but it isn't crowded.  All users share the same trail surface, which is about 10 feet wide.

Surface conditions: Excellent -- this is a new trail (built in 1998) and the asphalt is in very good condition.

Scenery: Lots of it -- you can see the river bluffs, and all of the wildlife and plant life along the rivers themselves.

Nearby restaurants: Moose Country, located in Diamond Jim's Mall in Lilydale, is a good choice for groups.  It's primarily a bar/restaurant combination. Il Nonni, at the top of the bluff in Lilydale (behind the Holiday station), offers fine Italian food. There are also plenty of restaurants a short drive south on 35E in Eagan, in the Town Center development.

Water: None available on the trail.  There are two convenience stores at the top of the hill in Lilydale.

Comments: I like the scenery on this trail, and it's a good workout to go uphill.

Official web site: Big Rivers (Dakota County)


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