Looking to expand your bicycling range without getting in the car? Try Northstar Commuter Rail. The train can take you to the northern suburbs of Fridley, Coon Rapids and Anoka, or whisk you to the bedroom communities of Elk River and Big Lake. The riding opportunities are endless. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Fridley: Exit the train to the west parking lot and follow the bike path north along the tracks. It will lead you to the attractive Rice Creek Trail.
Coon Rapids: For the more experienced rider, the Coon Rapids station allows access to Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River or the trails in Bunker Hills Regional Park.
Anoka: I refer to this as the “Deck Chair and Ice Cream” ride. Pick up the Rum River
Trail just across 4th Ave from the train station and ride north. The trail hugs the river all the way to Bunker Hills Rd. Cross the river on the bike path and drop down to River’s Bend Park for more trails and more time along the banks of the river. It’s only 12 miles round trip, which gives you plenty of time to buy some ice cream and hang out in a deck chair in downtown Anoka. If that’s too easy, add a few miles by following the trail south along the Rum River.
Elk River: The first station to have more farmland than housing near it. Bring your mountain bike for a loop around the Hill City Park trails. The trail head is about a mile from the station. Road riders can take the long route into downtown Elk River or range further into the farm fields and wooded areas surrounding town.
Big Lake Station: Take it easy with a loop around Big Lake or throw in some adventure by riding to Lake Maria State Park for an overnight stay at one of the walk-in campsites or camper cabins. Return the next day for the train ride back to town.
Station-to-Station: Try something different by getting off at one station and riding to another along the line. The ultimate trip is to take the train to the end of the line (Big Lake) and ride all the way back to Minneapolis. There are two good routes back to the city, one on the north side of the Mississippi River and one south of the River. Distance is about 55 miles.
Last fall Metro Transit asked me to research bike routes around the train stations. Those routes are on the Metro Transit website (www.metrotransit.org/Northstar). As long as I was out there, I did some extra research, beyond the station towns. That’s when I discovered the loop to Lake Maria State Park and the station-to-station routes, including the routes back to Minneapolis. The results, with full color maps and information about fares, first arrival and last departure times, and suggested loops, are available on my website www.bikeverywhere.com.
Next time you want to try riding somewhere different. Check out Northstar. This bicycle friendly train will open up a whole new area for exploration.
Doug Shidell is the author and publisher of the Twin Cities Bike Map by Bikeverywhere. He is the author of Bicycle Vacation Guide, a guide to the rail trails of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin and has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles about bicycling. For more information, check his website http://www.bikeverywhere.com