The Dakota Rail Trail between may well be our newest trail in the metro area. Back in 2009, when the portion of the trail between Wayzata and St. Bonifacious opened, I rode the trail and did a trip report on it here. Since that initial ride, a cafe has opened at the trailhead in St. Bonifacious and the trail is seeing regular use. The ride from Wayzata to St. Bonifacious really is a lovely route and includes a rail bridge over a narrow portion of Lake Minnetonka (the Arcola Bridge), as well scenic views of Lake Minnetonka and Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden, which is a destination that is well worth seeing.
The original portion of the trail in Hennepin County extended 13.5 miles through Wayzata, Orono, Minnetonka Beach, Mound, Spring Lake and St Bonifacious. The Dakota Rail Trail has now been extended almost 9 miles beyond St. Bonifacious to Mayer. On May 21, 2011 there was a grand opening celebration for the extension. I missed that event, but finally rode the length of the trail from Wayzata to Mayer on July 5 to check out the extension.
The most impressive feature of the extension is the massive bike bridge over Highway 7 in St. Bonifacious. It’s not quite another Sabo Bridge, but it’s quite large and striking. This bridge is the only real topography on the whole trail – it’s not as steep as it looks, but you’ll have to either shift down or get out of the saddle to climb this one. The route from St. Boni to Mayer is as scenic, or perhaps more scenic, than the route from St. Boni to Wayzata. Wetlands, farm fields and forested areas make up the majority of the route. The portion of the trail on the north side of Lake Waconia is particularly nice.
This was one of the best birding trails that I have ever ridden. I saw (or in some cases heard) a number interesting birds, including Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Brown thrasher, Ruby-throated hummingbird, Woodcock or Snipe (they move pretty fast and it’s hard to tell from a moving bike without binoculars) as well as the usual birds we see all the time.
In Mayer, there is a new trailhead with public parking. Mayer offers a gas station convenience store, a bar that serves food and a hardware store all very close to the trailhead.
The extension brings the Hennepin County portion of the Dakota trail to about 22 miles in length. Starting at either end gives you a 44 mile ride, but if you are looking something shorter, I recommend starting in St. Boni; there is public parking at the trailhead and that cafe I mentioned earlier as well, and you could ride to either direction and not go wrong. Public parking, and trail markings for that matter, are scarce in Wayzata. I found it difficult to find the trailhead the first time I rode this from Wayzata and noted no improvement in signage on my July 5 trip.
The Hennepin County portion of the Dakota is well worth the trip and offers some of the best scenery I’ve sampled on a rail trail. If you have not ridden this, make a point to get this one checked off this season!