MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Riding a bicycle from Chicago to Minneapolis

Can you give me a safe bike route from Chicago to Minneapolis for a beginning cyclist, not with a group? - Kathy, Chanhassen, Minn.

I'm not sure it's a good idea for a beginning cyclist to ride from Chicago to Minneapolis by herself it would be a good thing to have some road experience. And bicycling, like driving, never is totally "safe.''

But here's a plan that will take you most of the way on dedicated, off-road trails.

There are two ways to get out of the Chicago area.

1) Take the Metra train to Harvard. Just west of Harvard, take the Long Prairie Trail and the Stone Bridge Trail to just east of the small town of Rockton, three miles from the Wisconsin border.

From Rockton, ride 35 miles west on small county roads to Orangeville, where you can head north on the Jane Addams Trail, which connects to Wisconsin's Badger State Trail to Madison and the Capital City State Trail.

2) Take the Amtrak Hiawatha line to Milwaukee from Chicago. Check about bicycle policies. Here's a handy blog post about traveling with a bike on Amtrak.

From downtown Milwaukee, take the Hank Aaron State Trail (a gap is to be packed with gravel in summer 2011) to the New Berlin Recreational Trail to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail.

That will bring you almost to Madison. Head west on County Road BB/Cottage Grove Road to Lake Monona. Head around the south end of the lake to Olin Park, where you can catch the Capital City State Trail.

From Madison, ride the Capital City Trail to Dodgeville on the Military Ridge State Trail.

From Dodgeville, it's 46 miles north on Wisconsin 23, a fairly busy highway, to Reedsburg.

From Reedsburg, take the 400 to the Elroy-Sparta to the La Crosse River to the Great River state trails.

That will get you to Trempealeau on the Mississippi River. From there, continue up Wisconsin 35.

Then you have several options for getting to Minneapolis. Both involve riding on Wisconsin 35, which is a fairly busy highway but often used by bicyclists, especially north of Nelson.

1) It's 75 miles on Wisconsin 35 to Hagar City, Wis., where you'll cross the river to Red Wing. From here, you can catch Amtrak's Empire Builder and ride right into St. Paul.

Or, take the Cannon Valley Trail from Red Wing to Cannon Falls. Then you'll have to make your way 45 miles through exurbia to the town of Mendota, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi. From here, you can cross the Mendota Bridge and take trails past Fort Snelling to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis and the Grand Rounds trail.

2) It's 133 miles on Wisconsin 35 to Houlton, Wis. Cross the St. Croix River to Stillwater, Minn. Take Elm Street to Owens Street/County Road 5 and head north (it becomes Norell Avenue/County Road 55).

At Pine Point Park, head west on the Gateway State Trail all the way into St. Paul. Shortly before the end of the trail, get off at Wheelock Parkway and head west to Como Park.

Take Como Avenue to the west edge of the State Fairgrounds, where you can take the bus/bike-only Transitway to Stadium Village on the University of Minnesota West Bank campus in Minneapolis.

For more, see Bicycling in Wisconsin, Bicycling in Minnesota and Bicycling around the Twin Cities.

Last updated on June 1, 2011