Great beaches on bike trails
When you're done sweating, cool off in the surf.
Feel like going for a bike ride, but it's just too hot? Pick a trail with a beach. Anyone who pedals more than a few miles during the dog days deserves a nice, cool dog paddle afterward.
That's what we got one muggy Saturday on the Lake Wobegon Trail in central Minnesota. From Avon, we rode westward between so many bouquets of purple prairie clover the trail looked landscaped.
This gentle farmland, dotted with lakes, inspired Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon.
In Albany, we saw the first of the stolid heartland churches that inspired Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, and in Freeport, we ate BLTs and fresh strawberry pie at Charlie's Café, model for the Chatterbox Café.
We turned around in Melrose, having pedaled 20 miles, and made a beeline back to Avon and pretty Middle Spunk Lake.
It's on the edge of the city beach, and we ran into the cool, clear water and stayed there until the grime and heat of the trail had washed away. Bike plus beach equals the best of both worlds.
In this region, most bike trails do pass beaches; here are some of the best ones.
If you want to take a dip mid-ride, just wear synthetic running clothes — it's amazing how quickly you'll dry off from the breeze you create while riding. And remember to pack a little towel and a comb.
Start riding on the Lake Wobegon Trail in St. Joseph, just west of St. Cloud off I-94, or eight miles later in Avon. The trail passes Middle Spunk Lake, a block from the trailhead. Afterward, eat at Fisher's, which has a shaded patio facing the beach.
In Minneapolis, the Grand Rounds passes beaches on lakes Nokomis, Harriet, Bde Maka Ska and Cedar. There are restaurants on Nokomis and Harriet as well as in Minnehaha Park; make a day of it.
In the western suburbs of Minneapolis, the 25½-mile Dakota Rail Trail starts from the Wayzata city beach on Lake Minnetonka, the 34-mile Luce Line passes beaches on Medicine and Parkers lakes and the 15½-mile north corridor of the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail goes near the municipal beach in Excelsior.
The 55-mile Central Lakes Trail connects to the Lake Wobegon in Osakis, where the city beach is a mile east of the grain elevator along Lake Street, on the other side of the cemetery. Be sure to stop for a burger or cone at the Tip Top Dairy Bar.
From Willmar in the Little Crow Lakes region, the 22-mile Glacial Lakes State Trail passes big Saulsbury Beach on Green Lake in Spicer.
There's always a good sand volleyball game going, and swimmers can jump from diving rafts into the water. Next door, Melvin's has a large patio facing the lake.
In northern Minnesota lakes country, the Heartland State Trail between Park Rapids and Cass Lake passes beaches on the Fish Hook River in Park Rapids, Lake Belle Taine in Nevis and little Lake May on the south edge of Walker.
If you turn onto the Migizi Trail just south of Cass Lake, you'll find the beaches of South Pike Bay campground and, farther on, Norway Beach.
On the 87-mile Mesabi Trail on the Iron Range, between Grand Rapids and Giants Ridge, Stubler Beach is right on the trail in Buhl.
For more, see Bicycling in Minnesota.
Two Rivers is dubbed the Cool City for the cool breezes it gets on three sides, from the East Twin River, the West Twin River and Lake Michigan.
From it, the six-mile Rawley Point Trail connects wide Neshotah Beach to the dune beach in Point Beach State Forest, which includes the 1894 Rawley Point Lighthouse.
Near Minocqua, the 11-mile BATS-Crystal Lake Trail from Boulder Junction ends at the beach on Crystal Lake, where there's also a campground.
The 52-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail between Madison and Milwaukee passes legendary Rock Lake in Lake Mills, a little resort town in summer.
The lake has inspired many of the beers made by Tyranena Brewing, also in Lake Mills: Three Beaches honey blonde; Stone Tepee pale ale (for pyramid-shaped rock piles on the floor of the lake); and Rocky's Revenge brown ale (named for a legendary serpent who guarded the sacred tepees).
In Madison, the Capital City State Trail connects to beaches on lakes Monona.
In the northwest part of the state, the 19½-mile Old Abe State Trail connects two state parks with beaches: Lake Wissota, on the north edge of Chippewa Falls, and Brunet Island on the edge of Cornell.
North of Milwaukee, the Interurban Trail winds through Cedarburg and Port Washington on its way to Belgium. From there, it's a 2½-mile ride on County Road D to Lake Michigan and Harrington Beach State Park.
For more, see Bicycling in Wisconsin.
In Traverse City, the 10½-mile TART Trail connects the West Arm and East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, connecting Traverse City State Park with the many beaches on the West Arm.
The 15½-mile Leelanau Trail continues up the West Arm to Suttons Bay.
On Mackinac Island, the eight-mile bike trail that circles the island passes white-pebble beaches; the curving one at British Landing, facing the Mackinac Bridge, is nicest.
Between Holland and Grand Haven, the 20-mile Lakeshore Trail connects to the beach at Holland State Park via a short stretch of city streets.
For more, see Bicycling in western Michigan.
In Chicago, the 18-mile Lakefront Trail passes 15 miles of Lake Michigan beaches, and with parking such a hassle, many locals get to them by bike. With all the sand volleyball, buff lifeguards and '50s music blaring from beach cafes, you'd swear you were in California.
North of Des Moines, the Neal Smith Trail heads 26 miles along the Des Moines River and into the Saylorville Lake recreation area, a popular place to swim.
Its northern trailhead is in Big Creek State Park, where there's also a beach.
From Pella, the 13-mile Volksweg leads to the Lake Red Rock recreation area, where there's swimming at North Overlook Beach.
For more, see Bicycling in Iowa.