Living in the South Metro of Minneapolis/St. Paul it doesn’t take too long to escape the suburban areas and head off into farm country. The farm towns of Jordan, Elko, and New Prague have miles upon miles of arrow straight gravel and dirt roads that are a lot of fun on a smaller dual sport motorcycle or even a larger adventure bike. While these roads may not be a significant off-road challenge, I have discovered that they can be a lot of fun and bring out the wanna be Dakar rally racer in myself. Cruising along on a loose surface at 60 to 70 miles an hour while avoiding pot holes and dips can be quite exhilarating. One of the out and back routes that I and several others have mapped in this area is known as the Cannon River Run which heads from Prior Lake east to the outskirts of Redwing on the Mississippi River. This area has pretty unique topography for the region since it goes from flat farm land in the west to wooded hills and tight narrow roads in river valleys in the east.
Two weeks I ago I decided to ride the Cannon River Run since I hadn’t really ridden it in quite a while. Heading out of Prior Lake I worked my way south and followed a mix of paved and freshly graded gravel roads until I was able to hit Scott County Road 8 and head east. Once I made it into Lakeville, I took Scott County Road 46 south and started heading into farm country. The beginning part of this ride is kind of boring since you have to deal with some local traffic and congested areas however, that starts to change just south east of Farmington. Here the farm roads are dirt and seldom traveled and you can really crank up your speed if your comfortable riding on a loose surface. One of the interesting sights on this part is a train bridge that seems to come out of nowhere as a rail line rises to cross the road as the topography starts to develop some gentle rises and forested areas start to appear.
As I continued riding east, I skirted the small towns of Eureka and Castle Rock and headed towards the town of Hampton. Hampton is a cross roads where one can jump on Highway 52 or take Dakota County Road 50. From here I jumped on a series of gravel roads that took me further south to the bustling town of Randolph which has one of the nicest baseball fields for local teams that I have ever seen. I began to work my way east and jumped on Highway 52 south with the town of Cannon Falls in my sights. Once I got to Cannon Falls I fueled up and then looked for a local spot for lunch. After a short ride around town I stopped at Nick’s Diner and had the Western Burger and kettle chips. The service and the food were amazing and it’s a place I’ll certainly return to.
After lunch I headed northeast out of Cannon Falls and made my way towards the small town of Miesville and descend into the Miesville Ravine which is a pretty steep decent down a hill with a hairpin turn before it flattens out along the Cannon River. I always stop for a picture at the base of the hill and Dakota County has a pretty nice day use park here with hiking trails and some fishing spots on the river. From Miesville Ravine its a nice ride around some curved gravel and dirt roads on the sides of hills and bluffs that start to form the western side of the Mississippi River Valley to the little town of Welch.
On weekends Welch is often packed with people who enjoy tubing or kayaking on the Cannon River and biking on the nearby Cannon River Valley Trail. Being a weekday it was relatively quiet, more of a calm before the storm but the locals were getting ready for a busy tourist season. From Welch I jumped on Dakota County Road 7 which is a paradise for those who enjoy riding the twisty’s, this road has some nice curves and short straight’s that follow a narrow valley with a fairly large stream at the bottom. On this stretch I often see many sport bikes but today I saw a new sight in a pair of KTM 1090 Adventure’s. Adventure bikes are a rarity most of the time in this area so when I see one its kind of a shock.
Instead of taking Dakota County Road 7 to Vasa I jumped on a farm road that headed up to the top of the valley that I was riding in and started to head towards Highway 61. By this time I had been out for a while and it was time to head home, schoolwork wasn’t going to wait. The ride home was fairly uneventful and I rode pavement majority of the way back. As the sun was going down I did make a quick detour to take a run down a road near my house known as Pike Lake Road. This road is one of my favorites due to how it winds around several farms and Pike Lake and plus its a mix of gravel and dirt. At the end of the day the KLR and I covered 152 miles with over 100 of it off the pavement and I was reminded on how much fun it is to ride south east of the Twin Cities.
If anyone is interested I can share the Cannon River Run route in gpx format on Rever or I can email it to them to use on their own GPS.