The 20-mile Cannon Valley Trail from Cannon Falls to Red Wing can be traveled in varying lengths. Make a half-day of it by riding from one end to the other with or without a stop at the Welch turn-around.
The trail follows an old railroad route that hugged the Cannon River. The trail is bordered by cliffs and wildflowers often under the canopy of lush trees.
The trail also features several interpretive sites as well as rest stops with benches, water, toilets and historical information.
Season Wheel passes help support the trail and sell for $20.00 while a daily wheel pass is $3.00.
Look for the parking lot near the downtown post office, where the city-section of the trail begins in a city park on the Cannon River near the falls that gave the city its name.
This half-mile has some steep hills as it winds around the park, picnic areas and swans before heading through a residential area and then up a hill, along a city street to the official start of the trail at the top of the hill with an old, still-used highway bridge in view.
Along the Trail:
•M1.4 The old markers from the railroad days are still standing; this is Mile 75 for the route that connected Red Wing and Mankato, which explains why you’ll see these same markers on the Sakatah Trail.
•M2.6 This area (just before the concrete mile marker 76) is known as “the big fill” hauled in during railroad construction days to span the hill behind you and the hill ahead of you offers a 40’ scenic overlook.
•M3.6 The Anderson Memorial Rest Area under tall trees and along a little bridge over “Trail Run Creek’ offers picnic tables and toilets and a place for kids to run around while the older folks sit on something other than a bike seat.
•M6 A sign invites you to a 1.5 mile-long interpretive trail, which is best for those who like to look at forest management, but it’s recommended you leave your bike behind.
•M6.4 In 1912 a train wreck resulted in granite stones toppling in the area, some of which remain. The granite was said to be for tombstones, which explains the little monument that has been left where it once fell.
•M9.6 The little town of Welch is the midpoint of the ride and has a rest stop that includes new bathrooms. Also note the rails of the old railroad track that weren’t completely covered.
•M10.1 Watch for a concrete marker on the trail’s shoulder depicting the planet Neptune. To find out the marker’s meaning, see the narrative for Pluto at M8.7 between Cannon Falls and Welch.
•M10.3 After starting in the shade, the trail opens up.Welch Village’s downhill skiing area is on your right. The hills are quiet compared to winter.
•11.4 Belle Creek is just one of many the trail crosses. Their depth and color is dependent on the amount of rain (from sprinkles to flooding).
•M11.6 to 15.2 The river bottom has sections of the Cannon River Turtle Preserve; so pedal quietly so you don’t scare the turtles off their sunning spots.
•M12.3 Watch for Uranus.
•M14.1 Watch for Saturn.
•M14.8 Watch for Jupiter (did you see Pluto or Mars?)
•M15 The trail goes under a busy Hwy. 61, but the bridge decking provides shelter from the rain or sun, even if it may be a bit noisy for a quiet rest. Just beyond the bridge is a “flycatcher” over the trail. Do you know what that is? You’ll also see one (and an information kiosk) on the Root River Trail at M7.
•M15.4 Another rest stop with toilets; there’s also parking available for those who begin their ride here with access on the Cannon Bottoms Rd.
•M16.1 Stop here if you want to explore the Red Wing Archeological Preserve. Park your bike and walk about 90 ft. up the path (no bikes allowed) that includes several steps. Here you can explore the site, which includes deep trash pits for fish remains -and a few horticultural tools.
Note the hundreds of pretty yellow flowers along the trail right to the end in Red Wing; Jerusalem artichokes, right? Plus, there’s birds foot trefoil.
•M16.8 If you need a rest from the climb into Red Wing, stop at this bench.
•M17 The ride into Red Wing begins as the trail gets back into “civilization” and the outskirts of Red Wing. A few retail stores loom on your right while the river bottom is on your left.
•M18.1 A paved branch of the trail goes right, up to a parking lot at a trailhead on Hwy. 61 (see Red Wing trailhead information on this page).
•M18.6 Plums and crabapples will either be flowering (in the spring), growing (in the summer), or ready for picking (late summer). Just be sure of what you are eating before you eat it.
•M19.1 Goats beard may be in bloom, depending on the season.
•M19.7 The trail ends near Bench St. and Old West Main St., where there’s parking, but no water or other amenities. You may want to follow Old West Main to the pottery district, a popular destination with restaurant, shops and bike racks.
Trailheads in Red Wing:
Cyclists who want to begin their ride in Red Wing have a choice between two trailheads.
•One, on the north side, coming from the Twin Cities, is on Hwy. 61 before you reach Red Wing; watch for signs. It has plenty of parking, rest rooms, water and shelter, as well as an information kiosk.
A paved half-mile of trail leads from the parking lot to the Cannon Valley Trail at M18.1. Along the way, watch on the left at about M.2 for a sign pointing to the site of the “Poor Farm Cemetery.” A plaque describes the significance of the site.
•Continue south on Hwy. 61 about 1.5 miles if you want to begin at the other trailhead, which is closer to Old West Main and downtown (and is the terminus for the ride described here).
Watch for the sign, which will take you to the trailhead at the “Old West Main Access” and Bench Street. The trailhead has parking, toilet and information kiosk.