Trail Pairings: A Trip to Hastings, MN
The first Trail Pairing of the year
As the weather began to improve in late April, Jen and I began to itch to hit the trails again. One place we’ve been meaning to visit was Hastings, MN where the 10-Mile Loop Trail promised a short but scenic ride and Spiral Brewery beckoned with a pint of liquid reward at the end. This alone was a good reason to go, but the Prescott and Hastings Chambers had organized a bike ride with bird watching and interpretive stops along the way, so we scheduled our visit on the day of the inaugural Eagle Watch Bike Tour in early May.
The first camping trip of the year
We pulled the mobile office into St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and set up camp the day before. The campground host, a friendly gentleman on a golf cart, checked us in, gave us the lay of the land and handed us our camper welcome packet.
The park-like setting was beautiful and the sparkling-clean and well-kept facilities were impressive to the point of “Am I the first one ever in here?” What really stood out was how quiet the campground was, despite it being two thirds full. Neither of us are dog-haters, but the no-pet policy at this campground scored high points with us.
The day of the ride we hopped on our bikes early to ride the seven miles south into Hastings to check in for the ride at Levee Park. It was a very nice trip through rural scenes and rolling hills on St. Croix Trail South past the Carpenter Nature Center. After five miles or so we crossed Highway 10 and got on the bike trail near Prescott, rode west toward Hastings and crossed the Mississippi River on the Hastings bridge with its orange arches. Wikipedia tells us that it’s 545 feet long and “the longest free-standing tied arch bridge in North America”. And, actually, the official color is terracotta.
Riding the 10-Mile Loop
At the check-in at Levee Park we met our friends Gary and Lorraine who had brought their tandem road bike. The idea was to check out some of the interpretive stops on the Eagle Watch Bike Tour and then ride the rest of the trail system. The Hastings 10-Mile Loop is part of the city’s 23-mile trail system and it connects several of Hastings’ parks, including Vermillion Falls Park. More on the Hastings trail system here
We rode counter-clockwise to the dike section of the trail near the US Lock and Dam No. 2 to make sure we’d catch the interpretive stop while someone was still there. There, a volunteer from Carpenter Nature Center had set up a spotting scope so riders could get a closer look at an eagles nest and a pair of nesting sandhill cranes.
Then we decided to ride the loop in a clockwise fashion to see where it would take us. It was a cool day, but great for a bike ride. After Levee Park we turned south on and rode through Depot Park and the disc golf section of CP Adams Park. Then it was on to Vermillion Falls Park and-surprise! There was a deep gorge with the Vermillion River churning through it under a cool trestle bridge. Farther upriver, we checked out the actual Vermillion Falls on the side of the Ardent Mills building. Ardent is a huge milling company with locations all over the US and Canada, but the river no longer powers the mill here.
At Vermillion River Linear Park we had reached the southernmost part of the ride and were beginning to make our way back up along the Vermillion River along a scenic and wooded stretch. I turned around and from this angle the stone and concrete structure of the mill looked like a gigantic ocean liner.
We rode through a posh neighborhood on the western edge of Hastings and moved north toward the Lock and Dam, through residential and retail areas. At Ninninger Road, the trail split. There was another 10-mile leg traveling northwest to Spring Lake Park Reserve (which will be connecting to Saint Paul’s trails soon), but to stay on the loop we had to take a hard right. After cruising down a huge hill, we crossed the dike trail with Mississippi River on one side and Lake Rebecca on the other. Back at Levee Park, the ride was over, but the day was young.
Click on gallery below
Lunch was at the Busted Nut Bar and Grill, which had a cool patio-deck set up across a few parking spots in downtown Hastings, across the street from Spiral Brewery. If you haven’t tried the Nut Burger with its bacon-infused patty and peanut butter, you should.
Our little group retreated for cleanup and reconvened later at Spiral Brewery.
Spiral opened in Hastings’ historic district in 2018 and has been on my list since then. The taproom building looked squat from the outside, tucked between two taller structures, but the inside revealed a more open look. The long and skinny room with its rock and brick walls and tin ceiling housed the brewing equipment out of sight in the back and shiny fermentation tanks and a bar on the right. Stairs on the left lead to the cozy rooftop patio. Everything looked very inviting and the large, street-side windows let in lots of light.
The brewery derives its name from the 1895 bridge that used to carry traffic across the river until its demise in 1951. Old postcards show what was once an area attraction: A steel span with a rollercoaster-like spiral ramp at the Hastings end that used to touch down somewhere behind the current-day brewery. A side note: The spiral bridge was replaced by another bridge, nicknamed Old Blue, which made way for the one we know today, with its terracotta-colored arches, in 2013. You can see a remnant piece of Old Blue along the bike trail, west of the current bridge.
As is customary, we started sampling. I finally picked the Hard Left Stout. Even though the description says it’s “not for the faint of heart”, I found it very drinkable. It came in at 6.3% ABV, but that was not a problem. It was a cool day in the beginning of May, and I hadn’t switched to my summer palate, yet. Besides, there’s always room for coffee and chocolate. In the case of this stout, they were there, but didn’t overwhelm anything.
The four of us sat around and talked about everything and nothing and watched the crowd. There were the two young women who worked their way through a flight with determination, sometimes shaking their heads at each other, sometimes nodding. A couple on a date occupied the lone table in the window, just a silhouette against the sunlight from my angle. Even what’s-your-lightest-beer-guy made an appearance and carried his pint to his table, clutched in both hands with arms outstretched as if it were dangerous (I hope the journey was a good one for you, guy, and you have been converted).
Besides having to put on a mask to go order, it all seemed so normal, like nothing ever happened in the last year or more. Now that the mask mandate has been lifted, I’m looking forward to more get-togethers, more rides, more adventures, more pints and more normal.