Mississippi River Gorge Trail Review
Close and convenient. Urban yet wild. Fun.
Mississippi River, between Ford Parkway and Lake Street
1,118 feet of elevation gain
This route can be a bit dangerous in spots when it’s muddy. You’ll see plenty of rocks, roots, and mud (unless it’s buried in snow). It’s impossible to run the entire route, as you will occasionally need to climb slippery rocks and carefully pick your steps along ledges.
It can be easy to temporarily lose your way at times, but you can’t go wrong as long as you use the river as your guide and pay attention that you don’t run past the bridges.
It just might be impossible to find better scenery, views, and wildlife this close to the heart of the city. In addition to classic riverbottom trails, you’ll also see plenty of tight singletrack which meanders along steep, wooded bluffs of oak and rock outcroppings. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views, which allow you to stand above the tops of the oak trees below.
This trail is an enigma: located right in the heart of the TC metro area, it’s rugged, seldom traveled, and feels remote. You won’t see many people there, but you will see plenty of signs that you are in the city, and the trail, while occasionally technical, is reasonably well maintained.
Starting from the parking lot at Summit Avenue and the East River Road, take the dirt trail (from the parking lot) down the hill towards the river, and take a right. You’ll encounter a couple treacherous spots in the first 1/4 mile, but the fun has already begun.
After about 3/4 mile, the trail will end, and you’ll have to hop over a railing. Climb the stairs to cross the river on the Lake Street Bridge. Once on the Minneapolis side, look for the dirt path leading down to the river. (Hint: it’s directly under the bridge.) Take a right when you get to the bottom to start heading downstream toward the Ford Bridge.
For the next couple of miles, enjoy some classic river bottom trails. It’s mostly flat, and fairly easy to find your way, with a very little bit of up and down, and a couple surprises. The only tricky part is when you get to the rocky gorge. The only way through at this point is to climb up 30-40 feet, where you’ll find yourself on an oak savanna. From here, it’s back and forth between pavement and trail to the Ford Bridge. Cross the river and head back upstream to your car.
For the last mile from Ford to the parking spot, you may want to just stay on the pavement. It is possible to travel most of the way (just not the first quarter mile) along wooded single-track trail. It’s easy enough to find, and I certainly recommend it, but it’s probably worth mentioning that this is the most dangerous part of the route. You’ll hopefully find that discovering your own path is part of the fun.
This route is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72 mile long “partner park.” It is connected on both sides to a longer series of trail that sprawls through the Minnesota and Mississippi River Valleys for 30+ miles and can be easily linked together.
What’s your experience with the Mississippi River Gorge Trail?